Monday, 1 October 2007
Cheese and Biscuits on tour - La Llar, Roses
Thanks to the worryingly relaxed attitudes to drink driving in Spain, La Llar is situated right next to an ugly duel carriageway, quite a way from the nearest town and only accessible by car. Try and imagine a Michelin-starred restaurant in the UK at Sandbach services on the M6, or in place of your nearest Little Chef. Doesn't really work, does it? I have no idea why so many of these places are so difficult to get to - El Bulli is the ultimate example of this, being half an hour down a potholed, dangerous clifftop road only the most brave would attempt even sober, never mind on the return journey after sunset a few glasses of wine later. I once remember having a meal in front of a cafe in Roses and watching an elderly French couple finish off two bottles of Rose between them before climbing into their Citroen and driving off. It's all very continental and liberal, I'm sure, but I think there's something quite selfish about the way some countries feel they have a right to drive around pissed and to hell with the consequences. Still, a half an hour in the car is a small price to pay for a great meal, so I'm glad we made the effort for La Llar.
The decor inside the restaurant is very odd. Think alpine ski-lodge crossed with Dadaesque surrealism. A pair of huge metal scales swung ominously above our table, whilst in the next room various stuffed animals stared down at diners with a dozen beady eyes. Pictures of everything from French peasant women to Picasso-styled portraits covered every available wall space, and the drinks trolley appeared to be an old wooden wheelbarrow. I think the word is "eclectic". Also, when I tell you the service was excellent you have to bear in mind that for most of the evening this consisted of one woman (the chef's wife I believe), who never seemed harried or hurried but nevertheless replaced cutlery, served a myriad of complex courses and topped up wineglasses with practiced ease for about twenty covers. It was most impressive.
The food, then. Being the adventurous types we are, we elected for the "Menu sorpresa", a selection of five mystery dishes, cheese and desert, although in reality this turned out to be very similar to the listed "Menu La Llar" with an extra meat course.
Cheese puff straws and salted almonds were a nice change from the usual olives and bread but nothing special. However, the pre-starter "tapas" were extraordinarily good. Lolipops of "Botifarra" (local sausage) made sweet with what I think was maple syrup were crunchy on the outside and soft within. A miniscule portion of goats cheese with a tomato jam was bursting with farmy, fresh flavours and was a sensation. But best of all a martini glass of Vichyssoise had just the right balance of creaminess and potato - I think I also detected a cauliflower flavour in there somewhere but with the ingredients not being on the menu I can't swear to it. It was comforting and heady, and made me want to lick the glass dry. Overall, a brilliant start.
The next course was "Tartar de llobarro i salmo fresc" which we decided through a rosetta-stone style reading of the multilingual menu was seabass and salmon pate. A reasonably straightforward dish in terms of presentation and tastes, but again thanks to good fresh ingredients was full of life. A garlic paste served with it was also good fun.
A tomato soup with lobster meat and olive oil was perhaps slightly on the rich side but was bold in flavour and the tomato soup itself was pleasantly velvety. Also I don't think you can go far wrong in my book with great big chunks of lobster.
The next course was the one real dud unfortunately - scallops which were bland and plasticky in flavour and rather unsatisfyingly uniform in texture. The sauces didn't taste of much either. Best forgotten, this one.
Luckily the next course was the great redeemer - a meaty, gorgeously seasoned end of John Dory with a fantastic onion sauce that delighted the senses. Also served with this were a few tiny wild mushrooms whose incredibly strong flavour belied their size. Everyone enjoyed this one.
The last of the main courses was a lovely chunk of beef fillet steak in a red wine sauce, served with a kind of pear sauce with a crisp sugar coating, and more of those delicious wild mushrooms. You can't really do much to mess up beef fillet and red wine sauce, so of course this was a very tasty plate of food indeed, if not the most complex. But it went down very well again with all concerned.
Next up, a nice little selection of three cheeses which weren't written down anywhere so I'm afraid I have no idea what they were. The best by common consensus was the little medallion of goats cheese, which was satisfyingly strong. However all 3 were slightly on the cold side so probably weren't at their best.
Saving their most theatrical flourish for last, after the cheese course Mrs. Chef arrived pushing a huge dessert trolley loaded with a mouthwatering display of cakes, mousses and fresh fruit. Once our selections were made, the bitesize portions were arranged artistically on a plate and the correct sauces poured on top. Again I should mention that despite the labour involved in this task it was performed expertly and confidently and each plate was given the attention it deserved. The desserts themselves ranged from OK to very good, but the sheer choice left nobody feeling short changed. Best of all in my opinion was a passion fruit and peach soup - georgously silky and moreish.
A couple of chocolate truffles and a brandy snap to finish, and we were done. Spain's high-end restaurants are pretty much without exception very good value, and for a little over £70 each for all that food, a glass of cava each and a bottle of white, so was La Llar. If you're lucky enough to be holidaying in this part of the world, I can recommend a visit - just go easy on the alcohol for the journey home.