Thursday 8 August 2013

Sant Pau, Sant Pol de Mar, Spain.

Spain has seven restaurants with three Michelin Stars, this year we've been lucky enough to visit four of them. Two of those El Celler de Can Roca and Azurmendi were the finest restaurant experiences we've ever had, and Alkelaré wasn't too far behind either. The fourth was Sant Pau. Funnily enough, I was looking forward to Sant Pau almost more than any other. I'd seen some amazing looking dishes, one like a Mondrian painting, the other a representation of a deep blue nights sky. Number one London based food blogger Andy Hayler gave it a very high score of 19/20 as well on his visit in 2008.
Despite this, it's not really that well known outside of Spain for some reason, I don't think it appears in the World's 50 either. But if anything that made it more alluring to me. Plus in the book that I was reading about El Bulli, The Sorcerers Apprentices; chef Ferran Adrià leaves the kitchen for the day to attend his friend's Carme Ruscalleda's party celebrating 10 years of Sant Pau restaurant at that time. Yes! We're going there as well! I thought.
Sant Pol de Mar is a typical Spanish resort about an hour north of Barcelona. We made our way from Tamariu where we were staying. We got there early so managed to park our car at the restaurant's small driveway and went for a drink. When we returned, it was almost full. Luckily we'd bagged the table we wanted in the small room to the front looking out to the garden and the sea. It's a beautiful space, modern and simply decorated. The trains go past every now and then.

Some nibbles arrived, despite not really liking beetroot that much, I really enjoyed the Beetroot and Comté croquettes.

Also Salted corn cookie, spicy choux with lemon cream and a pleasant Tomato velvet and iberian ham.

All good so far, but we weren't blown away. Don't forget we'd been to El Celler de can Roca the week before so had high expectations at this level. The bread was excellent, satisfyingly crisp, but there's only one type.
First course proper European Lobster “leche de tigre”, perona beans was perfectly good, delicate and fresh.
It's less playful than places like El Celler, some dishes are quite simple some quite complex always using the best quality ingredients. But I was secretly thinking, I'm expecting something more than this.
King Prawn and Vegetable, sea water & fine herbs cannelloni was such a dish, very skilled, so very pretty but I'm sorry to say that for me failed to deliver in flavour. The sea water and fine herbs cannelloni just tasted of sea water! Good but not great for me so far. Mrs B felt the same.

Courgette and Aubergine, romesco dashi did nothing to persuade me otherwise either.
 Perhaps it's me I thought, I'm just not educated enough to get it. I'm trying to get it, it's so delicate and subtle though, it keeps slipping through my fingers! Next Gambas Tails on sailor's toast, again, it was good but still failed to really excite me.

 The Seabass, olives, vermouth and chayote was fresh and excellent, but no real twist, just simply the finest ingredients.
Pluma of Iberian Pork was probably my favourite of the mains, but there was no crackling and the following days pork dish in one Michelin star Casamar was superior we thought.

I had a sinking feeling, I just felt this simply wasn't worth the high price tag. It also irritated me that to get the other meat dish Challan Duck, swiss chard and wild celery you had to pay an extra €23! We're already paying €149 for the taster menu each! (You could choose either the pork or the duck but not both.)

The other 3 Michelin star restaurants gave us two meat dishes within the taster menu. In the end it wasn't worth it. Perfectly pleasant duck but not worth the extra. There was simply no 'wow' factor here and no taste intensity in any dish like you get at Azurmendi or madcap twists like you get at El Celler. But they're charging the same price?
Everything looks wonderful, but for me failed to deliver that taste sensation.
The Manchego cheese course looked pretty again, and was tasty enough, but I've had manchego at least as good as this elsewhere.
Luxury of ripened fruit.
Tender Almonds Kiss. This was the only course that gave us both that mmmmm feeling, it was gorgeous and creamy.
Black and white chocolate, raspberries, raisins and brandy.
A lovely touch was that Carme Ruscalleda herself came out and greeted everyone personally in the restaurant. (We managed to swerve the embarrassing 'us with the chef' picture.) They had also remembered our wedding anniversary and brought out a pretty cake with a little fridge magnet. It was only small, but such a lovely touch.

Following this we retired to the attractive garden, there is a fantastic view out to the beach, and the open kitchen behind you.
We had the most wonderful array of chocolates I've seen in any restaurant served on a large toy train. They were: Lemon and sage marshmallow
Soft chocolate bombon
White chocolate rock

Black chocolate rock
Strawberry and Ratafía jelly
Puff pastry cake & pumpkin angel hair
Liquorice & sherbet crunchy stick

Coconut cookie
Mini Sacher

New raspberry crumble. 
Plus a freebie Sant Pau tin.

The meal ended on a high. As we drove away we tried to talk it up though as we were both a bit deflated. Looking back I feel sadly disappointed in the meal as a whole.
In a recent Guardian review on Manchester's best restaurant The French, critic Marina O'Loughlin describes a theory of hers, that if somewhere is expensive then people almost pretend to themselves that it's better than it is; "I've dropped £300 it must be good!" For me this works in exactly the opposite way. If I'm dropping €390 for two (plus tip) as I did here, my expectations are therefore a lot higher. If the price at Sant Pau was roughly half of what I paid I'd have been happy. The very fact that I paid so much upped my expectations which sadly weren't met. It gives me no joy to say that, why would it? Don't forget I'm the one who paid £340 for lunch! I probably earn the national average wage at very best! (I just like to spend most of it on fine food, but I have more to lose in a way as I can't eat at this level that often.)
 I guess all these high end restaurants have their own styles, for me this food was just too subtle and delicate for my palate.
At El Celler we were totally blown away, every single course had the X factor, Azurmendi gave us flavour intensity, meat so rich you were wondering how on earth they did it. Sant Pau just didn't deliver either of those things for us, the food was good, there was just simply no wow, yet they charged the same price. Perhaps another day another menu it would have done, but I doubt if I'll be returning to find out to be honest.

Price: €149. Not worth the money.
Service: 3 Star.
Atmosphere: Smart but not stuffy.
Food: Good but not worth the price. Understated with no wow factor.
Star dish: Tender Almonds Kiss.

Score: 6/10


  1. Interesting to find a not so positive review of Sant Pau as most other reviews are very positive. I was also a bit disappointed last October. Didn’t think it was three star level cooking. 41 Degrees which I visited the day before was so much better.

    1. Agreed, (you've probably seen my 41 Degrees review as well) it was so much better.