Food & Travel / Words & Photos
I love the hype surrounding the announcement of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants* – it somehow points out how goofy and subjective it is to rank them (where are Pinotxo and the Agawam Diner?!?!) while reminding us how wonderful they are.
For anyone interested in a trip down memory lane to the places on the list where I’ve been lucky enough to eat, here we go…
noma – Rene Redzepi (see photo)
El Bulli – Ferran Adria
El Celler de Can Roca – Joan Roca
Pierre Gagnaire & Plaza Athenée - Pierre Gagnaire & Alain Ducasse
*Congrats to my pal Lexy Topping for breaking the 50 Best story for the Guardian – woop woop!
Living in Ferran Adrià’s shadow is not an enviable position. Or maybe it’s liberating. Or maybe it just is.
Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca is one of the greats in a region of greats like Santi Santamaria, Carme Ruscalleda and, of course senyor Adrià - and his style is closest to the latter.
Roca’s also got a ‘James Bond of the Catalan culinary set’ thing going. He’s a bit of a tough guy with some cool gadgets - he’s a big cheese in the world of sous vide cooking, for example, writing the book on the subject long before Thomas Keller did. After the service is finished, you can imagine Roca, standing by the entrance, smoking a cigarette and looking cool.
Every once in a while though, the Adrià comparison’s gotta drive him nuts. Early on in our meal, it seems as though most of the dishes in the ‘snacks’ catetgory (little amuse gueules that come out before the tasting menu really starts) could have been nicked from Adrià’s book - like little ‘caramelized olives’ which arrive dangling from a bonsai olive tree, little Campari ‘bonbon’ balloons served on a bed of crushed ice or Parmesan ‘tulips’ nesting in a rock - but then - poof! - it’s gone; you stop comparing and start enjoying.
This might have been about when the sea urchins arrived. On the menu, the dish is called “crustacean velouté with cauliflower toffee and tangerine,” but my notes read “little, edible sexual organs from the sea.” RRRRRRROW!
Soon after, there’s a plate called ‘artichoke with duck liver, eel and orange’ - that launches ‘brown food’ into the stratosphere, followed immediately by a single grilled sole filet flanked by individual dabs of olive oil, fennel, bergamot, orange, pine nut and green olive emulsions. The whole thing’s got a musical look to it, like a deconstructed music scale - and there’s Roca, standing by himself in the middle of a big field, smiling, waving.
When we try the cod pot-au-feu, which draws a direct line to some perfect chowder of my youth and I come to the realization I needed - I want Roca to teach.
“He does,” says my dining partner - most notably at Girona’s catering and tourism school.
Adrià has so much to teach, but it’s a specialized class - I don’t want 1,000 little Adrià copycats running around out there, but I want as many as possible with a foundation built by Roca.
Desserts, by brother Jordi Roca, are as good, complex and beautiful as the mains. Josep Roca’s wine list has wheels.
Tasting menus run from 90 to 135 euros. Spend as much as you like on wine.