I love to get high. Really high.
No, not like that. I mean altitude; mountains, fairground rides, tall buildings and the like. I’m the person with their face pressed against the window of the aeroplane and my superpower of choice would be the ability to fly. I love the thrill of a slightly wobbly lift, like the one that you enter on the non-descript ground floor level of the San Sebastian Tower and which takes you to the Torre d’Alta Mar restaurant at the seventy five metre high summit. My dining companion is not so keen on wobbly lifts and it would be quite unlikely that I could persuade her to ride the cable car that travels from the same Tower across the port, but when it comes to food (check out this segue) we certainly both expect high standards.
Torre d’Alta Mar (‘offshore tower’, due to its location on the spit of land between the port and the Med) has the wow factor in terms of views. A panoramic vista of the Barcelona at night quickly erases the recollection of the slightly wobbly lift and replaces it with one of those images that makes writers spew metaphors like ‘jewelled skyline’ and ‘carpet of stars’ to make themselves sound like Huxley on mescaline. So far, so high.
We were welcomed by the maître d’ and seated, naturally, next to a huge window that overlooked the city. A flûte of cava was served and it was explained that we would be served a menu of the most popular dishes of the restaurant. Jazzy music was playing and the very hip, slightly Oriental décor promised an evening of trendy and tasty delights. An appetiser of foie gras mousse with pumpkin cream was presented to us and we began to think that the restaurant’s altitude had brought us seventy five metres closer to heaven.
Proximity to the sea inevitably produces a cuisine with seafood as a central feature, so we were happy to hear that our first course was salmon tataki, fresh, juicy and barely coloured by cooking, with asparagus maki, flying fish roe and trout caviar. The plate was bright and colourful, strong with fresh marine saltiness and texturally exciting as the asparagus had retained its crunch and the roes burst in the mouth like fishy fireworks. The white wine that accompanied was a dry Torelló Crisalys 2014 Xarel-lo from Penedès, perfect for pairing with fish.
The menu, which remained a mystery to us throughout, had been created to accommodate the various dietary requirements of my companion but our high expectations continued to be met with the next course. This was stuffed calamari, positioned vertically like little winged rockets on their way into the stratosphere, with the crispy legs served alongside. The squid was perfectly tender and the stuffing, which consisted of asparagus (again) and artichoke in a squid ink sauce, was seasoned with tiny squares of cured ham. After this course, we leaned back in our chairs and, with the air of potentates surveying our dominion, gazed benevolently at the tiny specs in the distance that represented people who could not hope to enjoy their food as much.
At this point, the waitress brought out the universal signal for impending meat – a red wine. Simultaneously, our waiter offered more white. Not willing to entirely spoil the surprise, we tentatively enquired about the next course. Hake. Of course, the red wine would be permitted to breathe while we enjoyed the hake and then we would move on to one of the tasty game dishes that we had been eying up on the menu. The hake was two substantial fillets with perfect crispy skin, topped with shavings of sweet black garlic and accompanied by crispy hash browns. The fish was salty and very well cooked, the garlicky, tangy sauce bringing an original touch to the dish and providing an earthy background flavour. We both loved this dish and had enjoyed the other fish and seafood offerings tremendously, but we were keen to find out what the rest of dinner had in store.
Our waiter arrived to enquire about which sorbet flavours we would like. The selection included mojito, one of our all time favourite cocktails (after the espresso martini, naturalmente) so we both opted for that, expecting a palate cleanser. When it arrived, three large scoops in each bowl, it was immediately clear that something had been lost in translation. Sorbet solo is not something I would ever order for dessert.
“Is this… dessert?” Lady C asked, tentatively, and received an affirmative nod, “Why do we have a red wine?”
The waiter withdrew and, after some discussion with the maitre d’, we were able to secure a selection of cheeses – good cheeses, but not mind-blowing – with which to enjoy our wine. We were also shown the dessert menu, in case the sorbet that was still melting in its bowls on the table was not to our liking, but decided against it. We felt deflated; the theatricality of a mystery menu had deceived us and we had been denied the meat option that we had been expecting. Perhaps we should have asked what we would be eating, or insisted on choosing from the menu for an authentic experience; perhaps they should have been clearer about their desire for us to sample the wine in isolation; perhaps it was just a misunderstanding on one side or both.
It is true that this experience would be unlikely to be repeated in the case of a customer ordering from the menu and that the first few dishes were amazing. Really incredible. Service was excellent from our waiters and the view is a show-stopper. However, I didn’t feel that the complete contentment of myself and my dining partner was a priority for them and we didn’t leave on a high. It didn’t matter how close the top of the tower was to the stars, there was just something that made this an ‘almost’ experience, not a heavenly one.
Torre D’Alta Mar
Passeig Joan de Borbó 88