My greedy but gorgeous wife S and I have wanted to try El Bulli for almost a decade. We first heard about this exciting Spanish restaurant in the late 90s/early naughties. In 2001, at Tasting Australia, we were lucky enough to attend an incredible two-hour long private demonstration during which Ferran Adria showed off some of his more innovative cooking techniques to a room full of journalists. Later that day, we were given a few minutes to interview this revolutionary artist-philosopher-cook.
While theoretically we’ve wanted to dine at El Bulli, I have to admit we never really did anything about it. We never tried making reservations or tried planning a trip. We just assumed that we’d get around to it one day. Of course, as the years passed by and booking a table went from hard-to-get to almost impossible, we started to wonder if maybe we’d been waiting too long. So, when a good friend — a restaurateur who is friends with Ferran — called me two months ago and said, “Hey, I’ve decided to swing by El Bulli on the way to the States in May. I have a table for 6 and am calling you first. Do you want to go? But…um… I need to know right now,” S and I jumped at it. And even though we had just decided to postpone a trip to Italy that we had been planning for September 08 to sometime in 2009 because we weren’t sure we could afford it, we said, “what the halibut” and have put ourselves into even greater credit card debt than we already are.
We totally lucked out. The day we visited El Bulli was gorgeous. It had been sunny and warm all day. Our friends, who had gotten the table for us, drove into Roses that morning. Six of us (we had been travelling in Catalonia with two other friends) had a wonderful, lazy seafood lunch at a local tapas restaurant in town and then spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out. Two more friends arrived in the afternoon. They had flown in from Geneva just for dinner. We were able to increase the table to 8 for them; our dinner date just happened to fall on their 13th wedding anniversary.
El Bulli is beautifully situated. It rests on at the end of a lonely road, across beautiful, green hills and right by the water. The building itself is rustic, charming and casual. Not the kind of place that you’d expect to find the world’s most innovative cuisine. After meeting Ferran Adria and Juli Soler, we sat in the restaurant’s courtyard for a while, enjoying Yuzu-sake-tonic cocktails chased with a bottle of Comtesse Marie de France 1998 by Paul Bara and some really exciting nibbles. We enjoyed cream filled nori snacks, shiso jellies, an edible “passion orchid”, tomato biscuits, pinenut and chocolate bon bons, and “Pekin crepes”.
We then moved to our table in the main dining room and had what can only be described as one of the most unique dining experiences of my life. We had 24 more courses, not counting a quartet of post-dessert items called “Morphings”. Below is the menu (as written by El Bulli) with some short comments on some of the dishes: Mint leaf with coconut – this came in two bites. Beetroot coral. Black sesame sponge cake with miso. Gorgonzola moshi — I assume they meant “mochi”; this was a version of Adria’s liquid ravioli.
Grilled strawberry. LYO-Cream — this was a combination of a cream puff served with a spoon of carbonara cream. Razor clam / Laurencia — this was a gorgeously cooked bamboo clam served with an “El Bulli clam” of ponzu jelly. Haricot bean with Joselito’s Iberian pork fat — this was my favourite course of the whole dinner; the super delicious and savoury bean explodes in your mouth.
Mandarine flower/pumpkin oil with mandarine seeds (my photo of this really stunk so I left it out). Almond jellies with cocktail of fresh almonds “Umeboshi”. Mushroom canape. Black garlic ravioli. Lychee — this was a light dashi broth with daikon carved to look like lychees. Water lily — this was a cold tea soup that S loved. Game meat canape. Peas 2008 — the peas on the right are real peas; the ones on the left are Adria’s liquid raviolis filled with pea soup. Asparagus with miso.
Gnocchi of polenta with coffee and safran yuba — these gnocchi also explode in your mouths; yum! “Negrito” 2008 — this was a lovely seared local fish covered with a sweet foam. Abalone. Hare juise with apple-jelly with black currant marinated — I have to admit, this dish was not my favourite.
Pistachio honey — this was beautiful. “Trufitas” — amazing chocolate truffles. Bubble — in the middle of the mound of bubbles was a chocolate ganache. There were four different petit fours, or “Morphings”. With dinner, we had three great white wines: Weingut A Christmann VDP Riesling Konigsbacher Idig 2002; Rafael Palacios As Sortes 2005; and Chateau Smith Haut-Lafite 2001.
This dinner was definitely one of the most amazing I have ever enjoyed. It was less “out of the box” than I expected and much more Japanese-influenced than I had imagined. The food, while amazingly innovative was also witty and I think that more than anything else made the meal great fun, for me and for all of my dining companions. I am sure some of you want to ask if I think El Bulli deserves to be called the world’s number one restaurant. I am actually not going to answer that. I will say that I think Ferran Adria is a genius and I think there is no other restaurant in the world that offers the kind of experience that El Bulli provides. Some dishes you will love. Some will puzzle you. And some you won’t like. But the space is great – homey and brilliant at the same time. And the service is perfect. This is certainly one meal I will not forget anytime soon.