Restaurant: El Celler de Can Roca – Act 5/6
Cuisine: Modern Spanish/Spanish/French/Fine Dining
Last visited: May 7, 2014
Location: Girona, Spain (about an hour drive from Barcelona)
Address: C/ de Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Gerona, Spain
Phone: +34 972 22 21 57
Price Range: $50+ ($261 “Feast Menu” + $124 optional wine pairing)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Chef/Owners Roca Brothers
- 3 Michelin Star
- #1 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2013
- #2 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014
- Destination restaurant
- 45 seats
- Reservations required (2 months in advance)
- Optional wine pairings
- 3-4+ hours dining experience
- Closed Sunday and Monday
- Open Tuesday to Saturday
- El Celler de Can Roca – Act 6 of 6
- El Celler de Can Roca – Act 1-6 (Full post)
**Recommendations: DO THE WINE PAIRINGS. Tasting of Classics Menu: €155 ($213 USD) with wine pairings €55 ($76 USD) Feast Menu: 22 courses for €190 ($261 USD) with 13 wine pairings €90 ($124 USD)
A dream within a dream; and the real experience was better than imagined. Dining at El Celler de Can Roca was one of the most rewarding experiences. Life changing might sound dramatic, but it was emotionally and mindfully impactful. To be moved by food, or more precisely the creative ideas behind food is inspirational, and here, inspiration is a contagious driving force.
I felt it from the moment I stepped foot in their garden patio. The entrance wasn’t particularly grand and it wasn’t in a castle on a hilltop, but the hairs on my arms were already standing. My nose was captivated by the scent of Jasmine flowers which draped the walls of the restaurant like curtains from a fairytale, and this set the tone for the rest of the evening. They bloom during the night and I was told it was the first day they opened. True or not, I didn’t care. They were there, I was there, and so were all three of the Roca brothers.
El Cellar de Can Roca has been called the successor of Ferran Adrià’s elBulli. A culinary masterpiece never replaced, but the influence both restaurants have on generations following is legendary. It wasn’t until elBulli closed in 2011 that El Cellar de Can Roca received the long awaited and deserved recognition it has today.
I’ve never been to elBulli, although I have dined at restaurants of Chef Ferran Adrià’s protégés in various cities, as well as at his younger brother Albert Adrià’s restaurants in Barcelona (Tickets and Bodega 1900).
El Celler de Can Roca and elBulli are Spanish (Catalonia) rooted pioneers in the culinary world, and I wouldn’t compare them even if I could, but El Celler de Can Roca is arguably the “elBulli” of today.
The 3 Michelin Star El Cellar de Can Roca was named “The Best Restaurant in the World” last year by The World’s Best 50 Restaurants, and this year it was No. 2 – see my recap of The World’s Best 50 Restaurants in London, England which I attended this year here.
El Cellar de Can Roca opened in 1986 in Girona which is a small and quaint Catalan city about an hour drive northeast of Barcelona. The original location was next to their parents restaurant Can Roca (pictured above), but they moved to their current location in 2007. They are only a few blocks away so I checked out the parents restaurant before dinner.
It is a casual neighbourhood cafe and literally a “mom and pop” shop. Their parents still open the humble restaurant and their mother still cooks her Catalan cuisine. Apparently little has changed and it still caters to locals, but nowadays it is treated as the staff canteen for El Celler de Can Roca as well.
El Celler de Can Roca is opened by the three Roca brothers, Joan (above), Josep and Jordi. The oldest is Joan, the head chef and the middle is Josep, the sommelier. The youngest is Jordi, the pastry chef, who was also named World’s Best Pastry Chef at The World’s Best 50 Restaurants this year. Each carry their own weight and much like a concert they have their own instruments and play in perfect harmony. The restaurant is balanced and not one shines above the other, yet each have their moment in the spotlight. They are dedicated to their respective crafts and their strengths are interwoven in a seamless way.
If the goal of chefs, cooks, sommeliers, and restaurateurs is to make their customers happy, they go beyond that here. They bring emotion to the plate and to the diner. To connect to people through food and share with them a vision is no easy task, and here it seems effortless. I could feel the passion, effort and even taste the culinary freedom. They do as they please, but more importantly without compromising or being selfish.
The idea of “culinary freedom” is hard to understand, let alone achieve. It is easy to assume once a chef becomes an owner he can do whatever he wants, cook whatever he wants and serve whatever he wants, but it is rarely the case. Besides looking at budgets and operating a restaurant as a business in order to survive, they often need to cater to the palates of their clientele; but the advantage of destination restaurants like this, is the clientele is international. In a way it makes it harder since pleasing everyone is impossible, but here the pleasing is natural.
They are perhaps cooking what they want to eat (in the context of what the restaurant is), and I’m fairly certain doing what they want to do, but in an educated and responsible way. They repeatedly work with single ingredients, old and new techniques, and constantly reinvent things in a world where everything has been done before. Some techniques I’ve never seen and because they are done tastefully, executed properly and applied with intent, they don’t come across gimmicky.
They are not always inspired by the ingredient first either, and sometimes it is a concept, wine, or even perfume (in reference to Jordi’s perfume inspired desserts) that guides the creation of a new dish. They are leaders who don’t put creativity at the forefront of education, or vice versa, but they reinforce the importance of culinary pedagogy.
There are many chefs pushing the envelope and testing boundaries in an attempt to create something new, but they are often criticized for disappointing results or trying too hard. Whether it is lack of experience or understanding, their ambition does not always work in their favour. To do something creative is always a risk and at a place like this there is little room for error. While creativity is stretched even further at places like Alinea, the risks here are more calculated and seen in another light. There is no fear in trying something new and they do it with research, theory, thought and thus confidence.
They play with temperatures outside of desserts, break down flavours of one ingredient, deconstruct and reconstruct, view one ingredient in multiple ways, manipulate textures, and play with food in a respectful and sophisticated way. They do what many chefs of this caliber do, but they do it with unrivaled finesse. There are little to no trends here, only new ways of looking at ingredients and translating flavours. They might not be the first to attempt all the mentioned concepts, after all ideas are constantly borrowed, but their reinventions and interpretations are worth praise.
In most kitchens, the head chef leads the way, but it is not necessarily the case at El Celler de Can Roca. The savoury dishes had sweet components and efforts from Jordi and the wine pairings were never forgotten. The responsibilities were equally shared and while each department could excel on its own, none could reach the full potential without the other.
Touring the 60,000+ bottle wine cellar and dedicated sherry room with Josep.
Never have I felt so strongly about the importance of wine pairings, as they are done with such precision and perfection here. They do not accompany the meal, they are part of the meal. Most of my wine pairings were from Spain and some I would have never tried unless I was here. Not doing wine pairings at El Celler de Can Roca would be a sin. The attention to detail was to the very last drop, but when it was time for desserts, they were given their sweet moment. There was no competition in the flow of the menu, only mutual respect for each other’s strengths.
Being rather new to Catalan cuisine I could not relate to many of the dishes in a nostalgic, familiar, or historical way, not to say you need to in order to appreciate it, but it does give another level of understanding. While it is Catalan-style food, there are many global influences and modern applications making it avant-garde style or “New-Catalan” style cuisine.
Unlike French-style fine dining it was not about the foie gras, excessive truffles and stereotypical pretentious ingredients (although I love all those too), instead it was about precious ingredients with a strong sense of place. Most of the featured delicacies were local and carefully selected from regions representing the highest quality in their respective categories. Being a tourist, my knowledge was limited and I had no connection to these places, but the way they were presented made me ache for a visit.
The Chef’s Tasting Menu started light with carefully treated vegetables gradually leading up to seafood followed by meat and desserts. This comes as no surprise to any well developed chef’s tasting menu, but the prime ingredients had little alteration. It wasn’t to the point of “effortless” cooking, but they made simplicity elegant and appreciated, much like the Japanese cooking philosophy. The transition between dishes were smooth and aromatics were taken seriously. The seafood courses were my favourite, but the level of enjoyment for each dish was splitting hairs.
The primary ingredient was always obvious, but the secondary components played of equal importance. It was treated as preciously as the main and they brought the dish to life, much like the operational roles of the restaurant.
The Roca brothers are the heart, but nothing without support from their impeccable staff trained to execute their vision. This vision was something they shared with their diners too. I was taken on a culinary journey inspired by their travels and the personal touch was never lost.
There must have been hundreds of ingredients used and sometimes many components on a plate, but in a good way that was never distracting. The flavours didn’t overwhelm each other or cancel each other out, and the main ingredient was never overshadowed. The ratio of sauce, meat, and garnish was considered and every plate was finished clean and not only because it was exquisite, but because it was balanced. Every dish was cohesive, every ingredient was accounted for, and every component considered.
When it comes to attention to detail, they are meticulous. Every dish had matching plating and silverware and the dishes were served at the proper temperature with well heated and/or chilled plates. The plating was modern without being “trendy”, but more importantly it was logistical. There was no questioning what was on the plate or how to eat it, and taste came first. There was no real rise or fall and course after course was consistently incredible. The highlights would be based on personal tastes rather than obvious favourites.
My experience here was beyond what I understand and can explain. Inevitably there were high expectations going in which could end in utter disappointment, or disbelief and amazement, and at no point did I feel the prior. It was beyond what I imagined, which is self-rewarding, and it set a whole new benchmark for fine dining and creativity. It was advanced in a way which made me want to learn rather than to think, and critical thinking is a challenge for me to ignore. I didn’t even need to try here and letting go happened unconsciously.
The Roca brothers are “The Three Tenors” of the culinary world. They sing a different tune, but create a culinary opera. Dinner here is a concert, and they are harmonious in their skills and talent. They stay true to humble beginnings and themselves, and stay connected and rooted to the restaurant. I can’t say for a fact, but it is said at least one brother will always be at the restaurant and there is no interest in opening elsewhere. This speaks of their dedication and honest commitment to passion and customers.
El Celler de Can Roca exudes a silent confidence. To reach this level of near perfection is to be excessive and obsessive, but they are only so by nature and not in presence. Value is not seen in the abundance of expensive ingredients, but rather in culinary innovation, education and beauty. They honour their craft as dedicated artisans and create an experience worth living for.
Few restaurants and chefs make it to “number one”, and once there, time is usually limited; but when one’s work becomes so powerful as to influence others on a global scale, it is no longer about being number one. I don’t believe El Celler de Can Roca is in its prime or has had its time, because so long as life exists, they will continue bringing ideas to food and inspiring future generations of cooks and chefs.
El Celler de Can Roca is one of the birthplaces for creativity and they make impossible seem possible. It is not necessarily “cutting-edge” in a risky sense, or extravagant in a dramatic sense, but simply beautiful in a magical way. What they are doing is not quite classic, but their style is. They create music more so than theatre and there is longevity to what they do, and respect for what they do. They are not creating a food movement which is what great chefs do, but moving people with food which is what extraordinary chefs do.
On the table:
The reception starts with a complimentary glass of Albet i Noya Cava El Celler Brut D.O. Penedès. Albet i Noya is a leading organic wine producer in Spain and this elegant sparkling wine is served with a series of “snacks”. The snacks are a preview of what to expect.
Caramelized Olives stuffed with Anchovies – 5/6 (Excellent)
- The first snack came dangling from a bonsai tree.
- They were caramelized olives stuffed with anchovies hanging from branches like Christmas ornaments.
- It was an amusing amuse bouche and one of their signature snacks.
- I love anchovies, but unfortunately we don’t get them often in Vancouver since it’s an under appreciated fish.
- I haven’t had enough to pick out differences, but these were sourced from L’Escala on the coast of Girona (Catalonia).
- L’Escala is one of their major fishing ports and it is world renowned for their anchovies.
- The town celebrates an anchovy festival and salt festival and there are even anchovy museums.
- This area is most well known for “the best” or highest quality anchovies, although there are other ports with excellent anchovies too.
- L’Escala anchovies are extra meaty, salted, and packed in high quality olive oil and/or brining liquid.
- Here, they reversed the concept and stuffed the anchovy inside the olive, likely playing off the idea of L’Escala anchovies being packed in olive oil.
- I thought it was going to be a very salty bite, but it wasn’t. It was salty, but not overly so.
- Part of me wanted to try the L’Escala anchovy alone, or with a simple tomato salad, the traditional Catalan way of enjoying it, but this was a creative bite.
- There was a caramelized candy shell wrapped around half the olive which gave crisp texture and balanced out the saltiness.
- It was a sweet and savoury bite and I could taste the meaty olive and meaty fishy anchovy equally.
- It was a very flavourful, juicy, oily (from both olive and anchovy), and addictive bite.
- If in Vancouver and you love anchovies, try the Anchovies & Eggs at Ask for Luigi.
Carpano Bonbon with Grapefruit and Black Sesame Explosion – 4/6 (Very good)
- This is another signature snack, but they play around with the liqueurs.
- Carpano is known as “the King of Italian vermouth”.
- The Italian distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano created this modern day red vermouth in 1786.
- Vermouth is a fortified wine made from botanicals and Italian families making it have their own original recipe.
- It is made with various spices, herbs, and roots etc., and the flavour can be earthy, floral, bitter, woody, and or medicinal.
- Usually I expect bonbons at the end of the meal, but here it was served in the beginning.
- The shell tasted like black sesame white (?) chocolate and it was nice and thin.
- It cracked easily and out burst an explosion of grapefruit juice mixed with Carpano vermouth.
- I tasted licorice first perhaps from star anise or fennel in the Carpano, and then a citrusy brightness from the grapefruit.
- It was only half sweet and subtly nutty from the sesame and chocolate, and it had all sorts of aromatics.
- Pleasant bitter notes came from the vermouth, sesame, chocolate and grapefruit, and I never thought of putting all those together.
- The one bite had many layers of flavour and it was a solid palate cleanser with the acidity from the grapefruit.
Smoked Herring Caviar Omelette – 3/6 (Good)
- This was the only snack I thought was okay, but an “okay” at El Celler de Can Roca is more or less still good.
- They usually serve variations of this omelette as a snack. My version was with smoked herring caviar – egg in egg.
- The herring caviar was likely high quality and well sourced, but it wasn’t the finest caviar.
- I would not expect it to be either since it was all covered up and folded in between the mini omelette.
- The omelette was executed using spherification-like technique and it was enjoyed in one bite.
- The exterior was a bit rubbery and thick (being an egg), but the inside was an explosion of liquid.
- The inside tasted like savoury liquid egg, and not just the yolk, and I couldn’t feel the texture of the caviar, but I could taste it.
- It didn’t taste smoky or salty, but it just blended in with the omelette.
- The omelette skin was not like a regular omelette in texture and it was a bit more rubbery since it had to hold the liquid inside.
- If it was a regular omelette the liquid centre would leak out.
- I wasn’t too keen on the texture of the omelette skin so it wasn’t my favourite snack.
Crispy Shrimp and Seaweed Crisps – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- They usually do a version of crisps, and lately they have been serving it on this “fish net” and wooden plank.
- It was creative plating and an edible storyboard or mini model of the sea.
- The light and thin wafer-like crisps were very delicate and infused with dried shrimps and seaweed.
- The crisps had lots of umami and a few incredibly tiny dried shrimps sprinkled on top.
- It was the thin, flat and papery “dried shrimp skins”, the size of short grain rice, often found in Chinese and Asian cuisine.
- A little of these dried shrimp skins go along way. They are potent and full of umami.
- I think the black dots were black garlic reduction or balsamic vinegar reduction, but I’m not sure.
- It was almost like a parmesan crisp and the intensity of umami was the same, but here it was from seafood rather than parmesan.
- I really enjoyed this and possibly because I’m Asian and the dried shrimp flavour was dominant and very Asian.
- It was slightly nostalgic and reminded me of Asian childhood snacks like prawn crackers, rice crackers, and dried seaweed, but a much more refined version.
- I didn’t eat the “fish net” which I don’t think was edible, but it would be neat if it was.
- At Chinese restaurants they have something similar to the “fish net” made from noodles or potatoes.
St. George’s Mushroom Bonbon & St. George’s Mushroom Brioche – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- This was my favourite snack and it was a play on hot and cold temperatures.
- Spring is the season for St. George’s Mushrooms and it is a very popular mushroom in Northern Spain.
- It is considered a delicacy and is very aromatic, woody, and earthy in flavour.
- It was my first time trying the mushroom, and paper thin shavings of it raw were used as a garnish on the hot St. George’s Mushroom Brioche.
- The hot mini brioche bun was airy and incredibly light like a hot air balloon.
- The brioche was stuffed with a hot and rich mushroom cream soup that was viscous and thick like béchamel.
- I felt like I was eating clouds of creamy mushroom soup.
- The raw mushroom garnish gave a slight bitter and extra earthy flavour to the bite.
- I love mushrooms, but I’m not keen on raw mushrooms, however I was glad I got to try it in its natural state and it was only a small shaving.
- It was a hot and savoury cream puff and I could have eaten 20.
- I could have eaten 20 of the following as well.
- The following interpretation for the St. George’s Mushroom was a cold St. George’s Mushroom bonbon.
- It was another bonbon, but this time in a shape of a mushroom.
- They were the size of two thumbtacks and it was a one biter.
- The inside was filled with a cold savoury mushroom cream.
- It was almost like mushroom flavoured ice cream, but it was the texture of cream and not ice cream.
- The exterior was a white chocolate (?) shell and the whole bite was more savoury than sweet.
- The white chocolate shell was actually not sweet at all and almost bland, so I questioned if it was chocolate at all.
- The green moss was decoration, but I think they could have made it edible as an aerated pistachio or Calçot sponge cake.
- I loved this cold interpretation even more than the hot, but I wish it wasn’t so fragile because it was tricky to eat let alone pick up without breaking.
- Both bites were explosions of contrasting temperatures, but I think the liquid in them was the same if not a similar recipe.
The snacks continued in the dining room with “El Món”.
El Món or The World – 5/6 (Excellent)
- This was what was inside the paper lantern globe.
- The five snacks were inspired by the Roca brothers recent travels.
- They wanted you to “eat the world” and took you on a “world-tour” in five delicious snacks.
- After describing each bite the server leaves by saying “have a nice trip”!
- 1) Korea
- It was the one served warm so they recommended starting here.
- It was a panko fried bao/bun with bacon, soy sauce, snow peas, kimchi, mushrooms and sesame oil.
- It was salty, sweet, tangy, nutty, aromatic and spicy with lots of umami and various textures.
- It was my second favourite bite of the five.
- 2) Peru
- It was my least favourite of the five bites, but still good.
- It was ceviche broth, also known as Tiger’s Milk (leche de tigre) – the leftover marinade from ceviche.
- It’s a great hangover cure and often served in a shot glass.
- I could taste a fishy seafood flavour, but I found it lacked acidity and I couldn’t taste any citrus.
- It was a bit bland, smoky, bitter and gelatinous, although Tiger’s Milk can be slimy in texture.
- I actually enjoy Tiger’s Milk, but I wasn’t keen on this version of it.
- 3) China
- This was the one in the shape of a shao mai dumpling.
- It was a wonton-like crisp stuffed with pickled vegetables and plum cream.
- I could taste something that was similar to hummus, but it had the flavour of black beans.
- There was a bit of black pepper heat and it was a sweet and sour bite.
- 4) Mexico
- This was my favourite bite of the five.
- It was a “burrito” with crunchy carrot, cucumber and I think daikon (which made me think it was Asia and not Mexico) with mole poblano and guacamole.
- Burritos are Tex-Mex, but the presentation was a logistical way to showcase the mole poblano which was the highlight.
- It tasted Mexican and the one bite was packed full of flavour.
- The mole poblano was super rich like peanut butter and I could taste all the ground nuts and seeds used to make it.
- I could taste a hint of chocolate and it was rich and creamy especially eaten with the added guacamole.
- Gucamole is like butter and it works beautifully with chocolate.
- It was a saucy, creamy and rich bite with sweet, savoury and smoky flavours and a bit of heat.
- The crunchy vegetables were a desired and necessary contrast since the burrito was mainly highlighting sauce.
- 5) Morocco
- It was the sweetest bite, so they recommended to eat it last.
- It was a crispy and crunchy pastry with almond, rose, honey, saffron, ras el hanout, and goat yogurt.
- It reminded me of the “faux peanuts” I had at Tickets in Barcelona.
- I also really enjoyed this one because it had all the ingredients I love.
- I’m really surprised I could taste pretty much all those aromatic ingredients.
- It was impressive how many flavours they were able to capture in only one tiny compact bite.
- Each one represented flavours from their respective countries and they were well designed.
- They were intricate with attention to details and textures and I can only imagine what steady hands, focus and patience it requires to make them.
- The flavours were quite traditional, but the bites were not authentic and they didn’t need to be either.
- It was not their intention to be authentic, but rather to show how they were inspired, and to share their journey.
The assorted house made bread tray included red wine panforte, walnut and apricot bread, traditional Catalan bread, sun dried tomato brioche, and black olive brioche.
Taleia Castell d’Encus D.O. Costers del Segre 2009, Spain – Tasting notes
Spring Vegetable Stock – 4/6 (Very good)
- Vegetable stock at a low temperature with sprouts, flowers, leaves and fruits
- Pretty! So pretty. It was a bowl full of spring and an elegant way to start the appetizer courses.
- It was not chilled, but served slightly colder than room temperature.
- The flavours were as delicate as it looked, but it wasn’t bland despite the mild flavoured ingredients and near clear colour.
- The vegetable and fruit consommé was sous-vide and made from sous-vide vegetables and fruits.
- It was likely the leftover liquid from sous vide peas, mango, pear, and likely other aromatic vegetables and botanicals.
- Great chefs let nothing go to waste, so I am assuming they use all the stems, skins and remnants of plant based ingredients used for other dishes to make this consommé.
- The flavours were so light and simple, yet so complex with the various infusion of ingredients I couldn’t quite pinpoint.
- It was likely reduced because the texture was between broth and gel.
- The texture was reminiscent of clear Chinese seafood stocks (e.g. fish maw soup) and if it wasn’t reduced it was thickened with a thickening agent (likely a powder).
- It tasted naturally sweet from the peas which were infused in the consommé.
- There were two varieties of peas and in Spain there are several varieties of peas, unlike North America which seems to have few in comparison.
- The tender peas added pops of sweetness and the two strands of young pea tendrils were incredibly sweet and fragrant.
- I couldn’t believe how much flavour and sweetness the minimal pea tendrils added to the overall dish, since they looked like garnish.
- There were also a couple minced sous-vide pears and some floating droplets of mango gels.
- It wasn’t like juice or aggressive with fruit flavours and the peas were really the highlight.
- It was fragrant and floral from maybe sous vide chamomile, mint and fennel fronds.
- It was subtle and gentle on the palate with a white pepper sprinkle that was nearly undetected unless told.
Joh. Jos. Prüm Kabinet Mosel-Saar-Ruwer 2007 V.D.P.
White Asparagus and Truffle Viennetta – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- This was one of my top 5 favourite dishes out of the 20-something snacks and courses featured. I still thought about it at the very end.
- Similar to the St. George’s Mushroom snack, this played with hot and cold temperatures.
- I’m brought back to memories of the “Hot Potato” at Alinea, and I wish more restaurants of this caliber would play with temperatures.
- Being the season for white asparagus, this course celebrated the ingredient with pride.
- I’m not sure where it was sourced, but white asparagus from Navarra is most world renowned as “the best”.
- Navarra is a community in Northern Spain bordering the Basque country.
- I would assume this was Navarra White Asparagus since El Celler de Can Roca uses the highest quality ingredients they can source, usually locally too.
- White asparagus is somewhat of a delicacy in Europe and especially prized in France.
- They are challenging to harvest because they must be picked before shooting up from underground, which can happen overnight.
- Once white asparagus is exposed to sunlight the chlorophyl develops and it becomes green asparagus.
- Green asparagus is dominant in North America, and affordable White Asparagus is likely from Latin America and not as valued as ones from France or Spain.
- Navarra white asparagus is valued for its smooth texture, little to no fibres, and intense flavour.
- The white asparagus was interpreted in two ways and in two temperatures: sweet and savoury, and hot and cold.
Hot White Asparagus – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- The white asparagus tip was touched with a bit of black garlic reduction and garnished with a balancing fresh herb.
- In Spain it would be typical to serve fresh or preserved white asparagus with mayo or vinaigrette as an appetizer.
- This was not a pickled white asparagus and it was sous-vide and served warm on a warm slate.
- It was soft and tender, but meaty and thick as white asparagus usually is in Spain.
- It was a bit sweet, not woody, and also a bit bitter, but in a balanced way.
- The texture of the asparagus was particularly memorable, even more so than the flavour.
- The sous-vide technique really enhances the flavour and texture; and when done correctly, it is noticeably superior to boiling or steaming.
- The black garlic reduction was a nice change from balsamic reduction and they share similar flavour profiles.
- Black garlic tastes like balsamic reduction meets mushrooms and it’s savoury with intense umami with a vinegar tang.
Cold White Asparagus & Truffle Viennetta – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- Going forward with the white asparagus and mushroomy flavour from the black garlic reduction from part 1, was part 2 of the “White Asparagus” course.
- The cold interpretation of the white asparagus was a play on the classic Vienetta ice cream cake.
- Now this was nostalgic! I used to buy Vienetta cakes in high school when I thought I had “graduated” from Dairy Queen ice cream cakes… to be honest, I still enjoy both (albeit its been years since I’ve had a Vienetta cake).
- !!! I want to cry just looking at this. The cold interpretation was better than the hot. No doubt. I loved this so much!
- I have a soft spot for ice cream, but it wasn’t the only reason why I loved it. I’m confident this would be liked by many.
- It was a savoury white asparagus ice cream with truffle shaving layers acting as the compound “chocolate” layers of the original Viennetta cake.
- It was salty sweet and so well balanced to the point of addicting.
- It was almost like a Vichychoisse, a French style rich and velvety chilled soup, but churned into ice cream.
- It tasted like cream of asparagus and mushroom soup and there was intense umami.
- The base could have been a brown butter ice cream which I’ve made before here.
- It was smooth, not icy, and sprinkled with I think smoked mushroom powder which gave it earthy and smoky aromatics.
- I could have licked the plate. I want this as my birthday cake.
Matassa Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, 2011, France
Mackerel with Pickles and Mullet Roe – 4/6 (Very good)
- Mackerel sauce with white wine, lemon, capers and chilies in vinegar, fried tomato, mullet roe (bottarga).
- The mackerel was marinated in salt and sugar and less fishy and aggressive than I’m used to.
- Being a very oily fish, it was naturally a rich bite.
- It had a soft and almost squishy flesh and it was not sweet or salty despite the marinade.
- The salt came from the condiment which was a mackerel sauce made from white wine, lemon, capers, chilies and vinegar.
- It was a nice change from pickled mackerel. It was well treated high quality mackerel, so a vinaigrette sauce on the side was appreciated.
- The grey colour was unusual, but it tasted fine and there was none left by the time I finished.
- It was acidic, but not spicy and I loved how it was stencilled on the plate as the skeleton of the mackerel.
- The fried capers were placed on black olive puree and it was nice to have a crispy acidic palate cleanser to cut the rich bites of mullet roe and mackerel.
- In between each piece of mackerel was a piece of mullet roe which I love!
- The salty, rich, and creamy mullet roe, a delicacy easily enjoyed alone, was stronger in flavour than the mackerel.
- Usually I have bottarga grated over hot buttered pasta, but with this high quality bottarga, the sliced pieces were a real treat.
- The mackerel, bottarga, black olive puree, and sauce all had different levels of umami, and it came together beautifully.
Navazos Niepoort Vino de Mesa de Jerez, 2012, Spain
Salad of Sea Anemone – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Razor Clam, Royal Cucumber and Seaweed in Escabèche
- The more I got into this the more I liked it. It was already good at first bite, but it just got better.
- The warm seafood salad tasted Japanese and it was a nice build up to seafood courses.
- It was reminiscent of a jelly fish salad, but with tender razor clams, sea asparagus, sea cucumber (the fillet rather than the exterior), kelp, and other varieties of seaweed.
- It was chewy (in a good way), crunchy and gelatinous (again, in a good way) and fresh.
- Seaweed is another ingredient with effortless umami and this had layers of briny flavour, umami, sweetness and acidity.
- It was more savoury-sweet than acidic and the style it was executed made for a pleasant sweetness.
- The serving utensils were tweezers instead of chopsticks.
- The serving dish was perfect for the course visually, but logistically it wasn’t as great because all the delicious Escabèche sauce was at the bottom.
- Escabèche is a common way of cooking in Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean.
- It refers to dishes where cooked meat, typically seafood, soaks in a sweet and tangy vinegar based marinade.
- This sauce was incredibly savoury, but not salty and I wanted a bowl full. I loved it!
- I didn’t get to it until the very bottom though and I wished there was more on top of the warm seaweed salad.
- I could taste a bit of lime juice, but it wasn’t nearly as acidic as ceviche juice or leche de tigre (“tiger’s milk”).
- The sauce tasted like cream of briny asparagus and broccoli soup, but it wasn’t heavy and there was a bit of mild heat in the aftertaste.
- I doubt it had cream and I’m not sure how it got a milky consistency.
- It’s typically made with vinegar or citrus juice and this was likely a combination.
- It can have olive oil and/or white wine too, and the milkiness could have come from the emulsification of the acid and olive oil.
- Escabèche is also made with aromatics like onions, carrots, celery, herbs and spices.
- All these flavours were well absorbed and infused into the seaweed and razor clams, but I still wanted more.
- Again, the flavour of this was more Asian (Japanese) than Latin American or Spanish, and the sauce was a highlight.
Viña Tondonia Blanco Reserva, D.O.Ca. Rioja, 1999, Spain
A Whole Prawn: Charcoal-Grilled King Prawn – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- Head juice with seaweeds, seawater foam and sponge cake of plankton
- I don’t know where the King prawn was sourced, but likely it’s from a place in Northern Spain producing the highest quality King prawns (in tune with their restaurant philosophy and menu).
- It did not taste like a Tiger prawn, but I could see people making the comparison.
- It had a bite, but it wasn’t elasticky or as snappy of a crunch as a Tiger prawn would have.
- I think the prawn was sous vide first and lightly cooked. The texture was tender and soft, but not sashimi.
- There was also a strong smoky aroma and the prawn was infused with smokiness, but it didn’t mask the natural sweetness of the prawn.
- The light seawater foam gave it a briny essence that was delicate and mild.
- The crispy fried legs were salted and served on the side.
- Under the top end of the prawn was a potent velouté made from prawn heads and seaweed.
- Again it had intense umami and prawn flavour from perhaps prawn oil too (?), and it was an excellent dipping sauce.
- The sponge cake of plankton was a great sponge for the leftover sauces and it was moist and light.
- In Spanish cuisine Gambas Ajillo (prawns cooked in garlic) is a typical dish served with bread for dipping, so the sponge cake played on that idea.
- There was also a fried prawn head and crispy tiny rice pebbles near the sponge cake (behind the prawn in the photo).
Palo Cortado-Steamed Langoustine – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- Bisque Velouté and Jerez Caramel
- This next course did not have a wine pairing.
- The “wine pairing” was in the teaspoon which was the Jerez caramel meant to be enjoyed last.
- It was a perfect dish for purists who appreciate simplicity and natural flavours.
- When it comes to deconstructing a dish and playing to all the subtleties of an ingredient and notes from wine, this dish had it all.
- It was stripped down to the bare essentials and it made you appreciate every aspect of the langoustine and sherry it was cooked in.
- Part 1: Raw langoustine served over hot stones.
- Palo Cortado sherry was poured over the stones and the lid was put back on for the langoustine to gently steam.
- I could smell the incredible aromas of this rare sherry variety as soon as it hit the stones, and this all played into the enjoyment of the course from start to finish.
- The sherry smelled like a cooking sherry and the initial notes were dry, but there was also a touch of sweetness.
- Langoustines are basically baby lobsters and they have the same flavour and texture.
- The langoustine was hot, but still barely cooked and I could taste the gentle sherry flavours which lingered.
- I couldn’t tell you what the Palo Cortado sherry tasted like since it was not had alone, but the lingering flavours were a touch sweet, but dry to start.
- The alcohol does not cook out at such a low temperature, but it wasn’t aggressive either and the edge was taken off so it didn’t mask the langoustine flavours.
- The flavours were very delicate and the aromas played on the nose and palate equally.
- Part 2: Langoustine Bisque Velouté
- Intensifying the flavours was part 2, the incredibly flavourful langoustine bisque velouté.
- It wasn’t a gradual transition, but a very suitable one considering it was only 3 parts.
- This bisque was a foamy savoury seafood cappuccino.
- It was made from langoustine shells, cream and hazelnuts which I almost forgot about, but I could taste them when I remembered.
- The hazelnuts were an amazing addition and it was only their oils in the bisque.
- It played with the hazelnut flavour found in some varieties of sherry such as Amontillado sherry or Manzanilla Pasada sherry.
- I could taste a hazelnut-sweetness in the nose and aftertaste and it was the “not-so-secret-ingredient”.
- It was creamy, but not thick with intense umami.
- It was richer in flavour than it was in texture and I’m sure the variety of sherry to make the bisque, but it was likely one emphasizing hazelnuts.
- I could taste the bisque long after I finished.
- Part 3: Jerez Caramel
- The last bite was actually a sip, or more accurately a lick.
- The teaspoon carried a bit less than ½ a teaspoon of Jerez (Sherry) caramel.
- All you needed was that amount though.
- The small drop was so potent and intense and it almost had as much flavour as the cup of langoustine bisque.
- It was almost like cough syrup in texture, but the flavour was of caramel, molasses, dates and fig.
- It was sweet as the last component to the dish and it just blended with the remaining flavours left on my palate from the soup.
- It wasn’t boozy and it didn’t have a bite, but I could imagine it in chocolate too.
- It was a wonderful transition from one course to another and the intensity just grew in a smooth way.
Sarnin-Berrux Blagny A.O.C. Meursault, 2012, France
Confit Skate with Mustard Oil – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Beurre noisette, honey, chardonnay vinegar, bergamot, aromatic mustard, confit capers and smoked hazelnuts
- Simplicity can be so underestimated. The theme continued: simple, elegant and beautiful.
- The confit skate was presented as the “white canvas”.
- I really love skate, but it’s been “red-flagged” as unsustainable and is subject to overfishing.
- It looks like a sting ray and is often associated with sharks, but officially it is labeled under the “Rajidae family”.
- The skate wing is very flaky and tender and similar to sole. It has a very mild and delicate flavour.
- This slow cooked skate was confit and it was almost melting with the touch of my fork.
- I’m not as familiar with mustard oil which is typically used in Indian cooking especially in the North.
- It’s supposed to have a very potent flavour, but I assume they used it sparingly or cut with another oil because I couldn’t taste potency or mustard flavours.
- Mustard oil is not permitted for use in the States (see here), and I’m not exposed to the flavour enough to know what it should taste like.
- The fish was simple and savoury and almost slippery in texture.
- The condiments were the “paints” on the serving dish which was the “palette”.
- The plating encouraged the diner to be their own artist and have fun.
- There was enough fish to try all the condiments with.
- Each condiment was unique and well developed with aromatics, but I would never think to put them all on a plate.
- They worked individually and even when I “smudged my colours” it still tasted good with everything mixed together.
- The most interesting was the smoked hazelnut condiment which tasted almost like a very refined Nutella.
- My palate was being introduced to many new combination of flavours with the interesting selection of condiments and fish.
- I’m glad it was a neutral tasting fish and it let the thoughtfully prepared sauces sing.
- They were aromatic and perfume inspired sauces with notes you would find in the wine pairing as well.
- I was reminded of Grant Achatz’s Lamb 86 at Alinea (lamb 3 ways served with 86 components).
Goyo Garcia Viadero Beâtum Tinto, 2010, Cantabria, Spain
Surf and Turf: Sardine with Pork Jowl – 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)
- Charcoal-grilled sardine-bone broth, suckling pig sauce and chervil oil
- The waitress left the table by saying “see if you can find the pork jowl”.
- This was one of the most memorable dishes and in my top 3 favourites of the 20+ course tasting menu. It was incredible.
- The flavours and ingredients were right up my alley and I was salivating before my first bite.
- The aromas of salty fish and intoxicating pork drippings were teasing my nose.
- With sardines, sardine broth and pork drippings I expected an umami bomb, and it over delivered with my highest expectations. Love.
- The “sardine” was an incredibly rich bite and it was about 2-3 bites.
- Few bodies and palates could handle more and it was almost as indulgent as foie gras.
- At first sight it looked like sardine, but it was actually a “faux sardine“.
- The flesh of the sardine was unexpectedly and surprisingly the pork jowl, and it was disguised with sardine skin to make it look like a real sardine.
- Even biting into the “sardine” it could have been a sardine.
- They mimicked the texture of sardine so well with the pork jowl and it had a meaty firm bite and chew, but it was not chewy.
- It was not melt in your mouth either, but the jowl had the exact same texture as a preserved sardine.
- The pork jowl was almost all fat (jowl pretty much always is), and every bite was succulent and savoury.
- It was the perfect balance of land and sea and it seemed like the pork jowl was marinated and cooked in sardine-bone broth.
- The charcoal-grilled sardine-bone broth and suckling pig sauce and chervil oil was my favourite sauce of the night.
- So far all the sauces from every course were perfectly seasoned and reduced, but this one was to another level.
- It was stick to your mouth gelatinous without being over reduced.
- It was so rich and flavourful and I knew once it cooled it would turn to jello.
- Despite the suckling pig sauce being made with pork drippings, it was not greasy.
- It looked like mayo and it didn’t melt into the hot sardine-bone broth, but they tasted great together.
- The sardine broth was a bit smoky and fishy in a good way. It was savoury without being salty.
- The flavours of both the broth and sauce were so intense and I could taste sardines and pork equally.
- It was incredibly well balanced and I wanted to bathe in it… half kidding.
Els Escurçons D.O. Qa Priorat, 2009, Spain
Spicy Mandala of Artichoke Flower and Milk-Fed Lamb Belly – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Lamb sweetbreads, curry yogurt, beetroot, spinach, turnip, lemon, tangerine, eggplant cream, sweet potato, leaves and flowers
- This dish was inspired by Jordi’s trip to India.
- The plating was beautiful and it was nice to see an interpretation of Indian food without a pool of curry. Of course I wouldn’t expect that here though.
- A Mandala is a sacred geometrical pattern and spiritual symbol that usually looks like a circle or a square in Hinduism and Buddhism.
- Technically it means a circle and it represents the universe.
- The plating for this course was inspired by the Mandala.
- The centre of the mandala is usually a dot and it is supposed to be created in a meditative process.
- Monks would work on one together and you start from the centre dot and work your way outwards.
- The dot isn’t supposed to have dimensions and I’m not sure if the “dot” on the plate was the turnip and artichoke (?) puree in the centre, or the artichoke flower.
- The elegant and fragile artichoke flower was stunning and it reminded me of the garde manger’s work in most upscale Chinese kitchens.
- The garnish tends to be flowers carved from vegetables at high end Chinese restaurants.
- The lamb belly was expectedly fatty, but not overly so, and it was well executed.
- Being an inexpensive cut of meat it requires low and slow cooking time and they made it taste like a pricey cut.
- I couldn’t taste many spices and it was subtle in flavour without being bland.
- It was a bit gamey, but not as gamey as New Zealand lamb.
- It was very natural tasting and I think they wanted the quality of the milk-fed lamb to shine.
- I actually couldn’t find the lamb sweetbreads which I missed.
- It was tender and moist but not succulent, and the highlight was the crispy skin which was like skin on a suckling pig.
- There were a few different sauces (curry yogurt, beetroot, spinach, turnip, lemon, tangerine, eggplant cream, sweet potato), but I wish I had a bit more of each sauce.
- The flavours were subtly Indian and the curry yogurt was mild and nothing was aggressive with spices.
- The sauces were sweet and savoury and they weren’t as bold or as obvious in flavour without knowing what they all were to begin.
Even the silverware was changed to silverware from India.
El Ciruelo, Vino De Parcela, Viñas Viejas, Spain
Morels and Jarret de Veal – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- Marrow, tendons, avocado and beans
- This wasn’t the most appetizing visually, but the flavour and dish was one of my favourites.
- With Tasting Menus I tend to be more interested in the appetizers than I am with the mains.
- It’s a bit unfair because you’re not as hungry by the time the mains come and usually I don’t find them as creative.
- Jarret de Veal, or Jarret de Veau, is the French name for the Italian dish Osso Bucco.
- The dish is made with a cut from the veal shank and the most important part is the centre bone, which the meat surrounds.
- The bone adds to the flavour of the dish, but in this case the bone was removed although the marrow still used.
- The avocado cream on the side was super thick like hummus and I’m not sure if the beans or peas were pureed into it.
- There were peas or beans (?) sprinkled on top of the dish and I’m not even sure which they were because they have so many varieties of each in Spain.
- I felt like I was introduced to at least 5 new varieties of peas.
- The gelatinous beef tendons were my favourite part and they were so well infused with flavour.
- The dish requires slow cooking and the tendons definitely absorbed all the ingredients it was cooked it.
- It was a rich and savoury dish with creamy mushroom and avocado sauces to accompany.
- The veal shank was shaved paper thin like roast beef and the spices were subtle, but it was still flavourful.
- I couldn’t pick out any particular spices although cloves might have been used.
- It was a rather hearty course and the flavours were of beef bourguignon meets an osso bucco.
- It was best enjoyed with some of everything in one bite.
- The only flaw to this dish was that one of my morels was sandy.
- It was unexpected for a restaurant of this caliber, but other than that, the dish came together well.
Viña Real Gran Reserva, 1987 D.O. Rioja, Spain
Pigeon Trilogy – 5/6 (Excellent)
- Part 1) Pigeon Heart and the Cloud of Rice
- It was a quenelle of well seasoned pigeon heart parfait and it came across as a richer chicken or duck liver parfait.
- It was a very rich bite and there was nice contrast with the light and crisp rice puff.
- It was slightly mealy in texture which sometimes happens when working with heart, but I still enjoyed the decadent bite.
- Part 2) “Botifarró” and Tatje pigeon breast
- Botifarró or butifarra is blood sausage and it’s the most important one in Catalan cuisine.
- Traditionally it is made with various parts of the pig, but in this case it could have been made with pigeon.
- It was actually hard to tell and I was enjoying it too much to really break it down.
- This was a black sausage so it was likely made with pig’s blood, but it wasn’t aggressive with pig blood flavour.
- The sausage was incredibly tender like soft tofu and there was a bit of sweetness to it too.
- I’m not sure if the sweetness was from chocolate, dates, or raisins blended with the pig’s blood (traditional to recipe), but one of the dots on the plate was chocolate.
- It was a rather aromatic blood sausage with hints of orange flavour.
- I think the dots around the plate were ingredients used to make the blood sausage and to cook the pigeon breast in.
- The dots of sauce tasted like ginger pâte de fruit, orange coulis, mandarin peel, morel puree, chocolate, and I think another orange segment with dill.
- I was impressed with the intensity in flavour each tiny dot had.
- The pigeon breast was succulent, tender and incredibly well cooked.
- It was buttery soft and savoury and likely sous vide in orange and mandarin, but the flavour was incredibly subtle.
- There was a sprinkle of fleur de sel on top and the texture of the melt in your mouth pigeon breast was a highlight.
- Part 3) Pigeon Stock
- The last component was the pigeon consommé.
- This was intense and it was probably the most intense tasting stock I’ve tried to date.
- It was clarified and potent and had flavours of soy.
- It had umami and a few sips went a long way. It had wine like attributes, but it wasn’t boozy and was not wine.
- It could borderline be too salty for some and it really woke up my palate. It was as aggressive as a shot.
- It was served warm and it was the essence of pigeon in a cup.
- I would assume the orange and mandarin peels would be used to make this as well, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention, and if it was used, it was subtle.
To be continued…
Sourdough ice cream with cocoa pulp