This article was also published in the Financial Times.
El Celler de Can Roca (about which I wrote here in our forum thread about El Bulli recently - JR) has been an exceptional restaurant for the past decade, not least for its unlikely location in an unassuming suburb of Girona in north east Spain.
It is also, somewhat unconventionally, run by the three Roca brothers who have clearly delineated duties: Joan is the head chef; Josep is responsible for their enormous wine list; while Jordi, the youngest, is in charge of the pastry section. Despite all the publicity that has surrounded the chefs of this particular region, the Rocas have managed to maintain an extremely modest manner without raising either their menu or wine list prices as customers have come to eat here from much further afield than their home town.
My previous two meals chez Roca had been first class but as we approached Girona one very hot lunchtime at the end of July (well, it was 2pm, so just about lunchtime by the Spanish clock) I wondered what differences there would be now that the restaurant had moved to a different location, albeit not that far away.
Although the new restaurant is brand new it is still located in a working suburb with a less than glamorous Honda service garage right next door. While the interior is vastly different, this move seems to have had no effect on the brothers' professional approach. Within minutes of walking in I had spotted all three scurrying around the hallway that connects the kitchen to the restaurant with Josep's fascinating and very well stocked cellar at the far end.
The restaurant is now reached via a short passageway that leads to the first of two sides of a triangle with tables arranged down one side and along the bottom. The third side contains the bar and in the middle is a small grove of trees. It is simple, uncluttered, bright and airy. From the moment you enter you feel comfortable.
This feeling is accentuated by the arrival of some amuses bouches of which three - parmesan cheese balls with grated bottarga (smoked cod roe), cherries, stoned and then macerated in Campari, and a spoon of the tiniest fresh peas topped with mint - were delicious.
And then comes a most unusual sound. So vast is Josep's cellar that there are not one but three different wine lists and these, to make transportation easy, are stacked in cabinets, rather like magazine racks, which are on wheels so that they can be smoothly moved from table to table. Some of this is available on the website but Josep said that he prefers to keep it in its entirety for those who physically come to visit.
Joan's menu and Jordi's dessert list seem slight by comparison but that is before the generosity of their portions is taken into account. And while there are the obvious expensive ingredients, oysters, foie gras and lobster, the Rocas have continued to stay true to their Catalan roots and make extensive use also of partridge, pigs trotters, hake and pigeon.
Two of us chose the classic menu, four courses at 75 euros per person, which comprised a timbale of foie gras wrapped in apple, lobster with potatoes and wild mushrooms, suckling pig with what I am told was the best crackling ever (but I wasn't offered any), and a crema catalana with wild strawberries. The a la carte menu yielded three memorable dishes: a veal tartare with spices, a succulent belly of kid, and an exciting dessert of sheeps' milk yoghurt and ice cream.
Despite that seemingly low fat dessert, the first thing I did on leaving El Celler de Can Roca was loosen the belt on my trousers. The second was wish that I lived an awful lot closer.
El Celler de Can Roca, Carrer Cab Sunyer 46, 17007 Girona, Spain. Tel +34 9188.8.131.52.