This was it.
The epic “best restaurant in the world.”
We had traveled all the way to Spain, all the way to Barcelona, and booked a special trip to Girona just for this restaurant.
El Cellar de Can Roca has won numerous awards and accolades, including holding 3 Michelin stars and the title of best restaurant in the world (2013 and 2015) by World’s 50 Best. A reservation there is notoriously difficult to book and needs to be done 11 months beforehand.
In fact, Bryan’s best friend reached out to us in the spring of 2018 asking if we were interested in traveling to Spain together. After much planning and coordination, our friend secured a booking in August 2018 for July 2019. We planned the rest of our Spain trip around that reservation.
And now here we were . . .
El Cellar de Can Roca serves Catalan-inspired dishes using modern cooking techniques expressed in unusual and creative ways. This family-owned restaurant has been around since 1986. Three sons (the Roca brothers) oversee different parts of the business. Joan Roca, the eldest brother, is the head chef; Joseph Roca, the middle brother, is the sommelier; and Jordi Roca, the youngest, is the master of desserts.
The parents own Can Roca, a more casual restaurant down the street that has been in Girona since 1967.
The beautiful town of Girona where El Cellar de Can Roca is located is worthy of a visit even if you are not eating at this restaurant. It’s quite clear that the town is very proud of the Roca family.
In fact, youngest brother Jordi Roca has opened a number of gelato shops around town called Rocambolesc which offer gelato versions of some of the wild and creative desserts that he serves at El Cellar de Can Roca.
Upon entering the restaurant we were greeted with clear signs of the restaurant’s success. Multiple awards, accolades, and books lined the front area.
If you’ve seen the television documentary, the experience of actually walking through it will feel very familiar yet awe-inspiring at the same time. It reminded me of how I felt when I first dined at Sukiyabashi Jiro after seeing Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
Canapes – A Tasting Menu in and of Itself
We began our meal by exploring mini-tastes from around the world. Each of us received a globe with an ancient map and five different bites.
They gave us clues, showing us a number of locations from which our bites were inspired. Our job? move the lever holding each canape to the proper country.
The bites were fun, creative, and genuinely reflected the tastes and ingredients of their countries. We had little problem figuring out each bite.
One we successfully moved each lever on the globe into the right country’s position – POP! The globe swung open and presented us with a caviar and uni-filled delectable final bite.
At our table, a few of the globes (including mine!) were a bit faulty in their function and did not open properly. Nevertheless, it was a cute idea and still fun to see the ones that did open properly.
Memories of a Bar in the Suburbs of Girona
“Memories of a Bar in the Suburbs of Girona” was our next set of canapes. A throwback to the Roca brothers’ childhood, this “course” incorporated various bites inside a paper version of the Can Roca parents’ restaurant. You can see the teenage brothers hanging out at the bar.
The bites were inspired by the Roca brothers’ childhood and refer to comfort food and memories of the bar. Clockwise starting from the orange sphere: orange bonbon filled with liquid cocktail, a calamari sandwich, cod brandade, sandwich made with kidneys and sherry, and their mother’s meat cannelloni (my personal favorite of this bunch).
We started with barely seared tuna belly (lovingly called “otoro” by another diner at our table) with a ginger sauce, which was excellent.
Next, a light and crispy pork rind “crackers” topped with fresh prawn and grapefruit.
A single spoonful of a pine forest included pine, pollen, pine nut, avocado, and green asparagus tossed in a pine cone vinaigrette.
And then, a real olive tree arrived at our table! Yes, we got to go “olive-picking”. The black olives were black olive “tempura” bursting with black olive umami. The green “olives”, made of olive sorbet, were simply fantastic, fresh and bright with intense and authentic green olive flavors.
All of the breads were fantastic, and we had the option of trying as many as we pleased.
The most fun piece of bread was the Truffle Brioche, a liquid filled “bao” topped with a slice of truffle on top. The inside of the brioche contained more truffle goodness in the form of a liquid-y truffle mayonnaise. I liked calling it an Italian xiao long tang bao 小籠湯包, or soup dumpling.
I was extremely impressed with this next dish, “Vegetable Surf & Turf” which incorporated various vegetables from the land and sea: seaweed and plankton “surf” were served alongside mushrooms, spring herbs, and flowers “turf”.
The presentation was meticulous and beautiful, and the flavors were absolutely beautiful.
“Fig Leaves” was next, a creative explosion of flavors from figs and zucchini. Components included zucchini ravioli (made with Miner d’Espinelves cheese), a zucchini flower ravioli with fig leaf curdled mató (a Catalan goat’s milk cheese), horchata tofu, pistachio sauce, and fig leaf oil.
Imagine the amount of work that went into this next dish. Simply called “Orange Salad”, this detailed study of the color orange incorporates at least 18 different ingredients, including sweet potato puree, carrot puree, saffron and vinegar, yuzu marmalade, carrot sauce, tangerine ,apple, orange juice, ginger, sriracha, grilled mango, yellow beetroot, salad of chicory, Jerusalem artichoke and mango, air of “piparra”, mullet roe and tuna jerky into one gorgeous dish.
Next, we enjoyed spring pickles (radish) with Romesco sauce, a flavorful Catalonian sauce that incorporates nuts (in this case walnuts), tomatoes, dried peppers, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar.
Mackerel “ajoblanco” tricked us all.
We all knew we were eating mackerel, we just didn’t know which piece was actually mackerel. In fact, after taking a bite one diner exclaimed “wow I’ver never had such soft and tender mackerel before! It’s really different.” It turned out that the soft and tender white “meat” was actually tofu, while the pink pieces on the side were the real mackerel meat.
The two types of mackerel pieces were served with elements of almond, lemon, and capers.
Next, we had smoked eel with cherry, black olives, and shiso, finished with a soy milk cream (poured onto the plate after this photo was taken).
The next dish was immensely flavorful. Inside the bowl were pieces of prawn marinated with rice vinegar and served with an intense seaweed veloute made from the prawn’s head “juice”, which was absolutely fantastic and richly full of deep, intense prawn flavors. Everything was edible, including the crispy legs which had been dried and then deep fried.
Staying on the seafood theme, we moved onto langoustine with sobrassada sauce, langoustine veloute, hazelnut, and a parsley jelly.
Semi-cured hake, which was phenomenally soft, came with “juice of its bones”, asparatus and rocket pesto, grilled piparras (a long green pepper from the Catalan region), and arugula (rocket) oil.
Next, the server brought over a steamed whole fresh caught fish stuffed with seaweed and sea anemones.
We enjoyed this delicious fish with an aromatic fish stock and garlic cream.
Onto meats, we started with a roasted farm chicken wherein the different parts of the chicken were cooked separately. The ridge, breast and wings were cooked at low temperature while the leg was grilled. The entire combination of different chicken parts was then served in a roast sauce with tomatoes, cucumbers, and mint.
Our final meat course was veal pastrami cooked at low temperature served together with a celeriac puree and pickled vegetables.
Desserts – A Signature at El Cellar de Can Roca
Desserts are one of El Cellar de Can Roca’s most signature offerings. It’s no accident that the acclaimed TV show Chef’s Table chose to focus specifically on Jordi Roca, the dessert chef, when they made their documentary about the restaurant.
Chef Jordi is impossibly creative, daring, and willing to push boundaries. His dessert creations are fun to eat and bend the mind as well as all other senses.
We started with Petrichor, which means “the earthly scent produced when rain falls on dry soil”.
This dessert actually does an incredible job of capturing the flavor of fresh dirt by distilling actual dirt from the forest nearby in a roto evaporator. This “essence” is then incorporated into the dessert as “distilled earth”, served together with pine syrup ice cream, carob cookie, fir dust, coca biscuit, and white flower.
The dessert was more fascinating than delicious, though it was still enjoyable. The server called it “tasting a little bit of the forest.” The distilled earth really does taste like dirt, without having to eat actual dirt (!).
Whiskey Cake was a whisky-flavored cake served with Whisky a La Tarta, a spirit created to specifically pair with the dish.
Another signature dessert by Jordi Roca is White Flower, a delicate pearl filled with elderberry, acacia, orange blossom, soursop, lychee and green apple.
The best part is how you eat it. Watch the video below.
View this post on Instagram
Crack! Such a delicate shell that looks just like a pearl. Called White Flower, this elegant dessert consists of elderberry, acacia, orange blossom, soursop, lychee, and green apple. #girona #tinyurbanspain #world50best #worlds50best #michelin3stars #michelin #tinyurbantravels #hkfoodblogger #catalonia #dessert #sweets #pearl #icecream @cellercanroca
There’s no doubt that Jordi Roca is talented. We were thrilled to try many of the desserts we had seen on the documentary Chef’s Table, but there was one that was missing.
Call us crazy, but we order ANOTHER dessert, a la carte. After all, who knows when (if ever) we would ever be back here again.
“Journey to Havana” includes a “cigar” filled with ice cream infused with cigar smoke. The dessert was one of Jordi’s first crazy inventions that really blew his brothers’ minds and started to make them appreciate and recognize his wild creativity.
We weren’t done with the sweets, yet. Next, the mignardise cart came in an unusual vehicle . . .
View this post on Instagram
Bryan tries to push the “walking” dessert cart but doesn’t dare push too far. Swipe right to see the professionals pushing the cart, along with the mignardises that we ate (off of the cart) #girona #tinyurbanspain #world50best #worlds50best #michelin3stars #michelin #michelin3stars #tinyurbantravels #hkfoodblogger #catalonia #dessert #sweets #mignardises @cellercanroca
We were so full (remember, we ordered an EXTRA dessert), yet the many different chocolates, mignardises, and petit fours looked so inviting. We ended up still choosing many of them.
Finally, just for completely, below are all the wines that we enjoyed as part of the wine pairing, in order of the meal.
El Cellar de Can Roca – A Meal to Remember
It’s hard to compare with a meal like this. The entire meal is such a symphony of so many things done right: a stunning space, phenomenal creativity, food executed at an extremely high level, and warm, attentive service.
Perhaps even more importantly, the restaurant embodies a strong connection with Catalan culture, the Roca family, and their highly creative yet fun and playful approach to everything.
Best restaurant in the whole wide world? It’s most certainly up there. There’s no question that El Cellar de Can Roca dominates when it comes to dessert. However, IMHO Mugaritz has a slight edge when it comes to food and wine, especially when it comes to pairings.
Nevertheless, El Cellar de Can Roca is still magical. You enter a world where you can suspend belief for awhile as you pick sorbet olives off of trees, play with globes that deliver flavors from around the world, and enjoy a cigar without the health consequences.
El Cellar de Can Roca
Can Sunyer, 48
You can make reservations online up to 11 months in advance at this link. You will have to provide a credit card to guarantee your reservation.
The town of Girona is a 38 minute train ride from Barcelona. You can buy train tickets beforehand at Renfe. I was only able to pay successfully via PayPal, even though they say credit cards should also work.