El Celler de Can Roca, an enogastronomic experience not just a simple lunch

La Vittoria di Paolo Calì
13/04/2018
Il Convivio Troiani cambia forma per una “convivialità” a misura d’uomo
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Happiness.

Curiosity.

Above all pride.

My feelings, today, are an overwhelming swirl of emotions.

All positive.

Which already seems to me to be great news.

I caress the pages of So Wine So Food as if they were a puppy in need of cuddles and maternal warmth.

I do it, not caring for others.

I do it not caring about the judgment of those around me.

I wonder if some other guest, as I am, is watching me secretly, trying to find out the origin of my stupid smile and moistened eyes.

Nobody can deeply understand, I know it well.

But I still do not care. Because, if you think about it, emotions are only ours. Even when we love someone so much, when we feel it so close that it feels like we are one, even when we feel an empathy or syntony out of the ordinary with those we have next to us, never and ever we will be able to feel his own emotions. It is mathematical. Physiological.

I think it was Schopenhauer who said that “our pain is always stronger than the others’ one, simply because it is ours”.

I always agreed. The same is true for joy. Or pride. The two feelings that today are tearing my soul from my body.

The reason is very simple: at the entrance of the restaurant I am about to visit, there is a stack with several copies of So Wine So Food.

I recognize the photos, the writing font, the topics. I recognize the editorial faces on the first pages of each issue. I feel at home: as if, on a long journey, on the other side of the world, I met an old school friend. Or a neighbor. Do you know the feeling?

Believe me it was not kindness. No one ever knows when I arrive. And maybe I would give myself even too much importance if I thought that my name should always be linked to the magazine’s one.

It is esteem for our work. Appreciation of our sweat. And so let me explode with enthusiasm and emotion. Actually, I watched the birth of this magazine: it’s like a son to me.

Let  me boast for once.

Let me be happy.

I am in Girona, in Spain. A few kilometers from the French border and a couple of hours drive from Barcelona. Here stands one of the most popular and important restaurants in the world: El Celler de Can Roca. Designed and managed by the three Roca brothers: Joan (chef), Jordi (pastry chef) and Josep (sommelier).

Founded in 1986 right next to the family bar (which had been opened in 1967), the restaurant received its first Michelin’s star in 1995 and the other two in 2002 and 2009. Legend has it that the turning point in life, for what concerns the job and not, for the Roca brothers arrived in 1991, when Joan and Josep decided to visit the restaurant of Jacques Pic in Valence. The electrocution, especially looking at the face of the French chef reflected in the set of copper pans at the entrance, is immediate, as well as the need to devote himself to haute cuisine. At the opening of Celler, Joan was 22, Josep 20, Jordi joined them in 1999.

I was very curious to visit the three starred of the Roca brothers, who was twice nominated as the best restaurant in the world, so much so that I had planned it as the final stage of my road trip. The desire to visit the world, to broaden my range of action, to experiment with new types of cuisine has led me to dilute everything. And with great joy.

But in the meantime, finally, here I am.

Entering the local of Girona the first thing that strikes me is the location: I would define it balanced. Neither too elegant, nor too easy: absolutely easy going. Right.

The outside is mainly built with wood and concrete, while the restaurant has an entrance hall with a small room, a wonderful winter garden and a splendid luminous entrance thanks to its breathtaking windows. From there, you can enter the lobby where in a corner you can admire a beautiful showcase with distillates and cigars. Among the best there is no label missing, with a special attention for everything that is Spanish of origin or reference. Among the brands that impress me most I can not fail to mention a wonderful section dedicated to Macallan whiskey, with even five types created exclusively for the Celler.

Waiting to sit down at the table, I am offered a glass of Brut Reserva, another bottle created especially for the Roca brothers’ restaurant.

The kitchens are huge and incredible: neat, gigantic, bright, they seem like a real assembly line. If on one hand it makes the work much faster and automatic, on the other hand it can lead to a series of drawbacks. But we’ll talk about this in a bit …

I go to the toilets (beautiful, clean, simple and elegant) and finally I let myself be conquered by the wine list. Transported around the restaurant on a fantastic wooden cart, it is divided into three books: the one of liquor, the one of whites and champagne and clearly the one of reds.

Finally, I reach the table in a spacious and sold out room, ready to give a gastronomic experience to a maximum of 45 diners. You know: I never use random words. I’m going to tell you about an experience, a culinary journey lasting at least 4 hours and that, in fact, opens its amuse bouche with a … globe. Equipped with 4 or 5 wings or small shelves with small appetizers inside, it indicates different places on the planet where the Roca brothers worked, lived or simply inspired their dishes. There is Korea, Japan, Thailand, Peru. For each place there is a canape: one of these, however, points to a wrong place. It is a Japanese finger food that, dragged towards the Rising Sun, sets in motion a mechanism that opens the globe, discovering a surprise: the primordial soup, as the Roca calls it. It is seawater in gelèe, with sturgeon and salmon caviar. Beautiful to see, it is also better to taste.

It’s time to order: among the various menus proposed, I choose the Festival, the longest and most articulated one, with which you can enjoy all Celler’s creations. The price bounces off my pupils: it’s really affordable. Not that it is low, but much less expensive than other three European stars even of a lower level.

I also entrust myself the selection of wines curated by Josep Roca: a white and a red. The first bottle is a Chardonnay, a Manuel Manzaneque: of a beautiful golden color, it has a smell of citrus, tropical fruits and smoky, spicy and sweet notes. It has a good acidity, it is fresh and with a rather bitter end.

The second, however, is a Flor de Grealò of 2009: bright red, with violet reflections, the smell shows an intense scent of red fruit, licorice, graphite, cocoa and coffee. In the mouth, however, this wine is an explosion of flavors: very mineral and with a strong hint of tannin, on the palate it appears complex and persistent.

Let’s start with the real amuse bouche: a small hardcover is placed on the table, where the three brothers Roca are depicted. The first one is in the kitchen, another is serving drinks in the family restaurant, the last one is on a bicycle, in the clouds, traveling to reach the others.

It starts with a small cannelloni, with puffed rice and squid, foie gras that reminds a bit of the taste of chocolate and finally a gelée ball with liquid Campari inside. Then two teaspoons: one with crab meat, the other with crab and pesto. And here the first inconvenience arrives: in the famous assembly line I was talking about earlier, there must have been some hiccups, because in one of the two teaspoons the ingredients are mixed. I point out to the waiter, a very smart and prepared Italian boy, who with great sadness is forced to bring back the dish. I do not know if they expected something like that in the kitchen. Or if they hoped I did not notice. The fact is that I realized it. And as a result I acted …

I continue with the starfish made of shrimp juice solidified with small sesame seeds. Then two olives: one black with anchovies, another green with foie gras, served in a bonsai. Beautiful plate.

A tart with truffle (both as a flaked garnish and in the filling) and then a dish with mushrooms, pumpkin, cream of mushrooms and parsnip (a tuber similar to the carrot). The course is completed with the marinated and grated egg yolk as if it were cheese. Even this dish I have to send it back: inside I find a hair. Again, I am obliged to call the waiter, point it out, and watch the sad expression of the Italian boy. Despite the usual excuses, no one brings me back the prepared dish: I would not have even eaten it, I’m telling the truth, but I would have appreciated the gesture.

The main menu starts: an oyster with fennel sauce, black garlic, green apple, seaweed, orange, truffle and lemon. Excellent taste, just the flavor but above all perfect balance, difficult to find in a dish with oysters and truffles.

Scampi with artemisia, vanilla oil and toasted butter. The steamed mackerel, with figs, mullet roe and pine nut sprouts is interesting as well. The cooking of the fish is finished at the table and although the mackerel does not have a very strong taste, its taste is enhanced by the other elements.

Cuttlefish with sake lees and black rice sauce: another complex dish, but really extraordinary. The idea of ​​turning black rice into a sauce that gives the effect of squid ink, exalting the cuttlefish itself, is very witty.

Ravioli of sole with miller sole, filled with Jerusalem artichokes and scorzonera. The Galicia blond cow marrow foam with sea urchins and pak choy (a very popular algae in oriental cuisine): splendid dish served in a crazy marble dish. Then smoked duck with orange and finally Iberian pig with salad of green papaya, thai grapefruit, apple, coriander, chilli, lime, cashew and tamarind puree.

It’s time for the lamb with aubergine and chickpea puré with lamb’s legs and spicy tomato with a wood-fired lamb consommé. Even in this dish we can see exactly the chef’s hand: the lamb, cooked in a very simple way, has lost all the scent, strong, of “wild” or “animal”, leaving only the taste and delicacy of the meat.

Pigeon civet with liver parfait and tapioca puree, vanilla carbonara banana and Pinewood: pine honey ice cream, rosemary, thyme and oregano.

We continue with the desserts: the “old book” is beautiful. This dish, in fact, has a taste and a scent reminiscent of ancient books: an old text has been marinated, freeze-dried and some small pages have been made, as if they were from the host and then combined with Darjeeling tea cream and essence of ancient book. Summarizing: let’s talk about a thousand leaves with toasted butter.

After paying the bill, visiting a wonderful winery and having a chat with Jordi Roca (one of the three brothers is always present during the service), I can close with the final considerations.

If I could talk about the Celler de Can Roca giving separate votes, I would assign an 8 to the location, a 9.5 to the kitchen and a 7 to the service.

What did I like? Everything.

What were the things I didn’t appreciate? The hair on the plate and especially the poor consideration of my reports. I want to believe it was not rudeness or lack of professionalism but only an oversight due to too much work. The room, in fact, which as I told you can accommodate up to 45 guests, was sold out.

Final vote 4 beards and a half. Unfortunately I can not reward the Roca brothers with 5. They deserve it as well. But some smudges must be reviewed.

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