When it was time to open his first establishment outside of Barcelona, London was the natural choice for Albert Adrià — the world-renowned chef and owner of Spanish restaurant group El Barri. We sat down with him to talk all things sweet, ahead of the opening of Cakes & Bubbles, his new dessert-only outpost, at Hotel Café Royal.
Can you tell us about the concept?
At Cakes & Bubbles, I see myself as a chef, not as a pastry chef, and that’s why I’m convinced that we’ve got a strong concept — if you go somewhere and eat a piece of cake, that’s not a concept, that’s just you eating cake. The idea here is to try small portions of five or six different things, and drink champagne. Of course, if you only want cheesecake, you can eat just cheesecake. The idea is, you leave the place and think ‘Wow, I had something very special, and I want to go back’ — that’s my obsession.
And why did you choose London?
I consider London the capital of the world. We did a pop-up here two years ago at Hotel Café Royal, and we felt really at home, so it felt natural for me to do it here. The location couldn’t be better.
What will Cakes & Bubbles bring to the city that it doesn’t already have?
It’s both a concept and an experience. For example, on the menu, there’ll be a cheesecake and a chocolate cake, which people have tried before, but for the rest of the ‘elaborations’, it’s something you can’t try anywhere else. There are going to be cakes, but it’s not a patisserie. There are going to be desserts, but it’s not a dessert restaurant.
What kinds of bubbles can we expect?
We’re working on that. There will be around 60 ‘references’ to bubbles — including sparkling water for those who don’t drink — and dessert wine for when bubbles don’t quite work with something.
Will there be one set menu?
The focus will be the cheesecake. However, if we open and I see that the customers’ focus is on the chocolate cake or the churros, we’ll adapt the menu. We’ll also do this depending on the season, like we do in the savoury kitchen. Also, we’ll only have one type of each dessert. For example, if I have a fig and jasmine sorbet, I’ll focus only on this for a few months. We’ve been working on a flavour of cheesecake for the past three months. The key is to have only one of everything — the best one.
What’s the most popular dessert you make?
The modern version of my traditional cheesecake — it’s been on the menu at Tickets for five years and people don’t let us take it off. It’ll be on the menu at Cakes & Bubbles, too. I’m friends with Corey Lee, chef at In Situ, the Michelin-starred restaurant at SFMOMA, who asked me to make this cheesecake for him, and now he’s not taking it off the menu.
You’re one of the greatest pastry chefs in the world. When did you realise this is what you wanted to do?
That depends. Today I’m a pastry chef, tomorrow I’m a chef. I’ve been working with sweets for 23 years, but I’ve also been a chef for 20 years. I’m comfortable with both savoury and sweet, so it gives me the adaptability to work with both concepts.
What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to desserts?
We talk a lot about reducing fat and sugar, but not about reducing portions or size. The problem is the portion, not the content. For example, a cheesecake with less sugar is not cheesecake. I’m very conscious about portions and having something that’s going to have a balance between the price and what you eat. The notion is in the bite, not in 20 bites — just one that needs to blow your mind.
If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Fruit. Fruit itself is perfection. For example, you’ll struggle to achieve a better dessert with banana than just the banana itself. When you use a banana in a dessert, a lot of its essence is lost. I always try to use fruit in a dessert and achieve the same taste result as the fruit itself.
Any dessert pet peeves?
I don’t like adding sugar for the sake of it, just because it makes something prettier. What will surprise people about my desserts is that they won’t be flashy — think elegant and minimalistic but with a lot of thought and technique. When I think of Cakes & Bubbles, I think about a blind man eating something. It’s not about how pretty it looks, it’s about eating a spoonful and being blown away.
What’s your favourite ingredient to work with?
Mango. It has one of the most sophisticated flavours, and you can mix it with everything — lactics, chocolates, acids.
Will you be in London to keep an eye on things?
I’ll be here as much as needed. I’m working very closely with my partner, David Gil, and we’ve been working together for seven years now. It’ll be the two of us.
Any plans to open anywhere else?
For now, my concern is for Cakes & Bubbles to be full, for it to work conceptionally and to have people coming back. It’s too early to think about this. The most important thing right now is to understand a city like London and its complexity.
Interview: Farida Zeynalova