When we think about a “family restaurant”, we imagine tablecloths with lacework, a smell coming from the traditional meals, a woman properly cooking her grandmother’s recipes while her children and husband are servicing these meals to the visitors.
Three brothers in Girona changed this concept and brought it to international standards, in other words, made it a globally known restaurant!
Similar to Arzak in San Sebastian, run by father-daughter duo who creates wonderful tastes, El Celler de Can Roca is run by the collaboration of three brothers (Joan, Josep, Jordi). It has been offering top-end Catalan cuisine since 1986. In this regard, the restaurant has been said to be similar to the legendary restaurant El Bulli which was closed in 2011.
The hero of the Nordic cuisine, Noma and El Celler de Can Roca with three stars have been competing for the first place in the list of “The 50 Best Restaurants”. Although El Celler is voted the second this year, this does not mean that you don’t have to make your reservations months before your visit.
Joan is the expert in the kitchen, Josep in the wine cellar and Jordi in the desserts. The restaurant has a capacity of 45 people. 30 chefs in total offer two menus: Classical tasting menu (155 €) and a long tasting menu called “feast” (190 €).
In my visit to El Celler de Can Rosa that I’d been planning for a long time, my beloved best friends accompanied me. We, as a group, frequently crown our long-standing friendship with such dinners. That day, the people with me were dear Ahmet Güzelyağdöken, who has the most comprehensive knowledge about gastronomy; the most precious tour guide in Turkey, Saffet Emre Tonguç who chose to listen to us when it was gastronomy we were talking about, instead worked his magic while we were touring Girona before the restaurant; my cousin Kerem, who is one of the young foodaholics and his friends Ayşegül and her husband Burak who are educated in gastronomy and travelling with this passion all over the world and blogging about their experiences (www.theinquisitivecouple.com).
In the inner court surrounded by stone buildings, we started off our night with a bottle of “Cava” champagne which the Catalans drink for celebrations. Following the champagne, we had olives for the first amuse bouche which is a traditional taste from the Spanish cuisine. Hooked onto a bonsai tree, the caramelized olives had a spectacular look.
Before the tasting menu that would take almost 4 hours, the other amuse bouches were grapefruit bonbons with black sesames, coral and sea urchin foam. The presentation followed these was quite interesting. Called the world, the dish was composed of five appetizers from around world. These were the Mexican burrito, Chinese pickled vegetables, Moroccan yoghurt with saffron, Korean fried bread and Turkish stuffed vine leaf. This way, it was like every visitor took a bite from the world’s cuisines. With its vine leaf, lentil puree and eggplant, it is obvious that this modern interpretation of Turkish appetizer had the magic touch of Sina Sucuka, one of our young chefs who had worked for the restaurant for a short time.
The bread basket was quite successful. The most outstanding taste in the delicious composition was absolutely truffled brioche.
Autumn vegetable stock was like a consommé and it was a fine composition of mashed parsnip, pumpkin emulsion, pomegranate, turnip, chervil root, salsify, beetroot, spinach, chestnut, mushrooms and radish.
If you would look closer into leche de tigre, you could see a tiger throwing his fiery looks at you. Another fine presentation was mackerel. The fish was marinated in salt and sugar and its sauce was made with white wine, capers and lemon so that it created a great acidic balance.
For me, prawn with vinegar was one of the best dishes of the night. With all the head juice, prawn legs marinated in komezu sauce, the taste was indescribable.
Could any lamb be referred to as blue-blooded by any chance? If it is possible anyway, it should be the lamb at El Celler de Cam Roca! The milk-fed lamb belly came with an elaborate representation that we couldn’t touch for a while not to spoil it. In detail, it was composed of curry yoghurt, beetroot, spinach, lemon, sweet potato, artichoke flower and several other flowers as well. The taste was absolutely top-notch.
Veal marrow has been one of my favorite tastes since my childhood years. El Celler de Can Roca crowned it with avocado and truffle and as such, did a really nice job.
In the presentation of Pigeon trilogy; while one dish was composed of pigeon heart placed on a cloud of rice in the form of foam, the other one had pigeon breast as well as a Catalan sausage “botifarro”.
Our first dessert, sourdough ice cream was one the energetic visitors of the table. Because the ice cream was still vibrating and bubbling up! Besides, chocolate drops, a mixture of diced lychee (the famous Chinese fruit) and cherry vinegar were the other desserts that put a smile on our faces.
The last piece from the menu was a signature dish of the restaurant called ‘anarchy’. In keeping with its name, Jordi put over-40 ingredients in one basket and blended them with chocolate. There is only one word to describe it: scrumptious! On top of that, as I didn’t find the wine pairing very successful, the Japanese sake that came with this dessert hugely boosted its flavor.
More Refined than Noma
When I compare the two restaurants which are obviously in a competition with each other, I should say that I found El Celler de Can Roca more refined that Noma.
As I can describe Noma as an experimental kitchen, I think one visit a year would be enough for that kind of experience. On the other hand, with a firm yet tricky grasp of the rich Catalan cuisine, El Celler de Can Roca appears to a restaurant where you can enjoy 3-4 visits a year.
Of course, I’m not saying anything negative about Noma. Because, it should already be appreciated to be able to make the best of a limited amount of ingredients and polish the cuisine of that region. Then again, I’m sure that after a Mandarin Oriental Tokyo pop-up which I couldn’t visit, Noma got familiar with all the Japanese techniques and ingredients, and went through a transformation in the kitchen. It is a must to try Noma again in 2015!
Until then, I recommend you to stop at El Celler de Can Roca for a dinner if you go on a trip in Spain and pass by the cute city of Girona.
Bon appétit and enjoy the taste of life…
El Celler de Can Roca
Calle Can Sunyer, 48, 17007 Girona, İspanya
+34 972 22 21 57