So here it is... my long over due post on El Bulli! As it happens, much of what we had was similar to Mukki's, but I’ll post the lot, so that you can get an idea of the flow of the meal. It’s interesting to see that Tamszen’s menu on her report here
was quite different.
After a tour of the kitchen – three stations, the bulls head stared out from the middle one, Ferran Adria gave a quick wave and got back to tasting, 30 chefs worked away calmly (45 for the last 3 months of the season), and we shamelessly posed for our picture - we moved into the dining room.
I was amazed at how rustic it is; I had expected a self-conscious, minimalist, techno space. I loved the dichotomy, and it really relaxed me… because, to be honest, I was a bit nervous. Everything about El Bulli… the difficulty in getting a reservation, reading about the food, the hype, the wait, the journey… potentially sets El Bulli, and the diner up for a fall. I’m no culinary coward, I like surprise multi-course meals and have had the Kaseiki menu in Kyoto, and I’ll try just about anything once… but bizarrely, before I went to El Bulli, I actually had a nightmare about getting there and not being able to eat a single thing! If there’s a culinary equivalent of diners’ stage fright… well, that’s what I had. But as I sat down in a very comfortable chair at a large, round, linen-clad table by the window in the far room, I felt a lot more relaxed. And Luis Garcia, the Maitre d' was just lovely; he really made us feel at home.
Even though the email we received confirming our booking had asked us to list anything that we didn’t eat (we said we ate everything), any allergies etc; Luis did a second check on our likes and dislikes, mentioning - among some other things - that we’d be having chickens’ feet… did we mind? I was happy to give it a shot, and Steve had no problem, having already crossed that boundary in China.
And then the show began!Fesinha
Our welcome cocktail was first presented to us in a vacuum pack, with a flavour exchange going on; the strawberry apparently taking on the flavour of the mandarin.
It was then presented as a light frothy cocktail with gin, and we were told to eat the strawberry first (in one bite) and follow with the drink. So, nice and refreshing, but a fairly low key start.
The table for eight in the middle of the room got the frozen cocktail specials, and if you look closely, you will see a table with two young children in the background.
The snacks followed. Acetunas verdes sfericas-1
, the legendary olive spheres. Even though I had read plenty about them, and how they are made with sodium alginate, I still felt surprised as they burst into wonderful little explosions of flavour in my mouth.Marshmallow de pifones
, unbelievably light with pine nuts on top. You could hear them collapse, like the sound of suds in your mouth (at the back).Pan de gambas
, a cracker dusted with prawn powder. This was like a Chinese prawn cracker, with the flavouring served separately (centre left).”Croquante” de cacahuete
, a peanut curry cream (firm, nearly turron blando consistency) with a tiny dot on it that tasted like kimchi. I loved that touch (centre right).Mantecado de cacahuete
, an ethereal wisp that just dissolved in our mouths. I think the fruit it was made from was a custard apple (front)Wagles de oliva negra y cerazas
, a light olive waffle with sour cream filling. This was simple, the wafer was really light and it tasted really, really good. We seem to have missed a picture of this.Uevo de oro
and essence de mandarina
, a golden egg on a spoon: a delicate casing of some type of caramel filled with essence from madrarin flowers. We were instructed to hold it in your mouth. It dissolved and it really felt like a flower bursting into bloom (I’m sorry if this sounds pretentious, it was quite magnificent). We then followed with the spoon of mandarin essence which was deliciously refreshing. Forget Prozac, this has to be the happiest fix going. I couldn’t stop smiling. If I had this first thing each morning, I would be a new person!Tempura de aguacate
, was avocado with a swipe of wasabi underneath, wrapped up in a featherlight tempura batter with young coriander shoots on top. This was so simple, yet clever; with the Japanese and Mexican influences working wonderfully together. As Tamzen mentioned, this is certainly one that you could try out at home.Caviar sferico de melon
, the famous melon caviar. It’s a really lovely, fresh palate cleanser, and had some passion fruit in it to add an edge. Really charming, and the caviar tin is such fun. Another dish to make you smile. Brioche al vapour de mozzarella al perfume de rosas
, this was more like a dumpling, with melting, salty mozzarella inside. The texture of the dough seemed like it had been poached, or maybe it had been cooked sous vide, but it definitely was quite different from a typical baked brioche. I thought it was a bit heavy for a snack, but the rose air was heavenly. It was so fragile and ethereal, it was barely a structure; and the flavour was evocatively old fashioned and delicate.
And so, on to the “main courses”.Migas de almendra, tomate raff, sauco y gele de almendruco
, an elderberry foam with tomatoes and an intense almond powder (made presumably from a Pacojet). We were told to alternate between eating the tomatoes with the foam and the almond powder. The almond powder was very intense, and slightly warm. This fascinated me, because I thought that it actually warmed up in my mouth. But it was a bit too strong for my palate; it was my least favourite of the dishes. I just didn’t feel that the almond powder had a particularly strong affinity with the tomatoes.Esparragos en escabeche
, two spears of crisp, white asparagus; in a cabbage foam, with tiny amber, salty dots of dried fish clinging to the top (like dissolving dried bonito flakes), and a few tiny basil leaves kicking in. There was a lovely balance about the intensity of the fish and how subtly it was used.Guisantes de jamon con ravioli cremosa a la menta fresc
, split peas in a mint broth with a liquid ravioli and a eucalyptus foam.
Next up was a wave of seafood dishes.Mejillones sferifacados con sopa de patata al bacon y or
, The dish was presented first with the mussels (encased in a clear jelly, which bizarrely looked a bit like eyeballs) and small quenelles of sour cream, with a few tiny cubes of apple, and then the consommé of potatoes and bacon was poured over at the table. The idea was that there are two sauces. One is the jelly around the mussels, made from the sea water in which they were grown and cooked, and the second was the consommé. A very resolved dish, an inspired burst of land and sea. It struck me, that with the combination of mussels, bacon and potatoes, this would work very well in an Irish restaurant.Ventresca de salmon con encuridos
, a few pieces of lightly cooked salmon (probably sous vide), with pickled vegetables, foraged leaves, and flowers from the local hills. Simple and accessible.Escalopa de ostras con foie-gras de pato
, fine slivers of the meaty part of an oyster (almost like abalone) in a frothy foie gras sauce, the richness cut nicely with passion fruit. Percericos en dos estados, crudos y cocinados
fine slivers of raw mushrooms in a mushroom consommé, with tiny spheres of egg yolk, two black walnuts and a sweet, citrusy pine cream. This dish acted as a nice pause between the seafood and the more powerful savoury courses to follow.
Our sommelier suggested that we move onto a glass of red wine, and then, the crescendo kicked in. Wonton campestre
. A Japanese style cast iron pan was brought to the table, filled with a deep brown, “French onion soup”, with puffed up wanton balloons floating on top. This had great drama. We were presented with a bowl of parmesan foam and two spoons. We were told to use the perforated spoon to lift out the wanton onto the foam, and follow with the soup when we were finished.
The wantons were deliciously delicate, half filled with the lightest of herb mousses. We both thought that this dish was outstanding in every way. The soup was unbelievably good, but was taken away before we could gorge on it and ruin our pace completely. Colmerillas a la crème
, morels in a cream with a square of citrusy, sweet jelly.Petano “Marchand du Vins” con pan
. Another outstanding dish. Two rounds of delicate bone marrow were topped with a fragile sphere of Marchand du Vin; each round to be taken in a single (very large) bite, which was soft, savoury, and deliciously flooded with the bursting sphere of sauce. Between the two spoons of marrow was a toasted round of bread with sour cream on top, obviously to be taken between the two bites, cleansing the palate for a second savoury hit.Patas de pollo
. chcken feet served in a foam. This was a fun dish, served with a knowing smile, and the little feet added a nice crunchy finish to the savoury courses. They tasted just like pork crackling, and all the hard work had been done, so we didn’t have to negotiate the bones or toenails, which is customary in China. That was a relief!
And next up was the pre-dessert, so we knew we were on the home run.ta Canarejal con merengue de miel
was a soft round of sheep’s milk cheese. The top was cut off at the table, and we dipped our delicate, honey meringues into the deep creaminess of the round. This was unbelievably good cheese, but it was taken away before we could finish it and leave no space for what was to follow. A wise move.Liquid de melocton
, a frozen bon bon, which was intensely cold. We were told to put it in out mouth quickly, and hold it. It dissolved and drenched our tongues with peach liqueur; which we washed down with a spoon of peach essence, so fresh, we could almost feel it dribbling down our chins. Colibri
, was a complete show-stopper of a dessert. A beautifully crafted hummingbird was draped across each plate, its long, pointy beak formed from caramel, extended from a bubble of a head which was filled with sweet, liquid sesame. We were instructed to crack the head with our spoon and spill its contents over the fruit sorbets, ice creams and tiny cubes of clear jelly that formed its body and wings. The sorbet and ice cream was deliciously smooth, and didn’t seem to be as “fluffy” or loosely packed as you sometimes get from a Pacojet. One of the ices had a particularly interesting texture, as if it was made from curd. It seemed to have flecks in it, a bit of a bite, and it was wonderful. The jelly cubes were similar in style to Can Roca’s (I don’t know who did them first), and the flavours were exotic and floral, with lychee and jasmine notes. And dotted around the plate were pockets of crunchy, dried sesame, in two textures and a tiny drift of yellow powder, tasting of mandarin flowers. At first, I thought this dessert had an Arabic influence with the sesame brittle, but with the ices and jellies, it tasted quite Chinese and oriental. It was sensational!
At this point, we bumped into eGullet Society Member Simon_S and his girlfriend Hazel whom we’d never met before. They were great fun, so we joined them for coffee and some intensely flavoured meringues (the morphings), which rounded off the evening very nicely. Steve also bumped into an American couple we had met briefly in Rafa’s the night before (the had turned around to tell us that Rafa’s chocolate cake is extremely good, and also mentioned that they had a particularly good cheese there the previous night). There was a great buzz in the place at the end of the evening. It seemed like everyone was having a great time..
The thing that surprised me most about the whole experience was how unpretentious El Bulli is, and it’s actually very difficult to get this point across. Because the headline grabber on El Bulli will always be the “science bit”. But It’s not all about techniques, mad science or a culinary conspiracy on the other side of the fence. Despite how it may sound, the food is incredibly accessible and absolutely delicious. The staff are warm and friendly, and the whole experience is quite simply, a load of fun.