Can Fabes – Slightly Below Expectations (September 2008)

When I planned my trip to Barcelona it appeared natural for me to also include two well-known restaurants, namely Santi Santamaria’s Can Fabes and El Celler de Can Roca. Santi is regarded a Spanish monument and has had a tremendous impact on Spanish Fine Dining. He enjoys enormous popularity with his TV cooking show on Saturday, has written numerous books and articles (some were quite controversial recently about his “different” take on molecular cuisine) and opened Santceloni in Madrid, EVO in Barcelona and recently the restaurant Tierra in Oropesa.

Can Fabes holds three Michelin stars since 1994 and is the most traditional of the six three star chefs in Spain renowned for his mastery of meat courses and his quest for product perfection. Funnily, I could not find a single detailed review of his cuisine at Can Fabes in the foodie community, only short posts on eGullet or elsewhere where there was praise and blame. This should have made me cautious, but the name was strong enough to get me into a reservation…

We drove from Barcelona and had some problems finding a parking place for our car which made us come late to the restaurant, around 2.15pm (the start lunch service at the usual 1.30pm). After an unorganised greeting procedure someone took us to our table which was located in the old part of the restaurant (the new one was empty?) in the last corner between the facilities and the kitchen. Horrible. It was dark, almost scary as I looked to a black wall… I was too horrified to even ask for a different table which never occurred to me before…

After being handed the menus we decided to go for the big “surprise” menu priced at €185 with a reduction in courses for the ladies. Well, to be honest we first tried to order different menus but the waiter was quite strict and commanded (yes!) that menus are only served by the whole table (I never had this before even if it is written all restaurants so far have shown some flexibilty). So far, so good – then we tried to get a ladies’ reduction and wanted to know how many courses and whether there would be pork or soy dishes. The waiter couldn’t tell – instead he said that we could order a la carte together with the menu. What a nonsense as this causes even greater effort in the kitchen than two planned menus. So we ordered the big menu for the whole table. A bad start.

Then the sommelier – when we asked him for advice he immediately recommended one wine, a special Santi Chardonnay which they source for probably 5-8€ and sell for €50. Puzzled again we let the wine come and found it not too bad (in the end only one drank two glasses…).

So the surprise could begin – watch out now, the following pictures display three star cuisine…

The first amuse was a beet root puree topped with joghurt, that’s all. While eating it we unavailingly waited for any sensation…

Amuse I

Amuse I

Second amuse comprised some fruits, plain with some sort of topping and the tomato was filled with couscous (we will encounter couscous later again). I believe any fruit shop in any main station in Germany (!) sells better quality. This was canned stuff with no flavour whatsoever.

Amuse II

Amuse II

We began to wonder. Next was the first course (maybe a third amuse?) Melon Cantaloup con Cangrejos de rio. The crawfish was more looking like an ordinary gamba, was well-done but rather tasteless, the combination with melon was without a binding element. Good, but not even one star level.

Melon & Gambas

Melon & Gambas

Next was an incredibly fishy bacalao which was not eatable. We sent it back almost completely.

Bacalao

Bacalao

Then a razor clam – please just compare this pale sick-looking specimen with the fresh ones from Rias de Galicia and judge yourself. As it was not properly cleaned we could eat only parts of it… And, there was no particular dish which we could recognise (same for the bacalao)…

Razor Clam

Then Almejas con couscous. Solid mussels served with couscous (well, essentially the same as in the filled tomato). So good, but there was no click, there was no feeling that this was anything particular or the best mussels we had. Good, but again not even one star. Nice Hering plate by the way;-)

Mussels with Couscous

Mussels with Couscous

We started to complain and did not get a “sorry” but the affirmation that the razor clam was fresh… Then the mâitre came and said: “Then we are doing something else”. This statement struck us by thunder because it seems hard to change a carefully prepared multi-course menu after four courses which is only served by the table. Outlandish.

It got better, at least for the next course which was Ravioli de Gambas, a signature dish of Santi. The gamba raviolis are filled with s of cep and onion confit. A very good combination, but the ceps and especially the onions dominated the gambas on the outside. One star level, ok. It would have been better to serve only one as they were quite heavy.

Ravioli de Gambas

Ravioli de Gambas

But this was only a short flicker of hope as the next dish was a disaster. Poached foie with cep gratinated with butter. Well, not so bad – at least from the outside… If someone likes overly fatty looking dishes…

Poached Foie

Poached Foie

After the first bite I nearly vomited it was so disgusting I couldn’t eat it – and I am a big fan of foie in all variations. It tasted like pure fat with no foie flavour whatsoever. Neither of us did eat more than one bite. Just to give you an idea – see the picture. I still cannot believe it.

Foie from the Inside

Foie from the Inside

As it couldn’t get worse we were thankful for any eatable dish thereafter. And, we got Espardenyas con pure de berenjenas which was a strong dish yet quite unusual… The sea cucumber was nicely prepared but a bit chewy, the puree of eggplant was a nice contrast. A very weird dish serving which they served without prior notice. Still, very good.

Sea Cucumber

Sea Cucumber

Next, we had a least one dish which was near three star level: Salmonete con tripa de bacalao. They announced the dish with something like sauce pil-pil which did not really match our experience. Again, the tripe was a bit odd, but the dish was the best of the meal. Excellent.

Red Mullet

Red Mullet

Lukewarm pigeon was also on the better side, I would even say very good, yet quite rustic.

Pigeon

Pigeon

Main was Ternera con escaluñas. Very good but far far away from the product quality and execution of the veal dishes I recently had at Christian Bau (Schloss Berg) and Peter Goossens (Hof van Cleve).

Veal

Veal

Dessert were a joke for a restaurant of that level. I wouldn’t serve those simple desserts at home. Bizcocho con mermelada de Moras y Healdo de mascarpone – a crepe filled with plum jam and mascarpone ice cream (which was very good).

Crepe

Crepe

So, the journey ended with Higo al horno con Helado de turrón. Enough said. The picture was not taken long after serving.

Fig with Torrone Ice Cream

Fig with Torrone Ice Cream

Writing this report was some kind of therapy as I still cannot understand how in the world something like this catastrophe could happen. I have some sort of theory but am reluctant to really think it through as it annoy me even more…

Service – don’t get me started. Arrogant in the beginning it improved a bit but still appeared helpless from time to time…

This “performance” (I don’t know how to call it) was lightyears away from three star level, on average not even one star. The worst meal of my life in this price category (even Rochat was better). Santi was not in the kitchen and we again stated some complains during and after the meal. They took the cava and the mediocre wine off the bill, printed us a wrong menu in Catalan and escorted us out.

The good thing was that the Roca brothers did celebrate modern cuisine at its best the very next day. But still, I have never regret spending money on food so much as when paying this bill.

Comments

comments

9 thoughts on “Can Fabes – Slightly Below Expectations (September 2008)

  1. Well, Ingo, that sounds like a nightmare… i never faced this… question is : bad day or just over rated restaurant… with so many mistakes and bad dishes, i would go the second option.

    Can Fabes was not on my spanish “to do list” and will not be after your post, while i’m now looking forward to your Roca review !

    Cheers
    Laurent

  2. @Laurent – it was a nightmare. I still don’t know what really happened.

    @Jon – I know Vedat’s review of course and it helped to build up the expectations of ingredient-driven cuisine at highest level. If you just look at the foie or the razor clam it tells the story… I disagree with Vedat re Can Roca – this was one of my best meals ever. But as Can Roca has improved imho, Can Fabes seems to be deteriorating…

  3. Last May, I had the same dinner experience as IFS. Just 2 dishes where 3 star, al the other dishes not even one star. The service was also terrible. There was only 1 person that did speak English.We where sitting in the modern part which was really cold and only 2 tables where occupied. It is still my worst 3 star meal and probably the worst even amongst one and two star restaurants. The next day we went to El Bulli. You cannot imagine the difference between them!
    You can see pictures from both restaurants on my dutch weblog.

  4. We had a less than three star experience at Can Fabes in September of 2008, though Santi was in the kitchen that day. The main dishes, while very competently prepared, were not stand-outs, except for the shrimp ravioli. The selection of amuse bouches was visually lovely, but disappointing flavour-wise for the most part. The staff was personable and very attentive, even if a few appeared a bit green. We did speak Spanish, however, which probably made some difference. The room where we were seated was a beautiful, warm space with old stone walls at the front of the house. If the meal had been a couple of hundred of euros less, it wouldn’t have been a disappointment.

  5. My 2008 experience was also disappointing, though perhaps not quite as bad as yours. I have had four meals here over the years and each was worse than the last – this was a place I really loved several years ago. I can only conclude that this restaurant is just drifting on a past reputation. I just wish Michelin would notice.

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  7. This reminds me of a serious warning that Chef Marco Pierre White once addressed: when you are a great Chef and are not available behind your stoves, you should not open the doors! I miss him for that way of thinking. Nowadays, many talented Chefs are rarely behind their stoves and it shows. It’s becoming so frustrating. I do not even know how to recommend a restaurant anymore: sometimes I find a great table, a great Chef. I come back few weeks later and it’s night and day: same restaurant, branding under the name of that same great Chef, but the dining experience is off because the top Chef is busy afar from his stoves.

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