Dining in Spain: El Celler de Can Roca*** (2016)

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El Celler de Can Roca is the restaurant in Girona (Spain) of three Catalan brothers: Joan (chef and inventor of sous-vide cooking), Jordi (pastry chef), and Josep (sommelier). It is difficult to get a reservation. You can only make a reservation online. On October 1st at midnight (Spanish time) the month of September next year will be released for online reservation. In five minutes, the whole month will be sold out. Hitting the refresh button a lot and some luck are your best options. Last year we got lucky, and so we planned a vacation to Spain around our dinner reservation at Can Roca.

Returning to a restaurant where you’ve had a fantastic experience (read about it here, that was in 2012) can be tricky, because expectations are so high that it is hard for the restaurant to live up to them. No need to worry in this case, because our dinner last night at Can Roca was as good as four years ago. The prices are still low for this level of dining: 195 euros for a 14-course tasting menu (rightfully called “feast”) plus 90 euros for matching wines, or 145 euros for a degustation of classic dishes. It goes without saying that we opted for the feast.

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Before the menu begins, there is an amazing series of small appetizers. It starts with a ‘journey around the world’: Thailand (chicken with coriander, coconut, curry, and lime), Japan (miso cream with nyinyonyaki), China (pickled vegetables with plum cream), Peru (causa limeña), and Korea (panko fried bread, bacon with soy sauce, kimchi and sesame oil).

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This is followed by memories of their parents’ bar in the suburbs of Girona where they grew up: breaded squid, kidneys with sherry, pigeon bonbon (with foie), salt cod with spinach and pinenuts, and a campari bonbon.

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The bonsai olive tree was still there; this time with green olive ice cream (you pick the olives from the tree). Unbelievingly delicious.

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Starfish, escabesche mussels, and seabream ceviche.

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Porcini brioche (the serving vessel is aluminum ‘bread’).

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Truffle bonbon.

With these appetizers are served the house cava and a 1er cru ‘blanc de blancs’ champagne. I am not going to describe all the appetizers in detail, or this post will never end. All are excellent and many our outstanding, intricate and creative, causing flavor explosions and bursts of joy. I think it is silly to score 11/10, but otherwise I would. So 10/10 it is.

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Three different dry sherries are served with the first course of the tasting menu: a manzanilla, a ‘summer’ manzanilla, and an amontillado. Now I am not a fan of manzanilla, so I was wondering what they’d serve with this.

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It was a ‘green salad’ of avocado, lime, cucumber, chartreuse, sorrel, green shiso, tarragon, rocket, and oxalis, and last but not least green olive ice cream (similar to that in the bonsai, but with a softer texture). Soft flavors and textures, that did help to make the manzanillas more palatable. I still preferred the amontillado with the dish. 9/10

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Red mullet with kombu, prickly pea foam, sea anemone, salicornia, and katsuobushi vinegar, paired with a 2014 Sancerre. The red mullet with kombu was divine and worked well with the Sancerre. The Sancerre became even more acidic than it already was from the fruity prickly pear, so the only wine pairing of the evening that was questionable. Still a nice dish, 8/10.

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Oyster served four ways: apple, seaweed, truffle, distilled earth and sea anemone, plus a fennel sauce with black garlic. Paired well with a Chablis Grand Cru 2009. The oyster was delicious, slightly warmed with a good texture, and worked very well with all four flavors. 9/10

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The langoustine with cocoa bean sauce was one of the best dish of the evening, paired very well with a slightly oaked Puligny-Montrachet. The presentation in a porcelain cocoa bean, the texture and flavor of the barely cooked langoustine, the creative combination with cocoa been, mantis shrimp cream, and coconut and white truffle, everything was perfect about this dish. 10/10

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Baby squid with fermented “ganxet” beans, paired very well with an unfortified fino sherry (which may not be called sherry). The fermented beans taste a bit like soy sauce and worked very well with the tender squid. 9/10

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Prawn marinated with rice vinegar, and served with prawn head juice and crispy prawn legs. The prawn is very fresh and hardly cooked with a velvety texture, nicely contrasted with the crunchy legs. A new take on a signature dish and just as good. The pairing with a creamy Mosel riesling (Spätlese Trocken) was the best of the evening. 10/10

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Skate confit with juice of charcoal-grilled pepper and rhubarb, paired with a garnacha rosé from Priorat. This is without a doubt the best skate I’ve ever had, amazingly velvety. The wine pairing was fabulous in combination with the rhubarb, otherwise the dish was too velvety for the wine. 10/10

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Seabream with “samfaina” (a Catalan version of ratatouille) and bone juice from the seabream, paired with a Trepat (autoctonous grape variety) from nearby Conca de Barberà. The fish was cooked exactly right (sous-vide of course) and worked very well with the samfaina, especially with the olives. The pairing with the red wine worked very well. 9/10

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Iberian suckling pig with salad of green papaya, thai grapefruit, apple, coriander, chilli pepper, lime, and cashew. Paired very nicely with a 2012 Nuits Saint Georges (red Burgundy). The suckling pig is very tender, a nice contrast with the very crunchy skin. Very nice combination with the bright Asian flavors. 10/10

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Lamb with eggplant and chickpea puree, lamb’s trotters and spicy tomato, paired with two wines: a Listan from Tenerife and a Cornas (Rhone). The dish worked well with both wines. The lamb was very tender and tasty. 10/10

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Scarlet veal oyster blade with beetroot bearnaise sauce, cooked for three days (sous-vide) and paired with a 1999 Barbaresco. It is so good to see that some restaurants do manage to serve wines of the proper older vintage. Barbaresco needs time in the bottle, and 1999 is now perfect. It also worked very well with the tender veal and beetroot. 10/10

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The palate cleaner is a rose popsicle in the shape of the nose of the pastry chef. Very nicely done and an example of the sense of humor of the Roca brothers.

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Another example of their sense of humor is decorating each table with three rocks (roca = rock).

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The first dessert, “Rainy forest”: sand distillate water, carob cookie, fir tree dust, aniseed ice cream, wormfood, fennel, paired with a 2010 Mosel Riesling Kabinett. The Riesling only has a tiny amount of residual sugar, but worked very well with this fresh dessert. It was almost like eating dirt, but in a good way. 9/10

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Orange colourology, paired with a late harvest malvasia from La Palma. An amazing ‘pearl’ with flavors of orange and carrot. Very well done and delicious. 10/10

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“Cuban cigar box” with chocolate, vanilla, dried plum, tobacco leave, and cocoa, paired with a 20-year old Madeira Malvasia. Very creative and nice textures. 9/10

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The sweets with the coffee are served with a candy cane cart.

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An amazing array of sweets, served on pieces of ‘glass bottles’.

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The three brothers are quite shy, but Josep allowed to have his picture taken.

This was again an amazing dinner. An improvement compared to four years ago is that some of the portions are a bit smaller, so that this is truly a tasting menu and you can eat everything without feeling stuffed. The same goes for the wine. Even though we had 20 different glasses of wine, they were all small pours (just like 4 years ago) so you can sample all of them without getting very drunk (and I am not hung over at all the following morning as I am writing this).

The food is amazing. Everything is delicious, creative, technically perfectly executed, and presented beautifully while taste always has priority. 10/10 for the food without a doubt.

The wine pairings are exemplary. There are few restaurants that do an actual wine pairing where you get a different wine with each dish that actually works with the dish, and in some cases lifts both the wine and the dish to a new level. And this is offered for a very reasonable price. 9.5/10 for the wine.

The service is very good. It must be very complicated to serve so many appetizers and courses and all with the correct wine pairings (and with the wine on time for the food), but they do it without a glitch. 9/10

I’m not sure if rankings make sense, because at this level of dining your personal preference will determine to a great extent which restaurant is the best for you. But for me, this is definitely one of the world’s best restaurants.

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9 thoughts on “Dining in Spain: El Celler de Can Roca*** (2016)

  1. When I see you have ‘done’ a restaurant review my phones go off and the front door gets a ‘do not disturb’ sign’ for a few minutes! Doubt anyone does them better! Hmmm: most of it obviously clicks all the right buttons . . . but am just wondering about the beginning small appetizers: personally I would not like to mix all these flavours on my palate . . . and the plating of ‘the parents’ bar’ seems kitsch!! Perchance would not believe thus had I been there 🙂 !! Price: incredible!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This must have been one fabulous meal, Stefan, for I cannot recall any other establishment earning such high praise from you. And for that price? Incredible! You guys certainly do dine well when you travel.

    Liked by 1 person

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