Bulli for Adria, in a league of his own

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

THE jour­ney to the best restau­rant in the world, as voted in this year’s S. Pel­le­grino World’s 50 Best Restau­rants list, is one that re­quires ex­treme pa­tience and per­sis­tence.

For me, af­ter try­ing for a year to get a reser­va­tion, it in­volves an ear­ly­morn­ing flight from Mi­lan to Barcelona, where I meet up with Syd­ney chef Greg Doyle and his team from Pier. From there we drive the two hours north to Roses on Spain’s Costa Brava, fol­lowed by a 20-minute taxi ride north along a wind­ing road and over the crest of a hill.

We reach the top and are sud­denly ex­posed to a won­der­ful coast­line, re­plete with tiny coves and the oc­ca­sional moored yacht. The re­flec­tion of the sun slowly sink­ing on the hori­zon seems to set the tone for what we hope is go­ing to be a great meal.

When I fi­nally re­ceived the con­fir­ma­tion of our El Bulli reser­va­tion I was sur­prised to see the ta­ble had been booked for 7.30pm, as no one eats in Spain be­fore 10pm. But keen to be on time, we ar­rive to find the large gates to the restau­rant closed, and join the queue of ea­ger din­ers wait­ing for ad­mit­tance.

When we en­ter the restau­rant, we are wel­comed and asked if we would like to meet the chef and take a look around the kitchen. Yes, we would, and it’s a feast for the eyes. The kitchen is alive with chefs fin­ish­ing the mis­een­place be­fore the evening ser­vice be­gins. It is such a wel­come change to be in­vited to see a kitchen in full flight rather than meet­ing the chef at the end of ser­vice, when all one sees is the clean-down process and buck­ets of soapy wa­ter be­ing thrown around.

We meet Fer­ran Adria (pic­tured), and a trans­la­tor ex­plains that the fa­mous chef has pre­pared a tast­ing menu and that his team will look af­ter us. We are taken to our ta­ble and as we walk through the restau­rant, we re­mark on its sim­plic­ity: a tiled floor and white walls with a few se­lect pieces of con­tem­po­rary art lead on to a ter­race that over­looks the bay. It is a tran­quil set­ting, and we are now ready to see what the chef has in mind for our party of five.

We are in for a treat. A tast­ing menu of more than 30 dou­ble bite-sized dishes has been well thought through; each dish is sent to our ta­ble in a se­quence that not only sur­prises but en­light­ens the senses.

We are amazed. The food is in­tel­li­gently and skil­fully ex­e­cuted and ev­ery de­tail, start­ing with the plate on which the dish is served, is an in­tri­cate part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. All dishes are matched with wines that our som­me­lier helps us se­lect from a huge list that is fit­ting for one of the world’s best restau­rants.

The cour­ses are served in groups and ar­rive at the ta­ble without de­lay, pos­si­bly even a lit­tle too quickly so that at times we feel it would be good to take a lit­tle breather.

Among the first se­ries of dishes to ar­rive, spher­i­cal olives, tomato cookie, beet­root and yo­ghurt meringue, and crunchy rab­bit ears are my favourites.

Soon a new group of dishes ar­rives, in­clud­ing mint leaves, straw­ber­ries and a cre­ation called gor­gonzola moshi, which at first seem out of con­text but lead us on to a de­light­ful black se­same sponge cake with miso, light and del­i­cate but packed with flavour.

So-called flower pa­pers ar­rive sand­wiched be­tween a large sheet of folded rice pa­per. On lift­ing the sheet, a del­i­cate fairy floss of wild spring flow­ers is re­vealed. It sim­ply melts on the tongue, leav­ing an in­tense flavour of their essence. Two more dishes — as­para­gus with miso and ra­zor clams lau­ren­cia — fol­low.

The of­fer­ings move on, be­com­ing more com­plex, and in­clude hari­cot beans with Joselito’s Ibe­rian pork fat, a tan­ger­ine flower dish with pump­kin oil and man­darin seeds, an­chovy and ham with yo­ghurt yuba (yuba is a dried tofu skin), wa­ter lily and sea anemone, which takes me back to my child­hood play­ing in coastal rock pools.

Th­ese are fol­lowed by sea cu­cum­ber with men­taiko (mar­i­nated fish roe) and rhubarb, cooked to per­fec­tion and im­pos­si­bly del­i­cate and bal­anced. Then comes negrito 2008, a won­der­ful fish course and the only dish served with foam. Then game meat canape and hare juice with ap­ple jelly-cru and black cur­rant mari­nade.

The cheese course of brie stuffed with truf­fles I could do without. I’d be hap­pier with a won­der­ful piece of hard sheep’s cheese from the lo­cal re­gion, but I guess that is be­ing a lit­tle picky.

To fin­ish, we are pre­sented with pis­ta­chio honey and tru­fi­tas, fol­lowed by au­tumn land­scape, which is a vis­ual mas­ter­piece and, as the name sug­gests, a plate filled with au­tumn leaves the colour of the chang­ing sea­sons and a fit­ting way to com­plete an ex­traor­di­nary meal.

Back from my trip, I re­ceive a phone call from Doyle ask­ing if we will be able to get a ta­ble next year to see the con­tin­u­ing evo­lu­tion of this great restau­rant. My sources tell me that once you’ve been, it’s a lit­tle eas­ier to get in a sec­ond time. Let’s hope so. Si­mon John­son is a lead­ing Aus­tralian food provi­dore. More: www.si­mon­john­son.com.au.


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