El Bulli – 2 April 2004
Thursday marked the opening day of the El Bulli season. For those of you unfamiliar with this restaurant I will fill you in with a brief history. El Bulli has been reputed to be “The Best Restaurant in the World” by Restaurant Magazine and many of the world’s greatest chefs. Ferran Adria is the, I dare say, Madman/Scientist/Magician behind El Bulli. I hardly believe that the mere title of Chef embodies enough to describe this visionary gastronomic maestro. The restaurant holds 3 coveted Michelin Stars and is renowned as being one of the hardest reservations in the world to secure… According to some reports, there are approximately 300,000 requests per 6 month season and only 8,000 seats available and reservations are closed the first day that they are taken for the entire season.
So you might be asking yourself how the Queen of Nerds secures such a hot ticket on the culinary scene… I have one simple answer for you. That it was pure and coincidental luck. The stars and the Gods aligned on that fateful day and my persistence finally paid off after two years. I happened to fax a request begging to be let in at the exact moment that the Maitre D had received a cancellation. He told me later that he received it at that precise moment so he felt that it was fate that I receive the table despite the huge waiting list. The lovely man even tried to phone me 3 times before I answered my mobile. To think that I almost lost my booking by screening my calls – I would have been devastated!
Ok, enough about the boring stuff. Let’s get on to the stuff that dreams are made of…
The menu at El Bulli is set menu of approximately 25-30 courses and runs for about 4-5 hours. Be sure to take along your favourite friends, although be forewarned that you will have no time for idle chitchat as the food will become the focus of every conversation. Everyone must enter El Bulli with a bit of adventure and optimism. The restaurant is not for the faint-hearted or picky. It must also be understood that at the heart of the El Bulli phenomenon is not that every course is necessarily going to taste great. The soul of what makes El Bulli the “Best Restaurant in the World” is that the chef is testing the boundaries of modern cuisine. Ferran Adria is reinventing and reshaping our perception of food and the artistry that surrounds a dining experience. Food is meant to be appreciated, loved, played with and Ferran is the all masterful Wizard of Oz.
I have missed out on some translations and not quite completed the descriptions due to laziness, but hopefully you will get the general idea.
Concentrado de estragón con miel y mastic
Served on a spoon with the word – ConcentradO (the 0 being the course)
Concentrated tarragon with honey. This was interesting, good palette cleanser. My tongue went numb and I could have sworn that it was laced with Novocain!
Patatas con aceite de aceituna negra con àcido cìtrico
Potato chips with black olive oil and citric acid
Standard thin chips in different oils and lightly salted. This was about the time that they brought my Cava. Yum, Cava.
Pistachulin de fresas del bosque al té
A tea that reminded me of hot toddy’s when I had a sore throat as a child – minus the brandy that my mom liked.
Mantequilla de coco ahumada con porex al gengibre
Coco butter with ginger pores (sorry the translation is weird on that one)
This was one of those tricky courses. I could swear that they brought out a candle and some prawn crackers. Turned out that the candle was actually coco butter! And it was delish on the little air cakes.
Brocheta de corteza de cerdo al mentol con grasa de jamón
Mint pork scratchins. The oddest thing about this course was that my dinner companion and I were having a conversation about 5 minutes earlier about white trash food and our love for pork scratchins. We actually stopped ourselves and joked that only we would talk about pig skins at a 3 star Michelin restaurant. I guess we are a little more avant garde than we’d like to think (or Ferran digs a little big of pig snouts too!). The mint taste was a bit off-putting for a usual bar crowd, but it was still pleasant.
Falsa “espardenya” con sisho, sésamo y yuzu
Fake sea cucumbers
Deep fried seaweed and rice cakes. These were really cute little guys.
Nueces frescas con mahonesa de nueces
Walnuts with walnut mayonnaise
The walnuts were covered in something white and served with little tweezers to dip them in the mayo. I have discovered that I like to eat with tweezers (and you can pluck those pesky eyebrows in between courses as well).
Espuma-nitro Haston Blumenthal
Stolen for another Digijim on eGullet: A ball of whisky sour frozen on the outside so as to collapse once in the mouth, we were told it had been donated by the English chef.
Bocaddio de ibérico
Yeah, doesn’t sound so interesting. But the ham was amazing Iberica ham that melted in your mouth.
Semillas de campari con canicas y concentrado de mandarina
Seeds of cranberry – melon with concentraded manadarine
Caviar de melón
Served up in a caviar tin this looks just like the real thing. Nigel didn’t think he could bear the thought of eating this, but those juicy little melony suckers did pop in your mouth menos the fishy aftertaste.
Aire de zanahoria con granizado de sanguina
Carrot foam with blood orange juice and lemon
The foam dishes were a bit hard for me to swallow – literally. Something about eating foam reminds me of trying to swallow air. You put an entire spoonful into your mouth and the it disappears and you are left with only a drop of liquid. I think this course could possibly give you gas from swallowing excess air. Again, I still enjoyed it. Made life a little more interesting.
Almendras confitadas con gelle de su corteza
Fresh almonds with jelly of its skin
This looked like a bowl of camouflage liquid. The almonds were amazing and burst in your mouth with their own juice. This course was served with a flower stuck in the spoon that you were supposed to smell while you ate. I didn’t really experience the full-effect of the flower, but it was cute to look at.
or on second thought – the above could be the below course
Musgo de pomelo con alemndras-gelee a la Maria luisa y gelee de yogur
Sopa de palomitas
Popcorn dust soup with butter
Like eating your popcorn at the movie theater with tons of butter. One bit of advice on this one – don’t inhale when you get the dust near you or you will choke on it!
Gnocchis de calabaza con jugo
Pumpkin gnocchi with juice
Simple, yet delicious course. The gnocchi’s were gelatin like and exploded when you ate them.
Ostras con cinta ibérica, yuba con flores de boraja
Oysters with Iberican ham fat (?) with milk truffle and flowers
I loved this course. The mixture of oysters and the bit of salty ham were fab. We were told not to eat the milk truffle until after the bit of oyster was gone. This was like curdled milk with a silky texture.
Raviolli de guisantses con guisantes a la menta
Raviolli of pea
Pea and ham and bacon
My fav course. Only because the ravioli was really a ball filled with warm pea soup that burst.
Toro de atun confitado en aceite de atún
Seared tuna with oil of tuan
Zamburiñas con sal de algas
Cinta ibérica de buey de mar con cilantro
Ham with king crab and cilantro
Civet de conejo con gelatina caliente de manzana
Rabbit with apple gelatine
2 m. Spaghetto de parmesano
The old faithful. Like eating a piece of plastic, cheese, spaghetti.
Tortilla de leche – nueva omeltete sourprise
Deshielo a primavera
Ice cream air with vanilla
Yogurt and strawberry ice
In the kitchen
El Bulli has a seating of 50 heads per evening, but it is said that the number of wait staff reach about 53. I can easily see how this is possible. Every intricate detail of your meal is observed by the helpful, friendly and somewhat playful staff. You might expect the staff at a Michelin crowned restaurant to have an aire of snobbery, but in El Bulli this is not the case. Everyone that we encountered made us feel welcome and also seemed to be enjoying themselves as well just for having the mere experience of observing the delight of the patrons. I would have to say that watching people eat a meal at El Bulli must be a trip to the psychologist with every emotion registering on people’s faces whether it be surprise, intrigue or just plain awe.
Every course was displayed in a unique and beautiful manner. Whether it be the Melon Caviar in its own little El Bulli tin or the specially made spoon for the Concentrado. The plate is a mere empty canvas to Ferran and he decorates it ever so lovingly. Bright colours, flowers, textures, and utensils help complete each course. Every plate is put in front of your face and you are taken back to a childlike curiosity to push, prod, poke or just stare in admiration. The best part, of course, being when you gather up a spoonful and then discover that although your eyes had told you the course was, your mouth was telling you otherwise. Solids disappear into thin air leaving only a taste on the tip of your tongue. Jelly-like bubbles burst in your mouth exposing a warm liquid. Flowers are edible and actually tasty. It goes on and on. And that is the best part of El Bulli. It is like being a kid and discovering that your Play Doh is fun to mold AND chew on at the same time.
MY HUMBLE OPINION
I suppose that you can surmise from my glowing review that I thoroughly enjoyed my El Bulli experience. I had a fabulous time at El Bulli and I would recommend it to my adventuresome friends to take a trip and experience it for themselves. I must admit that I have read negative reviews from people saying that Ferran was past his time. I, myself, have also wondered if the hype was really necessary or if it was just some pretentious place touting itself as the next new thing. I have to disagree with either of these statements. As a food lover, I think and hope that I went to El Bulli with an open mind. I came away feeling that I had not eaten a meal, but I had had an experience. To me, this is what makes for a great restaurant. It brought me closer to food. And if you have ever seen the movie Big Night, you might remember one particular line in it by the chef. “To be close to food is to be close to God.” I suppose that it is up to you to make that call on your own (if you can get a reservation!).
PLEASE NOT THAT AS OF JULY 2011, EL BULLI IS NO LONGER OPEN.
Cala Montjoi S/N
17480 Roses (Girona)
+34 972 150 457
Where to Stay in Roses
We stayed in a hotel on the beach that was quite nice and reasonably priced.
Hotel Prestige Coral Platja, Roses Girona
Av De Rhoda, 38
Driving to El Bulli
The front desk phoned a taxi to take us to restaurant. I would recommend to everyone to do this as well. The road to El Bulli is a bit windy and scary. Nothing that you would want to take after a few bottles of Cava. The taxi driver gave us his card to phone him when we were done and he picked us up. This seems to be what most taxi drivers in the area do as well. Cost of taxi about €20 each way.