I have to think for a couple of minutes to tell you what the best breakfast of my life was. Best lunch of my life? Probably I cannot even decide. But, if you ask me what the best dinner I had so far was, I can answer you immediately: The one at El Celler de Can Roca.
El Celler de Can Roca is a world famous restaurant run by 3 brothers; Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca. The restaurant was opened in 1986 and its impact and success have been increasing since then. Today, it has 3 Michelin stars and it ranked twice as the number 1 restaurant in the world. The success of the restaurant comes from the motivation of improving and always renovating, the endless passion of Roca brothers, and their strong relationship with their team and their community, which impact immensely beyond borders.
I will tell you from the beginning: This dinner was not only food; but also memories, stories, emotions and lives.
Before the dinner starts, I want to share with you how I’ve won this amazing dinner. In 2017 fall, I attended to the “pour and pair competition” of International Sherry Week. For this competition, I was sent a bottle of Manzanilla wine and asked to create a pairing: I paired it with the noble seafood of Nova Scotia: lobster. This pairing made me win the contest and my prize was a dinner for two at El Celler de Can Roca. Francisco Diez, who helped me in brainstorming, cooking and designing the plate, happily agreed to accompany me in this dinner. As you can imagine, we were more than happy, firstly because the jury, consisted of renowned sommeliers and chefs, loved the pairing and secondly of course we got to experience this marvelous dinner.
The Dinner Starts…
It was a lovely June day when we arrived to Girona and we made it to El Celler de Can Roca at the reservation time. Needlessly to say, I was very excited! Once we arrived, our host asked us if we would like to make a kitchen tour – of course we would! I was still not very conscious that we were there in the middle of one of the best kitchens in the world.
After touring the kitchen, we were accompanied to our table. Sat down comfortably, and I started to explore around to discover the place. Couple of details took my attention immediately:
- The lighting of the saloon was designed excellently. Each table and each seat had their own spotlights from both sides, which drew the attention directly to the plates. Putting the food under the spotlight made it the star of the evening and elevated our experience.
- There were 3 rocks placed on the table, which represent 3 Roca brothers.
- The decoration was very modern and neutral, nothing to keep the attention away from the plates.
- All the tables were looking at a glass showcase with real trees inside, which were there before the restaurant was built and were integrated this way to the building as an inside garden, rather than cutting them.
Even before start eating, these details in the restaurant impressed me.
Coming back to the table, to begin with, we were offered a traditional method sparkling wine which was produced by Albet I Noya specially to be served at El Celler de Can Roca. The bubbles of sparkling wine was as excited as I was! We were about to start to experience of “Feast Menu”, accompanied by wine pairings selected by Josep Roca, the sommelier of the restaurant, for each course.
Before starting with the courses, we had some amuse-bouches which were all very interesting. First one was designed to make us travel around “The world”. Each of us received a globe in front of us, with 5 amuse-bouches from 5 different countries: Turkey, Peru, Korea, Japan and Thailand. It was unbelievable that how they made us to travel around the world with only 5 bites. Each bite was designed specifically with the inspiration that Roca brothers collected after their travels and hard work they put together with their team. Knowing that, made me appreciate even more these small snacks.
Especially “Turkey” was the bite that I was waiting for, since the documentary The Turkish way. Turkey was one of the destinations of the Roca brothers during their gastronomic journey around the world. The documentary showed the culinary experience of Roca brothers in various regions of Turkey, to discover the local products and gastronomical scenery in each of them. They literally “summarized” all the flavors in this savory snack: It had lamb, yogurt, mint, cucumber, parsley and onion on top of a pita bread.
Before finishing our journey, “The world” had a game for us: Correctly match the amuse-bouche with the corresponding country, to unlock the globe to win the secret snack inside. Luckily I matched them correctly, opened up the globe from half and I had my surprise snack!
The second amuse-bouche was the “Memories of a bar in the suburbs of Girona”, designed to make us travel back in time and live a scene from the childhood of Roca brothers. The diorama showed the “Bar-Restaurant Can Roca”, the restaurant owned by parents of Roca brothers, this was actually where they grew up, surrounded and inspired by the local cuisine practiced by their family. In the diorama, we could see Jordi Roca riding his bike, Joan Roca in the kitchen, and Josep Roca smiling at us in his Yankees t-shirt at the bar. As “The World”, this also came with 5 small bites, including dishes cooked by their family, such as the delicious meat cannelloni of their mother, Montserrat Fontané. My favorite bite in this round was “campari bonbon” with grapefruit juice inside, which was like an explosion of freshness and creaminess in the mouth.
The third one took us on a cruise tour in Mediterranean Sea. It reminded me the summer holidays, when I used to go snorkeling to find starfish on the sand. I could taste the sea salt left on my lips and smell the seaweeds. The presentation was very elegant, it was a silver apparatus looked like a coral, which had 4 spoons serving 2 different seafood tapas. My favorite was the razor clam served in pesto sauce. It was accompanied by a plank, covered with a fishing net with 2 starfishes on it. It looked like a real scenery of a starfish caught on fishing nets. But, it was made with seaweed and prawns, and it was very delicious.
Coming back from the seaside, forth amuse-bouche took us to olive harvest. A real bonsai olive tree came to our table, and it was carrying some black and green olives. The black one was a tempura of black olive, and the green one was olive ice-cream with anchovy. I ate first the black olive, which was very crisp and the the green olive which cleansed the mouth with its freshness.
The amuse-bouches came to an end with the steamed brioche filled with Saint George mushrooms and on top with a layer of truffle. They were served on a white ceramic cup with soil in it. The mushrooms were placed in a way that it felt like collecting mushrooms from forest floor. It was genius and tasty at the same time.
Vegetables and Seafood Courses
We had 9 courses with different vegetables, fish and seafood. They were all very delicious, unique and beautifully presented, they were all reinforcing the intense flavors of the main ingredients, such as tomatoes, white asparagus, hake, mackerel and langoustine.
I loved all the fish courses, but there was one dish that impacted me a lot, which made me feel like on a cruise in Costa Brava. This was the “Red Prawn from Palamos”. (Palamos is a town in Costa Brava, which has recognition with this prawn being intensely red and tasty.) Almost all parts of this prawn was utilized in a different way to make the best of this ingredient. Red prawn was marinated with rice vinegar shortly, to keep its natural intense flavor. Prawn legs were dehydrated and then fried, which made them very crispy. They were served on a very rich sauce made from head of the prawn. I had never eaten a plate so good – with such a concentrated flavor of prawn.
Following our seaside experience, we came back to the earth, and had 3 courses of meat including Iberian suckling pig, smoked duck and pigeon. To me, the star of the meat courses was the “Pigeon trilogy”, which had different parts of the pigeon cooked in a way that it had different textures with a very nice perfume coming from cacao and orange.
While we were on our meat courses, Josep Roca came to greet the customers in each table. It was a great pleasure to meet him, he was very welcoming, friendly and modest, along with all this success. He kindly accepted to have a photo with me:
We had a lovely conversation and he asked us where we were from and what we were doing for living. Once we told him that we are from Turkey and Chile, and we are in wine business, it didn’t took him long to talk the sommelier who was hosting us, and he ended up coming with a bottle of Turkish and a bottle of Chilean wine. This was a great gesture! I’d enjoyed those wines with a tear drop weeping down on my cheek.
Finally, it was time for the dessert part! The first dessert was “Flowers of Girona”. (Yes, I was very excited to receive this dessert, after watching it on Netflix’s Chef’s Table Pastry!) It was just incredible to have an edible version of Girona on my plate.
It was my first time in Girona and I had chance to visit the city a day before this dinner. Walking down by the Onyar River, I was amazed by the silhouette of the city with its colorful houses blended harmoniously with the historical buildings. Jordi Roca’s imagination carried this beautiful scenery to the plate, with the actual flowers of the city. Moreover, a unique cutlery was designed for this plate, which made this experience even more enchanting.
After receiving the chocolate dessert, which had all colors of chocolate and its intense flavors, I wasn’t expecting any more surprises. But there was a final surprise: A dessert cart came in front of our table, with a wide selection of chocolate, candy and fruits! We could choose any of these sweets, and we were served on glass dishes. These glass dishes were recycled from the empty wine glass bottles that were consumed in the restaurant, as a result of the zero-waste initiative of the restaurant, as “the opportunity to give back all that nature gives to us”, as Jordi Roca stated. Finally, we received a box where we could put the chocolates inside to take them with us. This was a great detail, since it gave us a chance to extend this sweet experience to another day. (I’ve even carried my box to Canada to share with a friend!)
We had wine pairings for each course, which were selected specially to accompany these amazing courses. We had chance to drink many interesting wines from Catalonia, from other regions of Spain, including Jerez, Galicia and Rioja, from Germany, France, Italy, and as I mentioned, from Turkey and Chile.
It wouldn’t be fair to choose a favorite of the wines, since they all accompanied harmoniously the courses. However, there were couple of them which made me extra happy to have tried:
- “La Perdida, O Pando 2016” which was made from 100 % Godello grapes grown organically and biodynamically in Galicia. The grower and winemaker, Nacho Gonzalez, hand harvested and foot crushed the grapes, fermented in tinajas (amphorae) and aged the wine in oak barrels without any sulfur addition and obtained a unique wine. The result was a very interesting orange wine with intense and complex aromas and flavors.
- “Cosmic Vinyaters, Confianca Grenache Gris 2016” which was made from biodynamically grown grapes in Agullana (Alt Emporda) in Girona, with a fermentation partially in amphorea with native yeasts. With its light pink color and elegantly aromatic nose with raspberry, herbs and some toasty aromas, it was very enjoyable.
All this experience lasted more than 4 hours – which may sound like a long time, but I only wished we could spend more time in there. It was definitely not enough for all the incredible presentation, delicious food and delightful wine pairings. That was one of those hours which feels like to be a minute.
This dinner made me travel, thought me a lot of things about life of Roca brothers, introduced me local ingredients of Catalonia, took me to a cruise tour in Mediterranean Sea, made me climb to olive trees, collect mushrooms from forest floor and find a starfish on a net. All these, were beyond my imagination and beyond my highest expectations. So, I am repeating myself: This dinner was not only food, but also memories, stories, emotions and lives. It was beyond borders.
Special gesture of Josep Roca, serving us wines from our home countries, was an unforgettable memory that I am thankful for. Moreover, a special attention for their respect to the nature, by utilizing as many parts of an ingredient, which increase the flavor and also their value, and by recycling their waste as many ways possible deserve a huge applause. Finally, there was an incredible team work behind these successfully presented dishes and smooth service. It was not difficult to see that all the team members made their job with passion and they were very knowledgeable about everything they presented.
Roca brothers have no limits on creating new things, increasing the value of their region and impacting positively people’s lives. I consider myself a lucky person to have experienced an evening in this special place, and had a piece of understanding of the great job that they are doing.
Nothing I can add more on to this, I only wish to go there again!
All images © 2019 by Neslihan IVIT. All rights reserved.
Special thanks to Sherry Wines for this amazing prize.