The award ceremony for San Pellegrino’s 50 Best Restaurants in the World 2013 took place in London on April 29th of this year. The top honor returns to Spain for the first time since 2009. Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Spain, accepted the award for Best Restaurant with modesty and joy, at a time when Spain seems to be off the grid in more than a few worldly aspects.
The amazing Roca brothers: Joan, Jordi and Josep.
The concept is a beautiful fusion of culinary tradition and modernity. Located just over 30 miles from the famous El Bulli in Girona, this Catalonian establishment is one of the most respected young restaurants in the world. Founded in 1986 by the Roca brothers, Joan, Josep, and Jordi, it was relocated in 2007 to its current venue.
The restaurant is set in a typical Catalonian house. The modern interior design features large glass windows, wooden floors, minimalistic furnishings, and a comfortable environment that does not to take attention away from the food. On every table, three stones that represent each of the Roca brothers: Joan Roca, executive chef, Josep Roca, Sommelier, and Jordi Roca, pastry chef.
The cuisine is described as traditional Catalonian with a twist. Like Noma- last year’s top spot winner- El Celler uses primarily local ingredients, and closely watches developing trends in sustainable and molecular gastronomy to keep up with culinary innovations, evidenced by their caramelized olives or the liquid nitrogen frozen calamari crackers.
Celler de Can Roca Restaurant.
However, what sets this restaurant above the rest is the attention paid to innovative techniques, while holding on to venerable traditions. The chefs manage to capture the perfect creative balance between the old world and the new, allowing themselves to fall into freestyle cooking, and staying true to their family’s ancestry. Edward Owen of The Times describes it as a “fusion of traditional dishes with surrealist touches.” The menu includes typical fine dining ingredients like lobster, caviar, and foie gras, but also asserts its Catalonian roots by offering pigeon and hake.
Every table is greeted with a plate of select amuse bouches on the house, usually served in a tree log. These are prepared in a section of the kitchen called “el mundo” (the world), were international flavors are mixed together. Some of the most popular dishes are: veal steak tartare served with mustard ice cream and compote, pig trotter carpaccio with penny bun oil, timbale of duck and apple with vanilla oil, clams with grapefruit sorbet and Campari, Iberian suckling pig with red pepper sauce and garlic and quince terrine; and Chef Jordi‘s most special dish, “Anarchy”: a random dessert-tasting of 43 flavor elements in one dish, with 12 creams, 7 gelatines, 7 sauces, 3 granitas, 2 foams, 2 ice creams, 3 fruit cakes and 7 crunches. The 30 staff members who man the kitchen also deserve credit for the restaurant’s popularity with chefs, diners and critics.
Chef Joan Roca told TIME magazine: “we don’t know if we are the best, but you can be sure we will continue working with generosity and creativity…Spanish gastronomy needed this…we needed a push like this to prove ourselves again in front of the world.”
But some are a little skeptical about this award. For starters, judging and ranking a topic as subjective as dining in a restaurant can result tricky and questionable. San Pellegrino, the company that produces the list, has been criticized in the past for the lack of transparency in the requirements and procedures used to rank the restaurants. There are claims that some of the organizations’ critics don’t even dine at said establishments, making the process corrupt and out of order. Nonetheless, chefs and avid foodies all over the world respect the list.
The Roca Brothers.
The rankings not only elevate the stature of the winning restaurants and their chefs, but also create a buzz over the cuisine of the region where they are located. El Celler de Can Roca brought back the top award to Spain, dethroning Noma, Rene Redzepi‘s incredible Nordic restaurant in Copenhagen. It redeemed the regional culinary pride started by El Bulli- number one for four consecutive years. Chef Roca, Girona, and Spain as a whole are very thankful to be back in the culinary spotlight. While we wish the restaurant continued success, those of us eager to visit the best restaurant in the world, will have to pray for the miracle of getting a reservation. ■