So what’s the best restaurant in the world actually like?
El Celler de Can Roca was voted the world’s best in a Restaurant magazine poll. Does it live up to the hype?
Spanish Restaurant El Celler de Can Roca
Behind a high wall in a nondescript suburb on the fringes of the small Catalan city of Girona sits El Celler de Can Roca, ranked the second best restaurant in the world when we visited last September, now anointed as the best, toppling Copenhagen’s Noma. Who knows how these things are decided? I do know that in this outwardly unassuming restaurant, owned and run by the three Roca brothers, where reservations have to be made up to a year ahead (expect that wait to get even longer now), I hadthe best meal of my life.
El Celler was founded in 1986 by the Rocas next to the restaurant run by their family since 1967. The oldest brother, Joan, is head chef; Josep is the sommelier, and the youngest brother, Jordi, is in charge of desserts.
The restaurant, a glass cube attached to an older building where the kitchen is located, echoes the food, which marries the modernist, science lab experimentation associated with the Rocas’ fellow Catalan Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame with earthy local ingredients - bread, oil, seafood - in dishes such such as green wheat with smoked sardine, grapes, ice cream of toasted bread with olive oil and yeast foam or charcoal-grilled lamb breast and sweetbreads with eggplant, coffee and liquorice. This, obviously, is pretty serious food, but there’s also lots of playfulness and theatricality. Charcoal-grilled king prawn, king-prawn sand, ink rocks, fried legs, head juice and king prawn essence is like a picture of a childhood seaside holiday. Caramelised olives are presented hanging from a bonsai tree. Petits fours arrive on a Willy Wonka-esque trolly. Every taste and texture is intense, precise and brilliant but the service and atmosphere are surprisingly relaxed. An amiable tour of the kitchen after dinner reveals a surprisingly small workspace for such fantastic food.
The full tasting menu, consisting of more than 20 tiny plates, costs €165 per person, or a shorter version for €135. Wine pairings for each plate chosen by Josep are €80. Certainly not cheap but, for the experience of a lifetime, definitely worth it.