Over the years, my wife Jan and I have dined in countless Michelin-starred restaurants (well, okay, at least 21 starred restaurants that I can remember), with many return visits to some of them. Their locations range from London to Paris, from the Cote d’Azur to the Greater Daglan Area.
Never shy about overdoing things, last year alone we ate lunch twice at the triple-starred Epicure, at the Bristol Hotel in Paris.
But until September 23 of this year, Jan and I had dined in only one place that’s named in the 2015 edition of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. That place was Mirazur, where we had lunch with six good friends from Toronto on September 14, 2011. Mirazur is in the beautiful seaside town of Menton, in southeastern France, not far from the Italian border.
This year, Mizazur was ranked No. 11 in the world. When we ate there, four years ago, the food was wonderful and inventive, the restaurant modern and attractive, and the view over the Mediterranean was gorgeous. Unfortunately, the service was somewhere between Keystone Cops and “Bring-Your-Kids-to-Work-Day,” which detracted just a tad from the experience.
So we were obviously thrilled when our request for a reservation at this year’s No. 1 World’s Best restaurant was accepted — a lunch for 10 of us on Wednesday, September 23, at El Celler de Can Roca, in the Catalan city of Girona, in northeastern Spain.
Our group included eight friends from Toronto, all vacationing in France and Spain; together we had rented a beautiful, modern villa beside the sea. Here’s a view looking outwards from the house where we stayed:
In later posts, I’ll drill down a bit and show off the food we enjoyed. But in this posting, I’ll provide an introduction and some overall comments.
The list and what’s behind it. So if these are The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, who decides? From a June article in The Guardian, I learned that “The list is organised and published by William Reed Media, which says that the final rankings are derived from the votes of almost 1,000 ‘influential’ people within the restaurant community. Some French chefs have already expressed anger with the list…” Since I sincerely doubt that every single one of the voters is able to eat in all the fine restaurants in the world, year after year, I’d say that you should take the list with a few grains of salt. Still, I’m sure it’s indicative of quality.
My biggest surprise. To reach El Celler de Can Roca, we had arranged for a private mini-bus to ferry all 10 of us from our rented home on the coast. It was a fairly long ride, heading inland from the Mediterranean, and I have to admit that I was both surprised and disappointed to find that the restaurant was pretty much in the heart of the city of Girona (population: nearly 100,000) — with no superb views of the Mediterranean or any other body of water. What I eventually realized was that I was probably thinking of El Bulli, Ferran Adria’s outstanding restaurant that has since closed. I had never been there, but I’d seen photographs and a television documentary on it, and must have been thinking of its Mediterranean location. Ah well.
Funnily enough, I never took any photos to show off the interior of El Celler de Can Roca, except for this one shot of our table as we got settled:
As you might be able to deduce from the photo, the restaurant is modern and elegant and stylish, with simple decorations like the three stones in the centre of our table. The building itself is surrounded by walls, and you might get a sense of that from this photo of us, after our lunch:
Overall, El Celler de Can Roca is attractive and comfortable, and quite large, with a few open courtyards that do lend a bit of an “outdoor” quality, seen through the plate glass windows. Our table was tucked nicely into a corner, and screened from the rest of the room by a divider that acted as a serving station.
Personally, I did miss sitting outdoors, on a beautiful terrace, with a view of the Med. My wife Jan, on the other hand, thought our setting was beautiful, and had no complaints. Overall, we were happy. Okay, very happy.
The restaurant basics. From the same article in The Guardian that I quoted above, here’s a nice, simple description of the world’s best restaurant: “El Celler de Can Roca in Girona regained its top spot this year, after dropping to second place last year. The Catalan restaurant is run by three brothers: Joan Roca as head chef, Jordi as pastry chef and Josep as sommelier. It is known for taking an experimental approach that is nevertheless rooted in the culinary tradition of the region.”
What about the cost? I can hear you asking: What does one pay for lunch at the best restaurant in the world? Obviously it’s not cheap — we each paid 195 euros for the multi-course lunch (“Feast Menu, available for the entire table only”), plus an additional 90 euros for the wine pairings, chosen by the sommelier, Josep. That’s 570 euros per couple, a sum that we’re not likely to spend very often. But was it worth the cost, given what we’ve paid for other Michelin-starred meals? For sure.
The highlights. In later posts, I’ll show off specific dishes. But for this introduction, I’ll simply list the things I liked best.
- Food: first and the last. All the food was inventive and delicious, but I found that I liked the early dishes (the amuse-bouches and the entrées) and the final dishes (desserts) the best. Why? Perhaps you’ll understand when I show off the dishes in detail in later postings.
- The wine pairings. Overall, this was probably the best example of wine pairings we’ve ever enjoyed in any restaurant. (Cheers to you, Josep Roca!) The pours were generous, and each wine really did go amazingly well with the dish it accompanied. As well, the wines were not just Spanish wines, but also from Germany and France and Portugal. If there was a quibble, it was that each wine was described so quickly — in English, but with a heavy Spanish accent — that it was hard to know just what we were drinking. (Although we did get a printed menu, showing all the wines, at the end of our meal.)
- The service. Flawless service was a key part of the complicated meal. I don’t think anyone missed a beat; all dishes were served on time, but we never felt rushed; the staff spoke very good English, and each server was available when needed, but never intruded. Bravo!
So that’s it for the overview. In the next posting, I’ll start working our way through the meal. You may want a siesta first.