The bitter pill of Can Fabes we swallowed had still to be digested when we headed off for El Celler de Can Roca in Girona. A lot has been written about the restaurant of the three Roca brothers, Joan (head chef), Josep (sommelier) and Jordi (patissier), so it might not be necessary to tell you much about the background, history etc. Only that Joan is one of the premier protagonists of sous-vide cooking, that Jordi creates dessert which resemble the aromas of different perfumes and Josep is a fantastic sommelier who has fallen in love with German wine.
Not easy to find in the outskirts of Girona the new restaurant espacio (opened in November 2007) very much reflects the Roca’s philosophy – it is modern, but not puristic, it is contemplative, but not boring, a perfect place to eat and just to enjoy yourself. Basically a two sides of a triangle with a kind of atrium in the middle only separated by glass from the diner. It is the most spacious and light-flooded place I have ever dined. You can get a good idea of the place here. It’s awesome and some kind of monument where you feel at home at once. Rafael Garcia Santos of Lo Mejor refers to the new espacio as “the cloister of the 21st century”. Very well!
Upon arrival we were warm-heartily greeted and brought to our table. We decided to go for the menú festival which includes 9 courses and two desserts (at incredible €115 plus taxes). There are also the menú clàssics (3 courses, 1 desert for €75+tax) and the menú degustació (5 courses, 2 deserts for €95 + tax).
Snacks were served, not full-fledged amuse geules but rather a series of thought-provoking “palate activators”. Part 1 consisted of lavender crackers (in the stone) to start with, caramelized olive (what flavour!) and carrots with orange. Can’t actually remember the orange but the carrot was very good product!
As part 2 we got a “sferificacion”; of cockels with guava juice and campari served on a spoon to be eaten in one bite. The idea to enclose a heart mussel in a sphere is a wonderful example where molecular techniques add value as it intensifies and condenses the aroma of the mussel. Also the combination with the bitter sweet guava and the campari went extremely well. Bravo! Then skin of cucumber soup with popcorn made of garlic soup. Another technical masterpiece and sensational deconstruction of two soups. Intelligent and very well thought-trough. The last snack, a pigeon bombon with bristol cream, made us ready to start with the real menu with a sensible and distinct drumbeat. Maybe the best parade of snacks I’ve had so far.
Fig with majorero cheese, guava granita, aragula and green asparagus juice – strong tastes, hot and cold bound together by a slightly bitter asparagus juice and rocket (aragula) air. The sweat figs worked very with the nutty goat cheese majorero, the guava brought acidity and sweetness. A feast for all senses without any use of the usual luxury product – excellent to outstanding (18.5 points).
An interpretation of melon con jamon – melon with cured ham SierraMajor from Jabugo. When they served me the plate I was sceptical whether I would enjoy this dish as I am not a big fan of jelly and did not like some of the Berasategui dishes where he used too much and not useful jelly. What a difference – the ham jelly was so intense that you could literally taste the acorns which the pigs eat while growing up. Interestingly the melon was deconstructed in a kind of solid mousse which again increased its taste and enabled it to stand the strong ham flavor both from the jelly and the real ham (which was absolutely delicious btw). Ingenious was the use of estragon which created a nice balance between the two counterparts. Excellent to outstanding (18.5 points).
Next up was the dish of the day – chablis oysters. As Jordi creates dessert which resemble the flavour spectrum of a perfume Joan took this logic to elaborate on the different aspects of a Chablis and constructed a virtual Chablis on our plate – using oysters, mushrooms, green apple, bonbons filled with honey, distilled earth and covered it with a lukewarm soup of fennel and oyster. The is one of the most memorable and outstanding dishes of my short culinary life so far (20 points).
After taking a deep breath it just continued in that manner: green olive parmentier. Again an interpretation but not a deconstruction of flavours but a new version of a Russian salad: Joan filled the green olive sphere with potato puree flavoured by the traditional ingredients of a Russian salad (egg, mayonnaise, carrots, ham and onions) and served it with a foam of tuna (another important element of Russian salad) as well as very small sliced vegetables. Fantastic (20 points)! For a more scientific approach see their website here.
The amontillado-steamed king prawn was excellent, but not at the absolute top-notch level of the two previous dishes. The prawn was tender and very juicy, had a slighty sherry-ish taste and was accompanied by orange and watercress. Excellent (18 points).
Eggplant souffle with sardine, caviar perfumed by the dust of grill – the eggplant was grilled and served a souffle mousse and formed the basis for a sensationally strong dish. The smokiness of the sardine was not too strong and its product quality astonishing. Perfect (20 points).
The most classic dish of the lunch – sole with grilled baby leek. Of course the sole was cooked sous-vide and perfectly tender and juicy whereas the sauce was a simple beurre blanc flavoured by dill. Nothing surprising so far but the grilled baby leek was the strong element needed as a counterpart in flavour and texture. This dish was simply delicious and outstanding (19 points). It’s good to get a real sauce in a modern restaurant as most of the modernists abide with traditional sauces (exept for Juan Amador).
Then the mains which both served a natural “bridge” towards the deserts as they introduced some sweet elements. Looking back both were much less real mains in size and importance compared to traditional menu built-up. The kid belly fillet with goat’s milk parmentier was a superb demonstration of their cooking skills since the kid skin was crisp and slightly caramelized whereas the inside was perfectly juicy. The sweetness of the skin was a first gateway to the final courses. Oustanding (19 points).
Then goose terrine with apricot compote – a further digression into the sweat world. Conceptually, it is Joan’s reference to the foie gras controversy as he presents the meat torn apart and put together in a terrine (I would rather call it a ballotine) and added some liver pieces. Moreover, the meat had a distinct gaminess also reminiscent of foie. Whereas we were not exactly sure whether it was really goose one chef who recently ate this dish told me that it was announced as swan being a specialty of the house. Well, I can judge as I have never eaten swan, but it was not as strong a goose. A dish with strong flavours with an underlying twinkle. Outstanding (19 points)
Foie gras nougat was rather a pre-dessert and I must admit I have not that much memory of this dish but recall that this was my least favorite course (17 points).
Anarchy was the last course – more than countable elements on the plate it was deliberate controlled chaos on the plate. An absolute delicious dessert (19 points)
All in all this was one of the best meals I have had so far and maybe the most intelligent. Joan and Jordi put enormous thinking in their dishes and create a very special and unique dining experience which I have not encountered before. It is playful and fun, it plays with all senses and in the end most of the dishes are breath-taking. And, there is no intellectual stretch for the diner – you can dive deep into technical specialties, products and allusions if you want to but you are not forced to. For me, this is techno-emotional cuisine at its best as they really touch the diner and evoke emotions. I can just bow to this! Together with the incredible service, the wonderful environment and atmosphere this a must for any diner. Overall a clear three star experience (19 points on the Gault Millau scale)
Ah, we did drink as well: we had a Do Ferreiro Ceps Vellas 2005 followed by a fantastic Königsbacher Idig Spätlese Trocken from 2001 which was a perfect companion for both the kid belly and the "goose" terrine.
I can’t wait to go back – it is a somehow magical place!