Long-standing 3 Michelin starred restaurant in Girona, Spain by the Roca Brothers
El Celler de Can Roca is practically an institution in Spain having held 3 Michelin stars since 2009, set in the charming and racing-cycle enthusiast town of Girona (also the film location for the fabled steps in Game of Thrones). As the average wait time to gain a restaurant reservation for this restaurant is one year, I was quite amazed when there was a cancellation on the specific date I booked for in March ’23. The menu choices were the lesser, 7 course menu at €215 or the higher, ‘Feast’ menu of 15 courses for €270 which, makes the feast menu far better value for money, but just depends on your funds and whether you are happy to have a long, marathon experience. Overall, I was very impressed with the skill level of the dishes at this former, world’s best restaurant, but I was honestly only in love with one dish which was a surprise and in summary as a 3 star restaurant I was hoping for more.
El Celler de Can Roca (the cellar of the Roca family) opened in 1986 in Girona and moved a short distance to its current location in 2007. The former location is now a casual eatery run by the Roca family mother of the three brothers who govern the now 3 Michelin starred institution today – Jordy Roca leads the pastry section; Juan Roca is the Executive chef and Jessep Roca the sommelier in charge of all wines and drinks.
An impressive array of canapés arrived firstly. A welcome Catalonian soup with vegetable and truffle made with vegetable stock; brioche with liquid truffle centre (veery good); crispy bacon on radish; a meringue with truffle ice cream (which was a little gloopy); ‘Timeline’ was a series of bites on a long stone outlining the milestone dates of the restaurant including parmesan cheese, fish brandade, pigs trotter with sea cucumber and kale. The breads were beautifully done tomato brioche, plain sourdoughs and wine and rasin sourdoughs. The level of effort that had clearly gone in to all of these canards was not lost on me and was a wonderful start, albeit, none actually making me melt with pleasure as I have done at say, Victors’ Dining.
The first course was Xarel-lo (teardop) steamed peas with pistachio pesto, citrus gel, Montseny wasabi sprouts, pea sprouts, and Montseny wasabi oil. These were truly delightful peas and very hard to gain and prepare perfectly as they were here. The delicate steamed peas complemented the tempered taste of the wasabi and pistachio pesto perfectly. It was a wonderful start to the meal.
Next up was the cauliflower dish with lychee, laminated cauliflower, cauliflower puree with ragweed seeds, bergamot and verjuice, cauliflower puree with butter, fried cauliflower puree, cauliflower couscous, fried broccoli flower, lychee sauce and fermented grape. The combination of textures and flavors was very good, although not hugely memorable. The lychee added a sweet and tangy touch to the dish, while the cauliflower puree and couscous brought a nutty and earthy flavor to the plate.
The langoustine with sagebrush, vanilla oil and toasted butter was cooked perfectly. The flavours were subtle, with the vanilla oil adding a gentle sweetness to this very small bite-size dish. Ultimately the foam did not add too much value but the langoustines were as one would expect, very good quality.
The fish of the day “suquet” with hazelnut foam, semi-dried tomato with capers and black olives, grilled lemon purée with anise liqueur reduction, rosemary, mint and fennel oil and fried bread with freeze-dried garum was a highlight of the meal. The fish was cooked to perfection, and the tomato, capers, and black olives added a tangy flavor, while the lemon purée brought a zesty freshness to the plate. It was a pleasant dish but somehow, not earth-shattering
The poularde (rich chicken fattened by the diet of the chicken) brioche with truffle and fresh herbs sauce was superbly executed. The brioche was utterly soft and buttery, with as absolutely perfect outer shell and the truffle and herbs sauce was rich and savory. The chicken itself was very good quality, but I simply did not gel with the overall flavour of this dish. Foie gras is always a joy, but the combination of these produced a stodgy dish overall I thought and whilst I appreciated the skill of the cooking completely, it juts simply was not a huge pleasure in density and flavour.
For dessert, the candy apple which was a caramelized apple sphere with calvados, green apple, butter biscuit, caramelized apple foam, and Catalan cream ice cream was a masterpiece. The flavors were perfectly balanced, with the caramelized apple sphere being the pinnacle of dessert cooking skill (akin to the fabled dessert at Schwarzwaldstube) providing a sweet and sticky texture, and the Catalan cream ice cream adding a creamy and refreshing touch to the dish. Superb and enjoyable in every way.
Finally, the milk dessert was very nice. The milk caramel, sheep’s milk ice cream, sheep’s milk curd-cheese foam, sheep’s milk yoghurt, and milk cloud were all perfectly balanced. The flavors were subtle and creamy, with the sheep’s milk ice cream and yoghurt bringing a refreshing and tangy touch to the dish and had the visual and textural fun of the candy floss. An impressive petit fours trolley arrived for selecting whichever ones appealed for coffee in the garden.
There was a bit of a tussle between tables reserving coffee tables in the small garden space outside and not-knowing this, the restaurant kindly produced another table for myself and guests in order to gain some sun. The sommelier of the three Roca Brothers (Jesse) greeted all tables outside but my impression was that all tables other than ours were local diners (also in large groups) and so FaceTime was perhaps easier with other guests of the same language. Service throughout inside the restaurant was hospitable, but also sincere to the point of creating a very quiet environment – I felt the staff could afford to take the service a little less seriously and relax a little more as a genuine feeling.
Overall, El Celler de Can Roca is a high end dining establishment, no question. I praise the sheer efforts and skill of the kitchen, noting as above, that less of the dishes actually hit the love valves than expected. This was hard to grade overall for a final grade, but if I break down the actual criteria of the Michelin guide, I would say that the restaurant’s quality of ingredients were at the 2-3 star level; the mastery of flavour at the 2 star level and and cooking techniques at the 3 star level; personality of the chef in the cuisine at the 2 star level; value for money extremely good and worthy of 3 stars and consistency of food the 2 star level. Therefore, I believe it sits more in the mid 2-3 star band, with reasonable flavours but it is absolutely a class act to enjoy (if it does not take your whole calendar year to arrange gaining a seat).
Food Grade: 85%