When my husband and I got married, we hated the idea of hen and stag outings so decided on a 'hag' do instead. The Horwich Fine Dining Society made a road trip to Bray for lunch in the Hind's Head and then dinner at the Fat Duck. We were married abroad, but when we returned we hired the private dining room at Northcote for our intimate reception. Since then we have travelled far and wide in search of culinary excitement!
|Photo: El Celler de Can Roca|
El Celler de Can Roca holds the prestigious three Michelin stars, and was also re-elected as the second best restaurant in the world in the 2012 World's 50 Best awards. The Roca brothers could literally rule the culinary world. It's most definitely a family affair. Josep is their Sommelier, Joan the head chef and Jordi the pâtissier. They grew up in their parents' restaurant, practicing perfection from an early age. Each table in their restaurant has three rocks in the centre; one for each Roca (which translates to rock in English) brother. Even the 'R' in their logo has three tails. Being OCD with the number three, I like this a lot.
The 17th of January 2013 finally came, and despite the threat of heavy snow we made it to Girona in one piece. Granted, it was freezing there too! You may think it is a long way to go for your tea, but let's face it, it takes two hours to get to London on the train from where we live. It was only an hour and fifty minutes on a plane. During the day we had a nice walk around Girona, and even had chance to sample Rocambolesc; the brothers' gelateria. Yes it was freezing, but we suffer for our cause...
We were welcomed into the dining room, which was warm and welcoming after bracing the chilly winds outside. We were given a choice of the feast tasting menu, or one that was slightly smaller. We did not travel all the way to Spain to have the smaller menu! No way José. At this point the wine list was wheeled over to the table. Yes, it's so big that it has to be split into white, red and liquors. Each is a large book split by country. Our menu was fourteen courses long, with a further four courses of appetisers. We started proceedings with a glass of fizz...
Next came their famous olive tree. Olives stuffed with anchovies and covered in a crisp caramelised coating. I should have detested these, but they were just too good! Joan Roca appears to be some sort of witch. He has somehow captured the ability to perfectly balance flavours in a way that satisfies all the taste buds in one swoop. You may not enjoy each component, but when combined they are something of wonder. Plus, we really liked the little tree...
A spoon was placed on our plates with a long, smooth, olive green wibbly thing on it. We were told to eat it in one go because it was actually liquid inside. I didn't fancy its texture at first, but was soon a fan of the thick artichoke cream served just warm. It came with hard shelled bon bon with a liquid centre and the most amazing 'crisps' I have ever tasted. Imagine a prawn cracker meets something sweet and salty all in one go. I could have gone for a bowl of these!
I always get over excited about bread. I have been to some fantastic restaurants, only to be disappointed by the bread. Vicki has a one slice rule. I have no such restraint. My favourites include the huge selection at Fraiche, the Lancashire cheese rolls from Northcote, the black treacle buns from Sat Bains and the simple split loaf from Noma. Look at the tray below... wholemeal, mini baguettes, red wine bread, apricot and walnut, tomato rolls, black olive rolls and one that tasted a little like brioche. My favourite had to be the tomato one. Soft like a croissant but not quite as buttery, with a strong tomato paste rolled into the dough. I loved these!
The pretty pink dish below was 'olive paste'. This was black olive gazpacho, spicy gordal-olive mousse, black olive fritter, manzanilla-olive ice cream, toasted bread with oil, fennel jelly, winter savoury jelly and picual olive. This was a lesson in 'turns out I actually like olives'. The texture of that black olive fritter was heavenly.
The next dish was a little bit of fun! Remember over Christmas when I kept banging on about Viennetta being ace? I was mocked like a common fool. Well... How about this? White asparagus Viennetta! I'm obviously bang on trend without even knowing it... I'm not mad on savoury ice cream, but this was delicate and really thick in texture. Genius.
First came a porcelain shell filled with oyster covered with game meat (pigeon) hollandaise sauce. Oysters are not my bag, so it was donated to my husband. However, that game hollandaise was a tour de force! Gorgeous.
The masterpiece below is another signature dish; a whole prawn served with head juice and seaweeds, seawater and sponge cake plankton. See those red things...? Caramelised legs and pincers. I tried them, but that was a little too much for me. I draw the line at eating pincers. Supportive as ever, the rest of the HFDS found this hilarious. My husband put a leg near my hand whereas Wayne decided to have a pincer sticking out of his mouth. Vicki did not take part in these limb shenanigans.
The red sea bream with endive, gentian and citrus was much better! Soft, delicate fish with bitter leaves and a sweet sauce. Plus, it was served on a very pretty plate with faux fossils lined with silver. Each one was different too.
The salt cod brandade consisted of braised salt cod tripe, salt cod foam, olive oil soup, shallots and honey, thyme and chilli pepper served with 'vegetable contrast'. The olive oil soup was just divine. Not at all greasy, I'm sorry to say that we all mopped this up with our remaining bread. We are from Horwich. Cut us some slack.
When a fish tail was put in front of me I could have squealed. I don't like my food to look like animals. Saying that, this is why I like tasting menus. They make me try it. If allowed to be, I am a very fussy eater. This was served with vegetable gnocchi and a wonderfully meaty sauce, This might have been referred to as 'gravy' at one point. No, not by the waiter. I am so glad I tried this! Soft and sweet gnocchi with delicate, slow cooked fish. Just look at the colours!
It may seem odd putting a picture of orange juice on here. I don't drink wine (I know...) and drinking spirits with a meal leaves me with the fear of being hammered whilst everyone else is still sober. Our sommelier offered to make some freshly squeezed orange juice instead. It was so good the whole table tried it. The only problem is, I can never drink orange juice ever again for fear that it will taste rubbish in comparison. Damn you and your Spanish oranges.
The pigeon was accompanied by liver and onions (a thick sauce underneath), curry caramelised walnuts, juniper, orange peel and herbs. Because pigeon is quite a strong flavour, nothing in the rest of the dish was too over powering. I particularly liked the soft onions and curried walnuts.
Just look at this first dessert. I'm by no means religious but I'm telling you now, if I was that snake and was faced by an apple like this... I'd have eaten it myself. Eve would have had no bloody chance! Shiny, bright and sparkly... it's the stuff fairy tales are made of. I'm now beginning to understand why Snow White ended up poisoned. How could I resist? Girona's fair candy apple is served on a bed of candy floss. It was demolished within seconds. Gone.
Still reeling from the shock of sugar several ways, the next dish was chocolate with milk consomme, butter ice cream, praline cream and chocolate candy. We all agreed it was very much like a chocolate Mini Milk! This dessert really helped to cleanse the palate after consuming so much sugar.
The last of our desserts was maple syrup cream with pear, walnut and cardamom. By this point we were almost dead. I think I managed half! The pear sorbet was just beautiful. I would never think of putting it with maple syrup, but it just worked. The little white 'rocks' were a crisp shell encasing some sort of spirit, possibly calvados.
Next appeared a beautiful birthday 'cake' for my husband, complete with candle! This was a crisp chocolate ball filled with gooey chocolate wonderful stuff, surrounded by little rounds of chocolate and crumbled brownie, topped with gold leaf.
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