Tuesday 19 July 2005

El Bulli, Roses, Spain.

This was, as you can imagine, a totally epic experience. We flew from Liverpool to Barcelona,stayed one night in Barcelona and then travelled the following evening in a rather nice chauffeur driven Mercedes for about 2 hours (the car waited to take us back to Barcelona when we had finished) up the cost to the town of Roses to collect our friends, J&M who had flown in from London earlier that day. From there we drove up and up and round and round some stunningly precipitous roads with amazing views with anticipation building like you wouldn't imagine. Eventually we arrived at our Mecca. El Bulli is a pretty low lying stone building with traditional influences, but it is unmistakably something modern and special. It nestles in a tiny bay backed by pine trees and mountains with the sea lapping at its front.

We were first shown the kitchen which was more like a laboratory than any kitchen I have ever seen, it was silent with dozens of white coated chefs, men and women busily creating their little mysteries. Ferran Adria was there, and M managed to pose for a photo with him - another celebrity portrait for her collection! We were in there for a while and it helped to fuel the anticipation to a fever pitch, we were desperate to get started.

We were led outside to a very pretty 'patio' area overlooking the sea for the first of our many starter dishes. . We started off in style with a ‘welcome aperitif’ which was a cocktail made with Caipirinha, lemon juice and liquid nitrogen! The nitrogen was poured into the mixing bowl with the liquor and juice and stirred and stirred until everything was frozen to a silken slush and then decanted into cut limes.
After this all twenty of these dishes were totally outstanding. The highlights for me were the Spherical Olives which aren’t olives at all, but an incredibly thin membrane of olive coloured something which explodes in the mouth with a gush of olive and garlicky deliciousness. The Knots of Yoghurt were truly bizarre and wonderful; they really were knots of yoghurt with a kind of outer skin which bursts in the mouth with a rush of mozzarella flavoured liquid with a basil leaf.

It was a shame when we were taken inside, as it was pretty perfect outside, but I suppose a more formal atmosphere was necessary for the next session. We proceeded to have thirteen dishes which were followed by ‘Morphings’ which were a stream of puddings.

The food was not surprisingly, sublime, even the things I didn’t like (monkfish livers, oysters, lamb brains, warm walnuts) were all things that I don’t like anyway, but I chose to try (with the exception of the walnuts which were really odd). The predominately vegetarian dishes were by far the best – who’d have thought that El Bulli would turn out to be a vegetarian restaurant! We were very surprised that there was no meat at all, although M had an alternate dish to the lamb’s brains which was a chicken wing confection which she proclaimed “delicious”. The fish was excellent – mackerel, crab, prawn, mussel, monkfish liver and oyster (so I was told!). I don’t know where snails fit it, but they were fabulous too.

Puddings were great fun and the highlight of these was the Milkshake which came in a closed and sealed polystyrene box. Inside was an aerated, frozen vanilla flavoured foam and next to the box was a small plastic bag containing what looked like earth. The earth was in fact caramelized cinnamon which was for sprinkling onto the milkshake! The result was bizarre, rich, light and delicious. We scraped our boxes clean. After all the puds we had a totally unbelievable pudding wine – Olivares 2001 by Bodegas Oliveras @ Jumilla, it was dark, dark red and tasted of intense blackcurrents.

I feel I should mention the wines - J chose the wine from an epic wine list, wine is his forte, so to say that he was content to choose is the understatement of the year, he selected for us a stunning range of Spanish wines. Our first was Chivite Collection 125 Aniversario 2001 by Julian Chivite @ Navarra – we had two bottles of this, followed by Finca Dofi 1994 by Alvaro Palacios @ Priorat and Pagos Viejos 1998 by Artadi-Cosecheros Alaveses from Rioja.

Overall the verdict was that it fulfilled our inflated expectations, we had a ball and didn’t regret the hassle, expense and the general performance of getting there!

J&M who have eaten in comparable restaurants several times said that this was without a doubt the best of the Molecular Cookery type establishments, beating the Fat Duck hands down and even beating Marc Veyrat, although he has the advantage of cooking red meat to die for apparently. His restaurant is next on our wish list.

We felt very lucky indeed to be there at all as it is the most oversubscribed restaurant in the world with 500,000 people chasing just 8,000 places and of course, incredibly grateful to our friends J&M who asked us to share the experience with them!

What did it cost?
Return flights to Barcelona
Two days car parking at Liverpool Airport
Two nights in a Barcelona Hotel
Chauffeur driven Mercedes for 4 hours driving and 5 hours waiting for us.
Supper for the previous night (also fantastic in a totally different way, report on that later)
El Bulli itself – food and wine.

Worth every penny!

I’ll list here the few things (from the outside starters part of the meal) which escaped my camera:
Carrot ribbons – verbena, ginger and liquorice.
Black olives “oreo” with bitter cream.
Mango disc and black olive.

I haven’t posted all of the pictures here as there are far too many, but you will find them here on my Flickr page. Enjoy!