El Celler De Can Roca is the best restaurant in the world.
That’s our view anyhow. But we’re humble enough to admit that such a lofty claim, even from us, needs a bit more backup. And good grief, this place certainly has it.
First off, there’s the well known standard; the old favourite; the Michelin Star.
If that’s how you judge quality then El Celler holds three. It got awarded its first star in 1995, its second in 2002 and its third in November 2009, thus placing it on a pedestal shared with only 120 other eateries across the world.
But that’s not all
The World’s 50 Best – the oscars for restaurants, or the Champions League for top chefs – say that even at the top table, El Celler comes out top. That’s an organisation where winners are selected by 1,000 restaurant experts who have the task of ranking and capturing a snapshot of the culinary year.
So basically, it’s an organisation we’re listening to
It’s also an organisation that’s supported by Estrella Damm – its official beer sponsor hails from the nearby Barcelona, and has previously worked with Ferran Adria (the chef from El Bulli) to create Damm Inedit, a beer created to be matched with food.
And since we’ve teamed up with them on the upcoming Lovin Dublin Awards, they invited us to sample their hometown hero.
What we got was the pinnacle of a food lover’s journey; and one that I know every cooks, both pro and amateur, will envy.
So what did I learn?
Well, we’ll get to that. But first, a bit about the location.
From watching El Bulli on Netflix the, image I had was that El Celler de Can Roca would be based in a remote orange grove, country side location. So I was surprised when we pulled into Girona and found the restaurant just on the edge of town near a school and apartments.
The town hosts a bridge built by Monsieur Eiffel – who went on to build more noted vertical structures – and is colourful and pretty, with small streets in which to get lost.
For those of you that crave a culinary from the world’s best you can visit Rocambolesc, an ice cream store founded by Jordi Roca. Jordi is the pastry chef in El Celler and previously won the World’s Best Pastry chef in 2014 – a year when the restaurant itself came second to Noma.
Of course, we barely need point out that El Celler is not the sort of place you just rock up to at 8pm some evening; the waiting list can stretch out for months, and seats are released on the first of every month via their online booking system.
The benefits of this location is that you can easily fly to Girona and hop in a taxi or drive up from Barcelona, making this a culinary voyage that isn’t that out of reach.
Once you secure that booking.
The restaurant itself is a cocoon that seems a world away from the pedestrian world just outside. The beautiful and homely courtyard is nicely shaded and overlooked by a villa, making you feel like you’re visiting your rich Auntie in France for dinner.
Inside, the foyer is crisp white, while each table with its own station for wine, glasses and final prep of any dishes before they’re placed on the table – where, finally, the servers will deliver you a lesson in how to drive your palette wild.
Here’s the kitchen
And so to the food – food I’d expected be delivered in a Heston Blumenthal-style of spray mists and nitrous oxide.
In fact this experience came purely down to stories surrounding each dish, the providence of the food, respecting the food and the flavours. Picking out highlights is hardly easy. But here’s my best effort…
1. The World Summed Up in Five Snacks.
This dish represented the brother travels last year and captured inspirations from Thailand with a thai chicken, coriander and coconut curry and line.
Japan with a miso cream with nyinyonyaki, China with pickled vegetables and plum cream and Peru with a “Causa limena”. Each one a flavour explosion.
2. Memories Of The Three Brothers Working In Their Parents’ Girona Bar
A 3D visual image of the boys in the bar was delivered with five small taste parcels.
The Campari bonbon, this made me realise this was the world’s best restaurant. Ice cold liquid of grapefruit and campari exploded in my mouth as the cocoa shell melted.
It took about five minutes to recover from the ecstasy. The other dishes were breaded squid, kidneys and sherry, escabeche mussels and salt cod with spinach and pine nuts.
3. Green Olive Ice Cream
An intense flavour, brine and all, served on the branch of an Olive tree. Really unusual but moreish.
4. An Intense Taste Of Sea With a Ying Yang Oyster and Seabream Ceviche.
I can still taste the black squid ink. A real ozone flavour; the taste of surfing in two spoons.
5. St George Bonbons And Brioche
St George is a legend in Catalonia. These mushrooms show up briefly around his day, April 23, then are not to be found.
The bonbons were chilled tiny, creamy and delicate, while the brioche was filled with a mushroom veloute.
6. The Taste of Sea With Red Mullet With Kombu, Prickly Pear Foam, Sea Anemone, Salicornia and Katsuobushi Vinegar
A delicious – delicious – collection of flavours from the rock pool.
7. Langoustine With Cocoa Bean Sauce, Black Mole With Shrimp Cream With Cocoa And Boletus Edulis
Beautifully served in a cocoa bean dish.
8. Peas With Licorice, Lemon and Iberian Pork
At this stage a salad was welcomed! A local dish modernised with peas painstakingly podded for my eating pleasure.
9. Pigeon with Fermented Rice, Rice Skin Sauce, Koji Sauce, Fermented Rice Bread with Pigeon Parfait
Look at how tiny those little flowers are. They made about 100 of them that day, served with a non-filtered organic sparkling Cava.
10. Prawn Marinated With Rice Vinegar, Prawn Head Sauce, Crispy Prawn Legs, Seaweed Volute and Phytoplankton
One of the stand-out dishes for me. Everything eaten and enjoyed especially the crispy prawn legs, served with 2010 Mosel.
11. Blackspot Seabream With “Samfaina”
Lot of work in that, just to create a mosaic to represent Barcelona.
12. Iberian Suckling Pig With Salad of Green Papaya, Thai Grapefruit, Apple, Coriander, Chili Pepper, Lime and Cashew
Back to the turf and another standout dish, with this amazing local dish reimagined into this delicacy.
13. Po$h Kebab – Lamb With Eggplant and Chickpea Puree, Lamb’s Trotters and Spicy Tomato
A dish inspired by the kebabs eaten with on the brothers’ trip to Turkey in August 2015.
14. 72-Hour Cooked At 55 Degrees Veal Oyster Blade and Marrow, Tendons and Avocado
The last of the savoury dishes and a very memorable one.
15. Turkish Rose – A Dessert Inspired by Nishane Perfume. The Scent and Taste of The Rose, Peach, Saffron, Cumin, Cinnamon and Pistachio Were Exactly The Same
The most beautiful tasting dessert I have ever had in my life. The mix of textures and tastes were perfect.
This was the genius of Jordi Roca at his best. Guests had to smell the perfume and compare to the dessert. With the 2007 Auslese the comparison was flawless.
16. Orange Colourology – Pumpkin, Carrot, Egg, Citrus Fruits, Making For A Delicate Masterpiece
Imagine how long it took to create these.
It was a work of art and tasted so delicately light. Washed down with a 12-year-old Malvasia from Las Palmas whose citrus taste complemented the dish perfectly.
17. Cuban Cigar Box – Chocolate With Milk, Vanilla, Dried Plum, Tobacco Leave and Cocoa
A nice little chocolate upper to end the most amazing meal. The smell was that of a cigar box, subtly tabacco that enhanced the chocolate.
18. Petit Fours And Coffee
We came this far so why not. Some delicious little handmade treats here.
The beer and wine matching to each course was perfect. A price list of the wines seemed very reasonable for such a high end restaurant with €30 bottles on there making it an affordable option. I imagine this meal is in the region of €350 with the wines matched, putting it out of many people’s price ranges – but I didn’t get an answer on that, and besides, you’d pay the same for a festival weekend.
This may be shorter. But it’s equally unforgettable.
The lack of pretentiousness and the humility of the brothers is very evident – surprising, almost, given the assumptions we make about such high-end places. Great food, cooked to perfection, matched with beautiful wines and beers in a classical modern setting.
If you love food – and I mean, if you truly love food – then you need to get here.