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The Can Roca Experience

On my visit to Costa Brava I got the chance to visit “The World’s Best Restaurant”, El Celler de Can Roca. I wasn’t actually supposed to eat there because the restaurant was closed. But somehow there I was, eating.

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After years of elBulli’s reign the grand title of "Hot damn, that food was good" went to Noma in Denmark. Now a few years later the title has returned to Costa Brava, Catalunya (not Spain).

El Celler de Can Roca is run by three brothers; Joan, Josep and Jordi. It’s not a new restaurant by any means. The Roca brothers started it in 1986 which, by coincidence, is also my year of birth. I’m getting old I know. Anyways, like I said, I didn’t actually eat there. Well, not the whole menu at least. They were officially closed for lunch when I went there but the place was far from quiet. People were coming and going by the dozens, repairmen fixing lights, couriers carrying stuff in, a flock of young chefs and off-duty restaurant staff wondering around, becuase let’s face it, if you’re working in the world’s best restaurant you’re never off-duty.

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But let’s back up a bit. Before going there I didn’t do any research, I mean zero. I knew it was supposed to be da bomb but if I’m completely honest I was more excited just to see their wine cellar than to actually eat there. I only understood the gravity of our visit when my more food-oriented friends started fidgeting and convulsing just before our arrival. Two minutes later we were chillaxing in the garden sipping some Cava.

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May I remind you this place was still closed. But the ‘we are the best so relax, we got this -swagger was always present.

They gave us a Cava sparkling wine from Albet i Noya, especially branded for El Celler de Can Roca of course. It was very tasty but nothing mind-blowing. I’m sure the atmosphere of sitting outside, sun is shining, I’m in the world’s best restaurant b*tch had something to do with the tasting experience. I could have been drinking piss-warm beer and still feel like a king.

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Then we met Jordi Roca, one of the three brothers, who welcomed us warmly to his restaurant. But more about him later. They started carrying out these delicious small bites, one after another. They served us a couple of small olive trees full of little caramelized olives hanging on the tree by these small metal hooks which, by the way, were engraved with the Can Roca logo (picture here). The level of detail was impressive.

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The olives were actually my least favorite bite. Which was surprising because I’m a huge olive afficionado. The caramel stuck to my teeth and I was trying to fish it out the rest of the day. Delicious yet unpleasant. Maybe they were going for that? Who knows. But the other dishes, wow! A total flavor bukkake.

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The restaurant itself was beautiful. The main dining room seemed almost Nordic in design, very simple and elegant. Lots of light gushing through the windows and they even had a small little forest in the middle of the restaurant. Cool, huh? It would have been nice to see the place in action just to witness what is supposed to be a life-changing dining experience. But we had the whole place to ourselves so we could monkey around and visit the kitchen. And not just any kitchen, the world’s best kitchen.

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The kitchen was big enough to fit a small army of chefs. Equipped with some weird machines that looked more like something out of a meth lab. For example this thing here. Plenty of tools that I wouldn’t even begin to understand and full of fun little details like Leo Messi’s signed shirt, perfume bottles (apparently they have thing for perfumes) and this brainstorm-wall full of new ideas for dishes. They also had their own herb garden. No ganja, I checked.

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So, back to Jordi. He’s the youngest of the three brothers and is in charge of desserts. The other two brothers were traveling in New York and Buenos Aires, so Jordi was showing us around. Now, this is going to sound weird but I got this Rain Man vibe from him. I mean he was a bit socially awkward with this distinct calmness and a childlike enthusiasm towards desserts that presented itself in the Can Roca’s petits fours trolley and his side project Rocambolesc Gelateria, which we visited later that day and I had a taste of a wicked carrot ice cream made by the man himself (picture here). Anyways, a very interesting personality with an obvious talent for all things sweet.

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And now to the good part, the wine cellar. First question I got in Facebook when I posted a picture of this place was how big is the wine cellar? Well, it’s big when it comes to the amount of wine bottles. Definitely not the biggest but quite extensive. Exactly how big it is I’m not sure, and neither were they. According to the sommelier there’s about 35.000 bottles in there, according to Jordi there’s 50.000 and according to Wikipedia it’s actually closer to 60.000 bottles. The right figure is probably somewhere between the sommelier’s and Jordi’s guess.

The actual cellar space wasn’t that big. Apparently when they were building the restaurant they wanted to build the wine cellar under ground but didn’t get the permit. So, storage space is limited at the cellar of Can Roca. Going in I thought the place would be in tip top shape and everything super organized. It was not. It looked like a vinous a-bomb went off. Not that I care but I just thought that was curious.

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What was interesting is that they had these five little theme rooms that represented wine styles they focus in. The themes were; Sparkling wine (Champagne and Cava), Riesling, red Burgundy, Priorat and Sherry. Each room had these visual aids constructed of different kinds of textures like rocks, cloth and big bowls to represent each wine style.

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Obviously they have wines from all over the world, not just these few regions. I saw everything from old Sauternes to freaky amphora wines from Georgia. They even claimed to have a few bottles of old port wine. But I really like that they are pushing sherry. If “The World’s Best Restaurant” carries this wine so proudly it really says something. So, if you’re reading this, go drink some sherry!

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The head sommelier is Josep Roca, one of the brothers. But he wasn’t around so I met his right hand man Mr. Pastallé who works the cellar. He told me that Can Roca used to buy younger wines and age them but as storage space is an issue they buy older wines these days. I volunteered to clear up some space by drinking some of their wines. He laughed as if I was joking.

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Also, they have this cool fish thingy on their wall. Probably not very important in the whole Can Roca universe but it’s the last thing you see when you walk out of the restaurant. I left with this silly grin on my face knowing that what just happened was pretty unique. Not many people get the opportunity to eat there, not even small bites in the garden, and actually it was quite interesting to see the place when it was “closed”. That little sneak peek behind the scenes was a demystifying experience and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

But is it really the best? Hmm, I will let you know when I have tried all the others. *wink, wink*

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