Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Cheese and Biscuits on tour - El Roser 2, L'Escala

Like a number of other restaurants in this town, El Roser 2 tempts passers-by with an impressive large tank full of crabs, lobster and oyster. In the early 80s when the place opened I imagine it would have been quite a unique experience - for British diners at least - to be able to wave goodbye to your main course as it was plucked out of the tank and carried off to the kitchen. Nowadays, outlets in London such as FishWorks and LiveBait have been brave enough to register the link between nice fresh seafood and the live raw ingredients, although I don't think I've ever seen lobsters kept in a fish tank anywhere in London. I wonder why?

Having railed against the continental attitude to driving under the influence yesterday, it seems slightly hypocritical to complain about the location of a town-centre seafront establishment, but unfortunately in a tourist area such as L'Escala it seems some places do take advantage of their good fortune. El Roser 2 serves good food and is a successful restaurant, but look at some of these prices:

€18 for a plate of Whelks, which are available from the supermarket for a couple of quid, €60 for sea cucumber - they're not that rare and not that big although admittedly do need to be collected by hand - and a whacking €100 per kilo of "Grilled national lobster", actually probably flown in from the UK but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Passing trade and a decent local reputation keeps El Roser 2 busy most nights of the year - even out of season - but you can't help feeling they're exploiting their situation somewhat.

Thankfully, the quality of the food generally was almost worth the vast amount of money we spent on it. Tapas of local anchovies on tomato bread were of course delicious. My swimmer crab starter was literally just a couple of boiled crabs on a plate, but were nice and fresh and I enjoyed using the weird dental equipment to scrape out every last bit of flesh from inside the legs. But this is a course I could have made myself. It's not really cooking, just boiling crabs, is it? I've mentioned before I rarely have a cheesecourse at restaurants these days (unless it's included in some sort of set menu) because I can do the same myself for half the price after a visit to Hamish Johnston.

Also, in common with past visits the service isn't really anything to write home about either. To give just a small example, I asked our waiter (who spoke pretty good English) whether any of the seafood courses were served with any veg or sides. He said no. So I said, where are the sides on the menu? There aren't any, but he could do us some potato and veg if we wanted. I've seen this before in Spanish restaurants - very few courses are served with salad or even bread, but why not just put a couple of extras on the menu anyway, rather than having diners to come up with their own and pay a mystery amount of money for it? We did get our sides of potato and veg, but it was pretty dull. And cost €4.

My main was a Lobster stew (Catalan: "Xup-Xup") with sea cucumber and clams. And to be fair, this was cooking, and very good cooking - it tasted fresh and rich with a tomato-seafood sauce and huge satisfying chunks of lobster and sea cucumber. Thanks to the generous portions it was probably also just about worth the €55, but again this is a premium price and the service did not live up to it.

It may sound like I had a horrible meal at El Roser 2, and honestly I didn't. But I did pay through the nose for decent food and mediocre service and overall I'm afraid I felt a little ripped off. The night before, back at the apartment we'd cooked juicy fat prawns dipped in homemade aioli, and turbot steaks with fresh herbs from the garden. I think the whole meal cost around €10 each - seafood will always come at a premium, but the trick is getting your money's worth. In a region blessed with so much great seafood, and so many different ways of getting it, the restaurants of L'Escala will have to try harder to provide real value to their diners.


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