El Celler de Can Roca. Its owners call it a free style restaurant. Mixing avant garde cuisine with recipes passed down from generations of cooking ancestors, they claim to cook meals for everyone. A family restaurant of another kind.
Selected among thousands of restaurants over the World by 900 food experts, the Celler won the top prize of the "50 Best" Awards from Restaurant Magazine.
Started in 1986 by three brothers, Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca, El Celler is located in Girona, some 60 miles North of Barcelona, in the Catalonia part of Spain, a picturesque city built on four rivers. Joan and Jordi are cooking, Josep is in the dining room. The place is sleek and modern, glass and wood, and has a Zen garden.
The brothers' 45-seat restaurant is just next door to their parents' establishment, open since 1967. It runs in the family. Foodies they all are. From generation to generation, the family has been involved in cuisine since centuries.
The cooking path followed by the three brothers mixes agriculture and science; their ancestors' knowledge has helped them to master the proven recipes with their own experiment, mixing traditional Catalan and nouvelle cuisine way of percolating food.
Sweet, liquid and salty are the three basic formulas used in the dishes. Two menus are offered, one for 135 euros (tasting menu) and the other for 165 euros (menu festival). Unusual combination of food are served in even more unusual ways; some items, like caramelized olives, are presented on bonsai trees. Some dishes are based on famous perfumes, consisting of a mist spayed on diners as they taste the fragrant dessert.
For years the best restaurant in the World was Il Bulli, another dining place near Barcelona, headed by Spanish chef Ferran Adria, using revolutionary molecular gastronomy as an impressive new way of cooking and eating. It closed in 2011, and it is unsure at this date if it will ever reopen, as rumored.
What is it about Spanish chefs? French ones are definitely outgunned on this one, even if myriads of divine restaurants can be found everywhere in France. Plenty of American and Scandinavian masters, Italian chefs and Asian cooks are of course best in their categories as well, but we are here talking about one chosen eatery among thousands.
So, what is on the menu, you ask?
Here is a short list of the offerings at El Celler: charcoal grilled prawns, red mullet with susquet and lard, veal tendons with sea anemone, steak tartare with mustard ice-cream, anchovy bone, truffle brioche with pot-au-feu broth, rock mussels and pumpkin, and rose soufflé among other unusual desserts. The dishes are meant to be pieces of art and the contemplation of the food in your plate is certainly part of the experience.
The restaurant sits on the Costa Brava, more than a mile away from the town of Girona, so the trek would certainly open an appetite if you decided to walk. Taxis are awaiting the gourmets visitors.
Reservations are essential.