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El Celler de Can Roca
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El Celler de Can Roca
It’s not easy being the best restaurant in the world. Not least because one thing you can be sure of when you pick up that coveted accolade is that you will never rest again. “It’s a wonderful, amazing honour,” mused Joan Roca, when I congratulated him at the restaurant. “But it also means we have to work harder than ever.” Truthfully, the flush of success had given way to a look that was more knackered than jubilant.
His mother, Montserrat, who runs the family restaurant Can Roca just around the corner, has been inundated with journalists, too. They want to know what sort of blood runs through the veins of the trio of brothers who came in top of Restaurant magazine’s ‘World’s 50 Best’ earlier this year. It’s a wonder that, between them, they find time to cook at all. Over the course of lunch, which lasted four hours, I watched Joan being interviewed in the lounge, Jordi being filmed in the kitchen, and Josep flitting about in his smart, sommelier’s three-piece suit, from one brother to the other, while still finding time to serve wine and come and chat with me and my family who had flown in from Wales for the occasion.
Of course, there’s a very big team that makes it happen and like most restaurants at this level these days, it’s not so much lunch as theatre. Here the curtain goes up to a fleet of Chinese lanterns tied up with black, silk ribbons. On them is stamped a map of the world, and within are five little hits of flavour representing the brothers’ travels of the past year to Japan, China, Mexico, South America and Morocco. My father’s grin was a mile-wide, my stepmother clapped with joy, and my two younger brothers and one of their girlfriends looked like their eyes might pop out of their heads. There’s something very thrilling about the start of a serious degustación, the start of a journey with an unknown end.
Then came the famed Bonsai olive tree, blooming with plump green olives stuffed with L’Escala anchovies that we plucked from its miniature branches and washed down with organic cava by Albet i Noya from the Penedès. A bitter chocolate bonbon filled with vermut and orange danced across the tongue, sherry consommé poured over pinhead-sized nuggets of egg yolk gnocchi soothed it. We popped white chocolate-dipped, summer Sant Joan mushrooms, swallowed lozenges of jellied tortilla like they were oysters, delighted in plump little brioche stuffed with truffled cream and white asparagus ice-cream. It was playtime for grown-ups, followed by more serious stuff: sweet Palamós prawns with plankton mayo, which my brother’s girlfriend described, quite accurately, as a kind of “prehistoric goo”. A half shell of sea urchins sprouted tender ribbons of razor clam, a single langoustine was steamed at the table in Amontillado sherry and finished with a teaspoon of prawn-head caramel. Cubes of insanely tender suckling lamb were grilled on a hot stone, and slivers of rare pigeon liver lay seductively across a deeply sweet-savoury orange gravy. Violet macaroons were soft and soothing as an afternoon with granny, and the petits fours came straight from a Willy Wonka fantasy.
We were high on it, but the genius for me lay in the way that each brother was so brilliantly and personally present on each plate. An intense study in savoury (Joan), sweet (Jordi) and wine-based (Josep), each element playing a crucial role in making the finished dish sing. When I think back on this particular meal I don’t just remember the food, I remember this most brotherly of relationships. It was the very antithesis of the kind of fine-dining that leaves you cold. Instead, they’ve found a way to connect with the diner on a level that is much more intimate, and makes you feel, even if for just a few short hours, like you belong there, that you are an essential part of the performance.
So, is it the best restaurant in the world? The world of gastronomy is such a subjective thing that the claim verges on the absurd. But I do admire the Restaurant magazine’s celebration of the work and achievements of the people that make this industry so special and exciting. It really is no different to the Oscars, and I will say this: El Celler de Can Roca may not be the kind of restaurant you’d want to eat in every day, or even once a month, but it is the kind of experience you will treasure forever.
Can Sunyer 48, Girona. Tel. 972 22 21 57. www.cellercanroca.com. Open Tues-Sat from 1pm. Tasting menu not including wine, €140. Festival menu not including wine, €175.