It’s been bothering me ever since the phrase El Celler de Can Roca has been voted the world’s second best restaurant in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011 first reached my ears across the twittersphere. I mean, who in their right mind wants to be known as the second best anything?
From the moment I arrive at the unassuming location of El Celler de Can Roca, my preconceptions are trodden under foot. I’m expecting an establishment of grandeur, instead I’m disgorged into what I can only describe as a nondescript housing estate and a driveway which takes me into a contemporary landscaped courtyard where a country villa with a timber and glass annex announce the entrance to an epicurian utopia.
The ultra modern interior is a warren of glass and mirrored surfaces which please the eye and challenge the mind. Trying to find the door to the ladies’ room is a test of not looking like the un-coolest person in the building. It’s an entrée for what’s to come. If I had thought I was simply going to eat in a restaurant in which I could expect some of the highest standards of cuisine my palate had ever enjoyed, I was to think again. This was not simply lunch, this was a culinary grand opus.
The overture begins with sweet, golden caramelized olives adorning the branches of a bonsai olive tree. Around the trees the stage is set with driftwood rafts carrying the twisted bodies of crisp anchovy fillets and rice tempura which dissolve on the tongue releasing the flavours of the ocean and the rice fields of Pals. Through the rising columns of bubbles in my glass of Cava Nadal Brut I see stone boulders arrive on whose smooth surface lie russet tiles of chicken which manage, in the space of less than a centimetre’s width, to provide a crispy bite, a tender, moist centre and the echoes of Sunday roast dinners with the family.
By now, the house lights have come up in my brain and I begin to understand what raises El Celler de Can Roca above the sphere of ordinary excellent restaurants. Here, the brothers Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca have elevated dining to a new art form. It’s not just about the presentation and the flavours, it’s about awakening all the senses and arousing emotions through the sights, textures and flavours of the food.
Each course is served with precision and consummate aplomb by waiters who conduct proceeding from the table side workstations, quietly and unobtrusively. After tingling my taste buds with a Campari cocktail bomb encased in ice so brittle that just the heat from my fingertips threatens to explode it, the menu continues its journey through the landscape of Costa Brava. A brioche of San Jorge mushrooms with savoury Escudella broth brings the warmth of the earth while lobster Parmentier with a rich sauce of black trumpet mushrooms, and a moist, flaky fillet of sole flanked by five sauces carry the flavours of the Mediterranean and the salt-sprayed cliffs in essences of fennel, bergamot, pine nuts and olives.
Sated on savoury, the sweet sensations of eucalyptus ice cream, Shiso, Chartreuse, lime and avocado take my tongue for a salsa turn on the dance floor and return it in time to enjoy the choral finale of chocolate, vanilla, peach and melon ice bon-bons that explode in my mouth in a frenzy of childhood memories of sherbet fountains and fruit cocktail chews.
I leave the theatre of El Celler de Can Roca with my mouth and mind still ringing with the arias, duets and solo performances that have left me exhausted and exhilarated. From now on, I shall refer to this prandial pleasure dome as runner up in the world’s best restaurants or one of the world’s best restaurants, never again shall I utter the words second best in the same sentence as El Celler de Can Roca. To do so is a travesty of gastronomic proportions.
Buzz Trips visited El Celler de Can Roca as guests of Costa Brava Tourism
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+