Five years ago, when I wrote Dead Simple, I told Geoff Duffield, the Sales and Marketing supremo of Pan Macmillan, and quite one of the nicest people in the world of publishing, that if he got Roy Grace to No 1 on the bestsellers, I would take him and his wife to any restaurant in the world they wanted to go to. A year later he phoned me and said, “Right, you are No 1 on four lists – now about that restaurant…”
He chose El Bulli, and this September Helen and I took Geoff and his delightful wife, Sarah. This restaurant, accessed by a hairy mountain road at the top of the Costa Brava, just over the French border, is rated by many people as the finest eaterie in the world. It has been awarded this accolade three years running, and is probably the hardest restaurant in the world at which to get a table: It is only open between May – October, and then only for one sitting of dinner.It can take just 54 diners, and has a kitchen staff of 45, as well as a further twenty-plus waiters. Most of the great chefs and restauranteurs of the world have dined there, including Britain’s most famous, Heston Blumenthal and the co-owner of London’s brilliant Pied-A-Terre.
It is said that two million people apply each year for a table, and almost all of them go into a lottery. At €180 a head for the 38 course (yes, you read it right!) set menu (there is no alternative) it is not cheap — but actually, for what you get, it is incredible value. With this amount of passion for his food, head chef and co-owner and culinary legend Ferran Adrià could probably charge ten times this amount and still be full every night, but he doesn’t.
Nor does he rip you off on the wines. El Bulli has one of the very best sommeliers I have ever encountered. When I asked him to recommend a white, he suggested a wine not only brilliant, but compared to the lists in a lot of fine restaurants, very decently priced at €50. Three bottles later (well we did eat without a break from 8.30pm to 1.30 am) I told him to bring the best red he had in his cellar. He could have tucked me up for a fortune, but he didn’t. He produced a stunning red, one of very best I have ever drunk, and by the standards of great wine prices, it was stunningly modest at €100.
For the first half of the meal you don’t get sight of the menu, nor do you have knives or forks. You just have a friendly waiter telling you what has arrived and how to eat it – one, two, or three bites!
So now… a signed hardback of Dead Man’s Footsteps to the first reader of this blog who can correctly name the principal ingredients in the five courses shown in the photographs below! In the event of no one naming them all correctly, it will be the most number of correct ones! And, a bonus prize of a bottle of champagne to the first reader to correctly name the red wine depicted here and its vintage! The competition closes at midnight on Dec 31st! Email your answers direct to me
Have a wonderful Christmas everyone and tons of good luck – as well as good eating, drinking – and of course, most important of all, good reading – for 2009!