The weather was perfect--- sunny day in the low 70s--- as we drove from Barcelona to Girona.
Though only able to top 160km/h even when we literally floored the gas, our red hot Mini convertable turned heads on the highway.
Entrance of El Celler de Can Roca.
On the outside, the restaurant exuded a rustic, homey, countryside vibe.
On the inside, it was sleek, modern and sophisticated with a central glass atrium.
El Celler de Can Roca is a family business run by the three Roca brothers: Joan, Jordi and Josep, who are the head chef, pastry chef and maitre d'/ head sommelier respectively. Joan was nice enough to show us around the kitchen.
Caramelized olives hung from a bonsai tree- a very cute presentation.
Fried anchovy bones embedded in rice crackers- the flavors were a bit too subtle but I appreciated the textural sophistication from combining the two different kinds of crunchiness.
Truffled brioche with pot au feu broth. The "brioche" had a very soft, thin skin similar to that of Chinese steamed buns and was stuffed with mushrooms and truffle mayonnaise. The "pot au feu broth" had a twist as well--- chicken consomme was added to it, giving it a lighter mouth-feel and making it a better complement to the richness of the brioche.
Smoked herring caviar omelet and pigeon parfait. The bite-size, paper-thin omelet was stuffed with caviar made from smoked herring jelly, while the "parfait," made from pigeon's blood, tasted gamy and exotic the way I like it.
Oysters with Agusti Torello cava, apple compote, ginger, pineapple, lemon confit and spices. We were asked to eat the piece of leaf first, which tasted exactly and I mean exactly like an oyster! No surprise it is called an "oyster leaf." The assortment of fruits provided a citrus accent, which contrasted with the curry powder sprinkled on top of the succulent oysters.
Besides being exceptionally refreshing, the dish also had an outstanding presentation. It was first presented to us in a half cava bottle, into which cava was subsequently poured. The evanescence from the cava acted as a vehicle for the curry powder, dispersing its aroma in the air and exploding its flavor in my mouth.
Figs with foie gras. This dish looked simple on presentation but was anything but simple in its construction. The plate was covered by a two-layer, thick sauce/soup. The bottom layer was made from figs, while the top one was made from foie gras, drizzled with truffle oil. Needless to say, the flavors of foie gras, truffle and figs went very well with each each- it was a classic marriage between creaminess and sweetness. I especially liked how figs was presented in three ways: as a soup, an actual fruit piece and a thin slice of jelly.
Sole with olive oil, fennel, bergamot, orange, pine nuts and green olives. My favorite dish of the meal and one of the best dishes of the entire trip. The sole was turgid, flaky and perfectly pan-seared. No expense was spared and only the thickest part of the fillet was used. The sole's relatively mild flavor made it the ideal canvas for the five sauces (from top): fennel, bergamot, orange, pine nuts and green olives. Although these five sauces were olive-oil based, they didn't taste like flavor-infused olive oil at all and were so concentrated that they should be called "essence" instead. All five flavors were exceptional, but my personal favorite was pine nuts. Bergamot was very interesting as well--- it was earthy, aromatic and elegant.
Cod pot-au-feu, potato gnocchi, cabbage and brandade terrine, cod tripe. Again, the fish was cooked to perfection, only this time it was poached instead of pan-seared. All the components were well-executed, but the terrine made from brandade (an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil) stood out--- it was savory and creamy like the sauce. In any other meal, this dish would have been the star, but it was unfortunately over-shadowed by the sole that preceded it. Poor thing!
Sierra Mayor Iberian suckling pig, grilled baby onions, melon and beetroot. Being Cantonese and born in Hong Kong, I have always thought having access to the perfectly grilled suckling pig is a birth right and this dish cannot be better prepared outside of Southern China. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I have been mistaken. The crispy skin, heart-warming subcutaneous fat and delicately-tender meat all blended into one layer of singular yumminess. I have had grilled suckling pig dozens of times in different countries, and this was one of the best renditions. The skin was surprisingly dry in a non-greasy sense, making this guilty pleasure exceptionally light.
Lemon-distillate sorbet. I didn't have much recollection on how this dessert tasted. My only impression was that it had a floral elegance. After we finished, our waiter presented each of us with a paper cone sprayed with El Celler de Can Roca's own perfume, based on the ingredients of this plate. I fell in love with the perfume and would fall in love with any woman who wears it.
Vanilla, caramel, licqorice, dried and caramelized black olives with Tahitian vanilla condensed ice cream. Liquid nitrogen was used to make little beads that melted in my mouth, exploding with flavors of vanilla, caramel, licqorice, and black olives. I also realized that Tahitian vanilla belonged in its own league--- French vanilla doesn't even come close.
All in all, dining at El Celler de Can Roca was a Zen experience. Everything--- the decoration, service, plating and flavor intensity--- was in perfect balance. Most importantly, it offered the optimal mix of traditional palate-pleasing culinary techniques, cutting-edge cooking technologies and trail-blazing creativity. El Celler de Can Roca is a truly phenomenal, worthy Michelin 3 star restaurant, and now I can understand why some people prefer it over El Bulli.