Thursday, 7 October 2010

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona

I've never been to a three Michelin-starred restaurant. We were besides ourselves with excitement at the prospect of dinner at El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona. It was to be our final dinner of a 5 day holiday.

The earliest slot they did was 9pm, and when we arrived to a deathly silence there was only one other table seated. No tinkling of a piano, no music at all, my heels clattered embarrassingly along the wooden floor as I walked to the toilets. After a complimentary glass of cava, we decided to go all out with the Feast menu.

A small tree, its branches dangling with olives arrived, caramelised on the outside and flavoured with anchovy. It was a weird sensation to eat sweet olives with fish. A succession of amuses followed, many anchovy based. One lovely delicate sphere filled with a fruity bellini was the most memorable, no less because my big fat sausage fingers smashed it open on picking it up.

Mushroom brioche flavoured with truffle, served with pot au feu consomme was a bizarre combination. The pot au feu was very lightly flavoured, almost tasteless though quite palate-cleansing. Far better was the smooth, creamy smoked herring roe 'omelette'; the texture was as if it was in a jelly bubble. A smooth, gamey pigeon liver dome was perfunctory.

A smoke-filled dome followed, and opening it revealed round wrinkly spheres. These were roasted vegetables with anchovy in a broth. I remarked it tasted as our holiday had been thus far; full of anchovies (we were staying in L'Escala, where they are a speciality), padron peppers and barbeque smoke.

The requisite foie gras course was visually appealing. A quartered fig was sweet and ripe, a figgy reduction coating the bottom of the bowl to mingle with the liquid foie gras. However, the truffle oil drizzled on top overwhelmed the subtle flavours entirely.

A singular prawn approached us next, from Palermo just down the road. There was an element of fun in its presentation; the white prawn snow was studded with little tentacles and a tiny green edible cactus or two. A tray of wet napkins followed next, and we were ordered to eat the body along with the sand, finishing off with a good suck on the head. Barely cooked, the flesh was tender and translucent. The prawn sand was of pure prawn flavour and the head was almost entirely off-putting; blood red liquid nestled within it, presumably added by the kitchen. I took a deep breath and went for it; the intense flavour was jaw dropping. It is not for the squeamish.

Onion soup with crespia walnuts and Comte cheese was again, intense. The most oniony of onion flavours, with a cheesy background. It was rich and filling. I started to waver at around this point. We'd opted to go booze-free for budgetary reasons, and all those massive flavours were starting to get to me. It probably didn't help that they have the most uncomfortable chairs ever there; leaning back meant your bra strap would dig right into your back so we sat awkwardly straight.

I was gently nudged back into form by the next course. A grilled fillet of sole was served with a variety of sauces. We were instructed to start with the green dill sauce, moving up to camomile, then orange, pine nut and finally olive oil. Each of these were a delight; so different to each other, yet working beautifully with the fish. A sphere of olive oil on the final puree burst pleasantly in the mouth to finish the dish off.

Baby squid with onion rocks was my favourite dish of the night. The onion 'rock' was squidgy, the baby squid completely melt in the mouth. The flavours worked beautifully together, all lightened by the foam.

Red mullet with suquet and lard confirmed that the chefs sure know their seafood. The fish was cooked so delicately, the flesh was incredibly tender and moist. The sauce reminded me of bisque, so full-on a whallop of the essence of the sea.

Steak tartare, one of the dishes that made me want the Feast menu, was the straw that broke our companion's back. He looked pale, yet flushed and after a mouthful he declared himself done. Cancelling the rest of his menu with wild gesticulation, the previous days' indulgences had caught up with him and he went off for a purge. We soldiered on gamely. The little globules of mustard ice cream made for a great contrast in the room temperature meat; a grape reduction sweetened the mouthful, but I found the hollow potato pillows to be superfluous.

Our final savoury course was lamb with apricot and peach terrine. I could have done without this, to be honest; while visually appealing, it didn't strike me as being anything special and I found the very fatty lamb paired with the fruit to be a bit odd. The milky blob was a cheesy sort of sauce, topped with a little curry powder; after a taste, this was abandoned completely.

The lemon distillate sherbert was a life-saver and a stomach reviver. Lemon acid foam, bergamot jelly and cubes of lemon cake was deliciously refreshing and woke us up from a slack-jawed stupor.

Rose souffle drew gasps from us, and our friend who fell by the wayside looked a touch put out. The cream, held together by a perfectly clear sugar construction was decadent, while the flavour of the rose played off beautifully with the lychee puree and teeny tiny wild strawberries in the bottom.

Our last course came presented on an enormous plate. It was explained to us that on the left was Tahitian vanilla ice cream, while the pile on the right was comprised of ingredients the chef thought made an accurate representation of the Tahitian vanilla. I can't say I agree, though the spheres of normal vanilla, jelly cubes, licorice, cocoa and stunningly black olive was a mind boggling combination.

Petit fours, usually one step too far for me were accomplished, and we cooed over the Irish coffee marshmallow. For me, Can Roca's best efforts lay in the desserts.

At 145 Euros for the Feast menu, it's not cheap. We mused over what had made my friend bow out and barf three times; was it previous indulgence? Perhaps the late start time? We were absolutely shattered by the 1am finish; us Brits just aren't used to eating so late, and we marvelled at a couple who sat down at their table at midnight. There was one over-riding feeling with all the savoury courses, and that while some were stunning, it was all just so intense. This was a word we used over and over.

El Celler de Can Roca

Can Sunyer, 48
17007 Girona, Spain


PDH said...

SUCK THE HEAD! Quite a daunting feast menu but some of it looks amazings

The Grubworm said...

This does indeed look VERY intense. Even in small bites, that amount of richness must have been something else.

I was intrigued by the prawn dish in particular, having now sampled the delights of prawn sashimi. What was in the head? Was it regular prawn brains, or had they stuffed it with some super-intense reduction of prawn?

No matter how rich though, this looks like a menu to remember.

Joshua said...

That's a lot of food.

When you said you had the 9pm slot I thought you meant you'd got the last sitting, not the first.

Su-Lin said...

Oh god, now I feel like a right pig for actually considering ordering another dessert after our feast menu...

Unknown said...

Love the Spanish! Love that someone sat down to a menu like that at midnight - amazing. Sounds like a memorable meal although a bit disturbing that someone was vomiting from it - surely not a good sign or were they sick already?

Chris Pople said...

Those desserts did definitely look worth testing the stomach for, but I just wasn't in the right place physically or mentally. I'd love to go back, but perhaps next time I'll book for lunchtime...

Greedy Diva said...

Perhaps more like hard work than something to relax over and enjoy? I have had similar experiences when trying to get into posh restaurants on my travels and getting the 10pm (or later) sitting - it does take the edge off. Although on my last trip I did slip pretty easily into the lazy sleep in, siesta and 10pm dinner way of life - I was pretty much sleeping or eating the entire time. Hope you had a fab holiday.

Unknown said...

That price looks cheap for what you got. I would happily sit down to that menu and sink into the intensity of it all.

Hollow Legs said...

Pavel - Oh the head sucking was daunting alright...

Grubworm - yes, I think they did inject the head with the essence of prawn; I can't think how else the flavour would be so intense.

Josh - it was pretty mammoth. I don't think the restaurant was even open before 8:30ish...

Su-Lin - you're obviously more hardcore than us ;)

Gourmet Chick - I said in the post it could have been a number of reasons; over-indulgence from days passed, the hour of the day, sheer richness. I have no doubt about the food, as Helen and I were both fine. If a little queasy.

Chris - you little lightweight, you ;)

Greedy Diva - it was definitely a good experience, but perhaps quite a physical strain.

Peter - by other 3* standards, it was cheap, yes.

tori said...

What a great write up- particularly love the attention to small details- like the way bad chairs interact with bras :) Heading off there next April for a 9pm seating- think a nanna nap in the afternoon is the only way to tackle it!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the explanations in details, as this is one of the rare meals I didn't take notes of - due to another few fellow diners.

I hope u don't mind me plagiarising u in the descriptions!

Kind regards,
HK Epicurus : )