Dined in on Tuesday night at the world’s most famous restaurant, El Bulli, in Spain, with my Spanish publishers. Co-owner/chef Ferran Adria is rated by all his peers as the world’s most inventive cook – and, as you will see from the pictures below, he has in some cases re-defined and reinvented what cooking is all about.
Last year, I went with my wonderful UK publisher Geoff Duffield and his wife Sarah and we ate all 38 course. This time they gave us 41 courses! There is no menu, dish after dish just keeps on coming, some one-bite sized, some two-bites and some much larger… You are given choices – last year Geoff and my Helen opted to have the alternative to the “oysters with raw, marinated rabbit brains” – somewhat wisely, I decided after my first bite (although two days after our return, Sunday Times food critic AA Gill rated this particular dish as a masterpiece!) This year all except me opted out of the “monkfish livers with sake infused grapes” – they weren’t as bad as the rabbit brains, which I can still taste a year on, but I would definitely add them to my “If I could live my life over again I would do everything exactly the same except I wouldn’t have eaten the…..” list!!!
Getting a table at fabled El Bulli is hard. There is only one sitting at day, in the evenings, only 54 covers and they only open five months a year – the rest of the time Ferran is travelling and working on his creative ideas. If they took all the advance reservations they are asked for they would be full until 2060! Instead, they operate a lottery system. Yet, despite the place is wonderfully unstuffy. A high-tech kitchen with 70 chefs (!) is in contrast to the almost rustic, homely, country-house feel of the dining area. 45 waiters look after the 54 diners, but far from being stuffy and precious as they are in so many lesser establishments I’ve been to, here the waiters are charming and fun. It is almost more like being in a theatre, than in a restaurant – and for sure it is a virtuouso performance by all the team. We sat down at 7.50pm, and got up from the table at 1.40 am and during this entire time there had not been a gap of more than a minute or two between courses arriving. None of us could believe the time, it felt like we had been just a couple of hours!
One surprise was the bill. 230 Euro per head for food. Expensive, yes, but I’ve paid similar money, and even more, in some supposedly top-ranked English, French and American restaurants for – in some cases – rubbish by comparison. But the biggest surprise of all was the wine bill. El Bulli boasts two of the very best sommeliers on the planet. Unlike many I can think of who will do all they can to entice you into buying something at several hundred pounds a bottle, these ones here seem to be on a mission to show what bargains are to be found! On Tuesday I told the sommelier I wanted top quality whites and red. The wines were stunning, perfectly matched to the food, and all from within Spain. I didn’t look at the prices until the end. The first white was 50 Euro, the second 38 Euro and the red was 48 Euro. Food is one of my interests and passions. There are many restaurants I’ve eaten at where the bill was a quarter of the price of El Bulli and I’ve felt ripped off. If this place charged doubled what it had, it would still have been, in my view, a bargain. Have a look at the photos of each of the courses, and you’ll start to see why! Bon appetit!
PJ Arriving – Sober and Thinner
Some of the chefs in the Temple of Gastronomy
1. Margarita – Suck the cactus leaves then eat them!
2. Mojito – Suck the sugar cane
3. Piña Colada – Suck the stem
4. Gin Fizz – Eat/Drink the whole thing
5. Mix of raw and slightly cooked prawns
6. Gorgonzola Globe
7. Mimetics Peanuts – Peanuts that are not actually peanuts but taste of peanuts!!!
8. Campari Cookie
9. Sesame Cracker (So yummy I had a second helping.)
10. Atomized Olives (They have been chemically deconstructed & melt in your mouth!)
11. Parmesan Crystal
12. Violets with Nectar
Spun Sugar Ring (Substitute for one guest allergic to honey.)
13. Frozen Coconut Sponge
PJ shows size of Spun Sugar Ring. (It tasted like Candy Floss!)
14. Raspberry Cookie with Mustard
15. Savoury Meringue Sponge
16. Walnut, Miso & Apple Sandwich (one of our favourites!)
17. Joselito Ham and Ginger Canape.
18. Tartare of Marrow and Green Tea
19. Lentil Soup
20. Warm Oyster and Cep Tartare (Eaten with the leaves.)
Two different Truffles (Substitute for the oysters.)
21. Prawn Two Firings (Raw body with crispy head and legs) with seafood sauce.
22. Pistachio and Truffle Ice Cream
23. Pumpkin and Ginger
24. Soy Crepe with Soy Beans and Shoots.
25. Monkfish Liver with Sake Infused Grape. (This reminded me too much of the cod liver oil taste of childhood! But the grapes were good!)
26. Trout Egg Ravioli with Salmon Caviare (and edible gold leaf)
27. Rose Carpaccio with Artichoke (and edible silver)
28. Pine Nut Shabu Shabu
29. Terrine Inside Gelatine Sacs (Dip the three sacs in the soup.)
Detail of a ‘Sac.’
30. Ceps 2009 (Eaten hot.)
Detail after opening the Ceps 2009
31. Sea Cucumber with Soy (Tasted yummy, like Calamares.)
32. Chicken Canape
33. Crispy Suckling Pig with Ham Soup with Melon. (One of our favourites.)
35. Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Walnut Milk.
36. Pond (this was awesome! For us the cleverest dish of the evening. A wafer thin layer of ice covering the surface of the glass bowl, but only air underneath – no water. On it were sprinkled grains of brown sugar, mint and green tea powder. The effect Ferran wants with this dish is to make us feel like we are eating broken glass! He succeeds! It was delicious, huge fun, and not at all fattening!!!
37. Tamarind, Pinapple & Aniseed Cake
38. Chocolate Marshmallows with Lemon (Dangerously yummy!)
39. Chocolate Handkerchief. (Chocolate nut cake with passion fruit, black soy, breadfruit and sesame –
this dish would be on my list for my last meal!)
40. Shellfish (Not! A great visual joke by Ferran. These clamshells are alternatively stuffed with lychee jelly and a marron mousse.The lemons are real but infused with candied sugar to be sweet.)
41. Morphings – Should be called “Double-Death by Chocolate!”
This entire box was for the five of us!
And we did our very best to do it justice!!!
Ferran Adria, the Great Man himself! With myself and Helen, and the delightful team from my Spanish publishers, Blanca Roca, Patricia Escalona and Carlos Ramos. (Don’t look too carefully at my shirt, the buttons are about to fly off!)