elBulli - a feast for all the senses

By Jancis Robinson
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Kitchen in mise en place - elBulli restaurant in Spain

Kitchen in mise en place - elBulli restaurant in Spain [©Photographer: Maribel Ruíz de Erenchun]

Chef Ferran Adrià at the famous elBulli restaurant in Spain
The dining room at the famous Spanish restaurant elBulli
Alphabet Soup at world famous elBulli Restaurant in Spain
World famous chef Ferran Adrià of the elBulli restaurant in Spain

A trip to elBulli, on the northeast coast of Spain, is a feast for all the senses. Wine diva Jancis Robinson sampled the 32 course degustation menu designed by Ferran Adria in July and was just as interested in the matched wine as the amazing dishes.

I won't go into the full details of each of the 32 different dishes, but I can tell you that each ‘course’ is often just a mouthful, so the whole experience is much less taxing than it sounds. You need stamina more than an appetite. We arrived at 8pm and left long after 2am – in taxis that are pretty essential in view of the extremely narrow, twisty coast road that leads to this isolated restaurant. Dinner at elBulli is less of a meal and more of an edible exposition of Ferran Adria’s creativity.

There were far more Asian twists to this year’s meal than I remember from the past – and perhaps more flowers too. No ampoules this time, nor the lollipops that have been so widely copied elsewhere. And not a foam in sight. This year’s signature seems to be pools of liquid, whether what they called ‘water lily’, a sort of edible finger bowl with aromatic petals floating in it, served to refresh us after a richly sticky veal tendon in a puddle of highly reduced broth, or the quite delicious pool of (unsweetened) coconut milk in one half and coconut water in the other with what looked like three blackberries placed along the divide. They were in fact balls of top quality caviar and the combination was sensationally good.

We began with their Japanese-inspired cocktail (I still have fond memories of their twist on a gin fizz perhaps 15 years ago) and we then tried their malty, fragrant attempt to put Spanish beer on the map. Once inside at the table, we had a chance to compare two very different white burgundies with our first few courses. Maitre d’ Juli Soler has become a regular buyer at the annual Hospices de Beaune auction of Corton-Vergennes, Cuvée. Paul Chanson and he treated us to the 2005 that is still pretty tight but magisterial in its density and savour. This should make great old bones. Lucien Lemoine 2003 Corton Charlemagne, on the other hand, is for drinking now – all loose and sweet and so round it is almost oily. It also seemed to have just a hint of tarragon.

We’d asked them to choose us an interesting local wine or two so were served Sot Lefriec 2004 Penedes, a blend of Carignan with Merlot and Cabernet that was racy and fresh, and made by a couple of whom one half is Burgundian. Penedes reds really can taste so French... Just 13.5%

Then I know of several purple pagers who would be thrilled to know that the restaurant’s next choice was Viña Tondonia 1964 Rioja Blanco, the absolute classic of traditionally styled white rioja. Deep golden, it still had a lemony note on the nose before the nuttiness of the palate and was amazingly fresh, even if there was not the great weight of ripe fruit bouncing on the palate that you would expect of a young wine. One of our party of eight, admittedly not a wine man, asked me, somewhat redundantly surely, “does this wine age?”

Next, with this year’s most controversial dish – a sort of underwater grotto filled with oysters, sea anemones and rabbits’ brains (yes, really) a mouthful of Hidalgo’s La Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada to return us to things marine, and then a bottle of Alvaro Palacios, L’Ermita 2001 Priorat with its wonderfully bright, revitalising, still youthful fruit to wake us up for the home straight towards magnificently crafted desserts-cum-artworks with which they poured a little of the very local answer to Banyuls, Masia Serra, Ino Garnatxa NV Empordà. This vin doux naturel, the fermentation of the Grenache grapes stopped by the addition of alcohol, is from a 50 year old solera and with its notes of nuts and liquorice, reminded me of the most luxurious white port.

I did spot a trolley laden with digestifs when we toured the kitchen before our meal, but I do wonder whoever has the capacity to order them.


Reproduced with permission. © Copyright 2000-2010 Jancis Robinson.


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