Thursday, 31 May 2007

Cheese and Biscuits on tour - El Cellar de Can Roca, Girona

Another month, another handful of Michelin Stars to add to the old scrapbook. Yes, sometimes I think I do lead a rather charmed life, at least for the fleeting moments before my credit card bills arrive. El Cellar de Can Roca is a haute cuisine destination restaurant, thanks to its two Michelin stars, and is located in an unassuming (read: dull) suburb of the otherwise lovely city of Girona, Catalonia. It is run by three brothers - who in an almost mythical separation of duties handle the savoury courses, the desserts, and the wine, in turn. It seems to be a very Spanish thing to have family-run cooperative restaurants rather than a named chef, as I've spotted this a few times in the Michelin entries in the area; perhaps there's just less ego at play regarding food here than in France or the UK. You wouldn't find Gordon Ramsay sharing cooking duties with his brother - partly because Gordon has an ego the size of a planet, but mainly because his brother is a recovering heroin addict, and you need a steady hand for those lobster ravioli.

After being kept waiting and ignored for about half an hour in the waiting room area - not a great start - we were seated in a windowless room and the service picked up a bit. Amuse-bouches were a selection of various deep fried thingies including some home-made Quavers - sorry I mean cod crackers.

They were very nice though, melted in the mouth and had a huge amount of flavour.

Then - another nice surprise - a second pre-starter arrived, a trilogy of fois gras thingy, cauliflower somethingorother and indistinguishable brown doodah. Sorry, the waiter did do his best in pidgin English to explain what they were but a combination of the accent and the fact that they weren't on the menu means I can't really say much about them. Tasty though.

Starter was an apple and fois gras tartelets, and don't they look lovely? The flavour combination was astonishing too - anything sweet goes well with fois gras but the apple seemed to work particularly well and the crispy almonds on top were a good texture contrast. There was also quite a lot of food here for a starter, and for a self-confessed glutton such as myself this also won points. A very nice dish, if slightly overseasoned.

My next course was a pork terrine, and unfortunately I have to say I didn't like this one at all. It was very rich, just a big slab of fatty meat on a plate with not much else going on, and I was hugely disappointed. It was also massively over salted. Maybe I was missing something, but I couldn't help thinking that even at the highest levels of fine dining some tastes must just be so subjective that making every dish appeal to everyone is an impossible task. Or perhaps Catalan cuisine is sometimes too bizarre for it's own good.

The dessert was another surreal experimental masterpiece - a "lactic dessert" they called it, and once you'd got over the disgusting name it was nice enough. It was basically milk done a number of different ways (ice-cream, custard, etc.), with a little piece or two of fruit tucked inside to give it flavour. And perched on top like a toupee was an impressive quiff of silver candyfloss, which was probably quite tricky to make with milk but tasted like... candyfloss. Sugary. Still, you have to admire their imagination.

Wines suggested throughout were always spot-on, even if they did take the mick a little bit with a €40 glass of Muscat to go with the fois gras. I've had this happen to me before at the Greenhouse in Mayfair so really I should be wary of any fois-gras pairings - the waiter helpfully pointed out this eyebrow-raising item on the bill at the end, with a cheery smile. Perhaps he thought that even if I couldn't send it back by this stage, he'd at least have a good laugh at my expense. Well done him. And talking of the bill, the damage was around €120 per head, which puts it in the cheaper end of the 2* establishments in Europe, so definitely worth the trip down in the hire car. However overall I'd still have to say I left Can Roca slightly underwhelmed; it was a little disappointing to discover that Spanish food even at this level can fall foul of the same bugbears I have for 90% of the restaurants in this country, namely, too fatty, too oily, too salty, too much. But as an evening's entertainment it was very pleasant, and as another couple of stars to add to my personal roster it came at a reasonable price. But give me another lunch at Calella any day - when simple food can be that good, why try any harder?



Jordi said...

Catalan cuisine just like their architects and artists (Gaudi, Dali etc) is well known for being over the top and a tad surreal, it is all part of the charm. It looks to me like a very theatrical dinner, beautifully presented and from your comments on the whole very tasty. I wonder why then you only gave it 5 out of 10? Seems a bit harsh to me.

Chris said...

Harsh but fair.

Chris said...

OK maybe this deserves slightly more of an explanation. The starter & nibbles were good, I admit. But the main was pretty bad - and of course that marked the meal down because that's a "main" part of it. And although it was reasonable by Michelin standards, it was expensive by Spanish standards. So when you factor in price, you end up at 5/10.