Thursday 18 July 2013

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain.

How best to prepare yourself to dine at The Best Restaurant in the World? (According to The World's 50 Best Restaurants anyway.) Probably best not to get stupidly drunk the night before culminating in a noisy midnight raid on the mini bar of our hotel was it? I sat in a sunny square in Girona feeling quite sick on the morning of our lunch reservation. I could barely even look at my croissant let alone even consider a massive long taster menu. How could I be so stupid? It would be near impossible to get a booking again. (We'd reserved it several months ago even before the awards were announced and even then there were no dinner reservations available.) Luckily the restorative power of the sun helped, I sat very still on a sun lounger by the pool at our hotel Nord 1901, for an hour, and started to feel almost human again.
Mrs Bacon, myself and our two professional foodie friends (Ms Arroz and Dr Gambas) could wait not a moment longer, we'd already waited several months for this, we called our taxi early, and made our way through the Girona suburbs.
After taking the mandatory shots of us standing in front of the wooden sign, we made our way down the little leafy alley which opens out into a pretty little courtyard and walled garden. Sipping our complimentary cava, my hangover was almost a distant memory.
We were the first to be let in, and settled in a nice corner table, with good views of the glassed inner courtyard (with tall trees inside it) and restaurant itself. It's such a beautiful space, the inner courtyard makes the room very light and sunny.

Straight away, I must tell you that we loved the food; absolutely all of it. Often with these long tasting menus, some or a few dishes stand out. Here, they were all superb. Playful and ingenious, most importantly there was always that intense flavour explosion that is promised but not always received. (When the food is so creative this is sometimes lost. Not so at El Celler de Can Roca.) Naturally we opted for the longer Festive Menu (no half measures here) this is €175 for 14 courses. It was worth every penny and more.
To start you get a black paper globe which is removed to reveal The World:
A journey across the globe. Five small appetizers on platforms representing;
Mexico: guacamole, tomato seed, tomato water and coriander.
Peru: ceviche broth.
China: pickled vegetables with plum cream.
Morocco: almond, rose, honey, safron, ras el hanout, goat yoghurt.
Japan: Miso, cream dashi and nyinyonyaki tempura.
Next Caramelized Olive. Picked from a tree.
Crispy Shrimp. (On a 'fishing net')

Truffled brioche.
Zucchini’s omelette.
Truffled bombon.

Carpano Bombon with grapefruit and black sesame.
Vegetable Stock with sprouts, flowers, leaves and fruits. Anywhere else, this would be a dull dish for me, not so here.

Elderflower infusion, cherries with Amaretto, gingered cherries and smoked eel. So pretty, it was almost a shame to eat it. It tasted as good as it looks too.

White asparagus and truffle viennetta.
Charcoal-grilled cheeks of sardine with green sauce.
Salad of sea anemone, razor-clam, royal cucumber and seaweed in escabéche. This was eaten with large tweezers. Our friend Dr Gambas informed us that they were indeed medical ones!
A whole prawn: Charcoal-grilled king prawn, head juice with seaweeds, seawater and sponge cake of plankton. The prawn was like butter, it was so tender.
Amontillado-steamed langoustine, Bisque velouté and Jerez caramel.

Grilled sole with black and white garlic, parsley juice and lemon.
Cod with miso and hazelnuts.

Charcoal-grilled lamb breast fillet and sweetbreads with eggplant, coffee and
liquorice. Lamb is my favourite meat, so I eat it a lot in restaurants. This is probably the best I've ever tasted.

Pigeon Parfait and onion, curry-caramelized walnuts, juniper, orange peel and herbs. Mrs Bacon would normally shy away from pigeon, but even she loved this powerful dish. Our none meat eating friend had some fantastic looking alternatives, but as she eats fish, many of the dishes were the same.
Sour-dough Ice cream with cocoa pulp, fried lychee and sherry vinegar macaró.
It's alive! This was great fun, I'm a sucker for dishes like this one. Essentially it moves about as it's on a specially made mechanical platform. I christened this the Dr Who Pudding as it looks like a weird space alien. It tasted delicious too.
A fragrance adapted: Shalimar by Guerlain. Take a big inhale of the cone!
Chai cream with blood orange, vanilla, mango and roses.
Viola. A sphere of cinnamon and viola with coconut and honey toffee.
A selection from the sweet trolley.
A point about the wine, our friends had the fantastic wine taster menu, we managed to get a crisp clean bottle of Spanish Albariño for €20. This seems to be the norm in Spanish Michelin star restaurants, wheras in London you'd be lucky to get a bottle for less than double this in many establishments of this calibre and less. We topped this up with a superb glass of red (from 1980 if my memory serves me correctly) and some dessert wines.
The service was as slick as you'd expect at this level, although occasionally slow at times as they became busier. 
One of the three brothers, Josep Roca came out and greeted us, we three the more easily embarrassed of the group had to dissuade Ms Arroz from getting a posed photo of us with him!
This really was an amazing world class experience dining at El Celler de Can Roca, it was everything I'd hoped it would be and more. All views about if it's the 'best restaurant in the world' are of course subjective, but this and Azurmendi in Bilbao remain the most impressive of all the (Three Michelin Star) restaurants we've ever visited. Although they are quite different styles, Azurmendi is more gutsy and robust, perhaps Basque? Whereas El Celler is more playful, elaborate and complex. Both were superlative; mind-blowingly good.
The only problem we have now, is how on earth can we follow this?
Price: The best restaurant in the world? A bargain at €175 for 14 courses!
Imagine tickets for the world cup final or the Olympic games? Think of it in those terms: World class food.  For that you get one of the best meals you're likely to get anywhere.
It's still cheaper than The Fat Duck by £50. (You may be able to get a Ryanair return flight to Girona for that.) Plus you can get a decent bottle of wine for just €20.
Service: Excellent, a little slow at times though.
Food: World Class.
Star dishes: Too close to call.
Score: 10/10.

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  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Hi
      Thanks, I use Firefox and it's ok in my browser - what problems do you have?

  2. This is making me very excited.....and no doubt will make you extremely jealous.... 20 days and counting down ;-)

    1. Good call! Just don't get too drunk the night before ;)

  3. Fantastic article - we are going on Friday.... drool...

  4. Glad to hear that you have enjoyed El Celler de Can Roca. It is on my hit list, but I will have to wait one more year (only next available tables I could get on a busy weekend). I'll also try Azurmendi at the same time. You asked "how on earth can we follow this?". Perhaps Alinea in Chicago would be the answer (it is an impressive food destination, but I can't compared to Azurmendi or El Celler since I have not eaten at both of them).

  5. It was "ok" but I enjoyed Massana a lot more the following evening.
    Fat Duck , Lenclume and Castle terrace all beat it hands down on the food side of things.

    1. I saw your review with great interest and was quite surprised you didn't like El Celler de can Roca. I think it comes down to personal taste at this level. We didn't love Le Gavroche or Sant Pau, and whilst really like L'Enclume, think that El Celler easily matches it in terms of food. But as you say, it would be boring if we all agreed all of the time. Now I regret we couldn't go to Massana now though :)

  6. Hi there! I absolutely love your post on El Celler and I read it many times before my recent visit there. I've done my own post on it now too. As you'll see, the menu has changed a little (as expected) but it was hands down my best dining experience to date! I've actually referenced your blog post in my post too!

    1. Thanks for your kind words I shall take a proper read of your review now.