Heaven is what you make it to be. For me, it’s a certain state of mind: moments of heightened consciousness when all my senses are being teased….. simultaneously. A warm bath; a cup of hot chocolate on a winter’s day; the rich bouquet of a full-bodied red wine; or the cool, silky feel of the sea lapping around my toes are my idea of heavenly moments. Food can also have the same impact on me. Not any type of food. Rather, food that speaks to all my senses; food that makes me want to cry out in joy; food that transports me to a world so perfect and pure, I’d wish I could stay just a tad longer. I’ve often experienced these divine moments throughout my travels; fleeting moments, yes, but oh so divine! Several weeks ago, I experienced heaven through fifteen tantalising courses at the three-starred Michelin establishment, El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Catalonia.
A world of culinary wonders
We arrived at El Celler de Can Roca flush with excitement. A week before, the restaurant was voted as the second best in the world on the renowned S. Pellegrino top-50 list whilst Josep Roca, one of the three brothers who established the restaurant, was to receive the prize as the Best Sommelier in Europe by the International Academy of Gastronomy. It was also the day that the restaurant was showcasing an experiment that involved a multi-sensory approach to gastronomy. I trembled at the thought.
We were greeted at the restaurant’s courtyard by the charismatic Joan Roca (the eldest of the three brothers and the Chief Chef) and were taken on a tour of the kitchen. Walking through the kitchen was like a wander through Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. Everywhere we looked, chefs in crisp white uniforms and black aprons were preparing the most delicate fare with utensils you would normally find in a laboratory.
An intriguing multi-sensory approach to dining
After the kitchen tour, we were led to the back of the restaurant where the intriguing experiment was about to begin. It was a bewildering performance featuring light and sound effects that brought the food on a plate to ‘life’. A whole new meaning was given to the golden oldie ‘alphabet soup’: instead of alphabets made of pasta floating in a broth, they projected alphabets onto the soup, creating a surreal effect. A plate with a king prawn was transformed into a wondrous underwater world, complete with corals, marine life and the sound of waves. The next course featured a seafood risotto with the verses of a famous Catalonian poem swirling around in the bowl – true poetry in motion. The experiment was an intriguing performance designed to appeal to our five senses and spur interaction with the food.
Fifteen tantalising courses
Our 15-course lunch kicked off with an excellent cava and caramelised olives (stuffed with anchovies) served hanging in the branches of a bonsai tree. There was no serpent tempting us to take a bite, nor did I feel like Adam (or Eve) but it was a brilliant metaphor. The olives hanging in the tree were an invitation to partake in a meal of ethereal delights.
This was followed by a succession of Campari bonbons with grapefruit juice (which jolted our taste buds into action!), anchovy bones, chicken crackers (served on a smooth stone) and calamari nuggets. The chicken cracker was an amazing feat: delicate, yet crispy with a rich chicken flavour. The calamari, wrapped in an edible ‘plastic’ jacket, simply melted in my mouth.
By this time, my head was spinning. I was in awe of the ingenious presentation and brilliant blending of flavours in these bite-sized servings of heaven. Earlier that day, I went skydiving for the first time in my life and as I sat at the table, I thought:
Lunch continued with a vegetable salad, a simply divine St. George’s mushroom truffled brioche accompanied by a pot of broth, and artichoke with foie gras (which left me gasping for more!). During our tour of the kitchen, I spied a chef painstakingly piecing together the artichoke ‘flower’ composition with tweezers. Simply thinking of the work that went into this creation made me appreciate the dish even more.
My previous moments of heavenly delight never lasted this long! And we were only halfway through the lunch! 🙂 The sensational flavours and diversity of textures and aromas simply blew me away. Traditional Catalan ingredients coupled with cutting-edge techniques formed a harmonious union that tingled all my five senses.
Lunch progressed with the phenomenal European lobster parmentier with black trumpet mushrooms, sole with five sauces and a cod pot-au-feu. Three courses of pure joy…on a plate!
The whole lunch was a string of highlights but one course that I’ll never forget soon arrived at my table: the Sierra Mayor Iberian suckling pig. The skin was wafer thin and crispy whilst the meat was soft and tender. It was so beautifully prepared that the flavours and juices flowed with every bite.
After this glorious course, our taste buds were refreshed by the lovely Green Colourology: a palette cleanser consisting of eucalyptus ice-cream, green shiso, green Chartreuse, lime and avocado.
The Green Colourology was then followed by a wonderful dessert plate that featured a scoop of Tahitian vanilla condensed ice-cream and a mix of vanilla, caramel, liquorice and dried black olives. Jordi Roca’s creations were well-balanced with rich flavours and subtle undertones.
And just when we thought that lunch had come to an end, we were served a platter of curious-looking balls: frozen white chocolate balls filled with various juices: chocolate and cocoa bean; vanilla and coconut; peach, honey and rose; and melon and orange blossom. These balls burst in your mouth releasing a cold zesty shot. Brilliant stuff!
Lunch at El Celler de Can Roca was a wondrous journey which seamlessly merged earthly delights with stratospheric sensations. I left the restaurant with a lingering question in my mind: Was this the best meal I’ve ever had?
The answer was definite: No.
This… was simply HEAVEN!
Heaven = El Celler de Can Roca.