Review: El Celler de Can Roca
“Over the four hours, the size and pace of each course was perfectly judged. This is the kind of thing that separates any old tasting menu to that of a three Michelin star.”
One of the best restaurants in the world?
Newly svelte from a week of fasting I was ready and primed to ruin it all at a restaurant twice ranked No.1 in the world. El Celler de Can Roca is located in the medieval city of Girona about 60 miles north of Barcelona in Spain. There is much to enjoy about this medieval town in the heart of Catalunya but that’s not for this article.
El Cellar Can Roca opened in 1986 but moved to a purpose-built stunning modern building in 2007. It’s a family affair with the Roca brothers – the chefs and proprietors, having grown up amongst the pots and pans of a family restaurant. The history and story are told within the dishes of the menu. Some may argue a bit poncy, some may argue artful. Either way restaurants and meals like this are not designed to be just ‘dinner’, this is epicurean theatre. An immersive four- hour experience delighting the senses.
The Roca brothers received their first Michelin star in 1995, followed by a second in 2002 and the third star in 2009. In 2013 and 2015 it was ranked number 1 in the World’s Best Restaurants. It is currently ranked #3.
The dining room forms a triangle shape around a glass atrium housing a collection of poplar trees adding elegance and drama. A fairy light lit entrance opens out onto a cosy and romantically lit outdoor terrace where aperitifs and digestifs can be enjoyed. We were shown to our table, a large space made private with carefully designed pieces of furniture to divide the space. It felt like we had our own private area but without feeling cut off.
We were given the wine list. Well, I say list, it was three huge books wheeled over on shelves! Feeling overwhelmed we decided to go with the wine flight. This meant we were totally in their hands and didn’t need to be bothered with any form of decision- making. We were free to be looked after and entertained. And that we were.
A wonderful Cava kicked things off, generously topped up while we enjoyed our series of canapés. Each presented as a work of art displayed on specially made pieces of sculpture – three sets in all. The canapés were the most impressive I’ve had. Each complex and skillfully made with little explosions of flavour. The restaurant is known for the avant-garde while respecting food traditions – epitomised by the olive tree hung with “olives” made of green olive ice cream flavoured with anchovy – a clever take on the common Spanish bar snack. I recall a wonderful mini ragu cannelloni and an intensely mushroomy mousse and a soft mini bun filled with meat and topped with truffle.
Then it was on to the first of 13 courses. A consomeé of red mullet. An intense fishy hit, dark and rich yet light. The second course was more impressive – oyster four ways, with different flavour combinations (black garlic, apple, seaweed, sea anemone) and a fennel and oyster sauce. The next dish was probably my favourite in its utter simplicity, a harmony of flavour and stunning quality of ingredients. A Langoustine with sagebrush, vanilla oil and toasted butter. The langoustine one of the best I’ve ever tasted and simply prepared, poached in butter making it rich and bringing out the sweetness of the flesh perfectly complimented with a buttery aerated sauce with hints of vanilla. A sublime and stunning dish.
Mackerel, prawn and cuttlefish dishes featured next – all lovely and then a slightly disappointing dish for me – a piece of turbot with a vegetable sauce. This was ordinary having followed such magnificence.
Then it got meaty. Duck with corn and figs – perfectly pink duck breast with a creamy sweetcorn sauce and rich fig jus. Followed by Iberica pork and a lamb dishes both wonderful with interesting combinations. The true highlight for me was next – the squab civet (pigeon) – a visually intricate and impressive dish with amazing depth of flavour. This is a dish that I will always remember.
Of the three desserts, I was very taken with Pine wood – a pine honey ice-cream covered in ‘earth’ made of chocolate spiced with thyme, rosemary and oregano. It sounds like it won’t work but it does and of course, this is the skill of a truly creative chef. This dish had me excitedly texting my head chef…
The final dessert was a disappointment to me – ‘Old book’ – a Darjeeling mousse, butter cookie pastry wafers with book print imprinted onto each wafer and essence of ‘old book’ dripped onto the dish at the table. I thought it was all a bit ‘meh’ the mousse bland and the wafers papery. This was the only dish I felt was art over flavour. But I was a lone voice, my dining companions absolutely loved it and the ensuing debate almost sparked a row, such is the passion that a good meal can elicit!
Then a series of six petit fours ended arguably the most theatrical meal I have ever had.
You would think that we would be stuffed by the end. In fact no. We were all just nicely full. You see this is the skill of a truly exceptional tasting menu – it should be well timed and well portioned such that you do not leave uncomfortable. Over the four hours, the size and pace of each course was perfectly judged. This is the kind of thing that separates any old tasting menu to that of a three Michelin star. Throughout we were entertained, tantalized, delighted, surprised and replete.
The Michelin guide awards three stars for ‘exceptional cooking worth making a special journey for’ and this we did and it was well worth it.
El Celler de Can Roca
Address: Carrer de Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Girona, Spain
Opening Hours: Tuesday- Saturday: 1pm-12am, Sunday-Monday: Closed
Phone: +34 972 22 21 57
Featured Image sourced from: El Celler de Can Roca
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