Wednesday, August 06, 2008

El Bulli - sección una

I am sorry this post has taken so long in coming and will be coming in three parts but truly, the meal was that long.

The reason? I'm reluctant to post my opinions about the famed, revered and extremely difficult to get into restaurant. I mean, the cheek of me, a junk food...junkie (I've got a way with words), an amateur blogger and a lucky, LUCKY last minute invitee to join Cha Xiu Bao and Umami at the world famous restaurant actually review it?

But I shall. For the sole reason that I owe it to you and I also owe it to the people who I've grilled over the years about their experience at El Bulli.

First of all, we took a well-advised taxi up to the restaurant, which was located remotely next to a private beach, up a very, very windy and steep road. Having driven that morning from the South of France, I got there a touch car sick and very hungry, but unspeakably excited.

We were greeted warmly (well actually I basked in the afterglow of the greeting Cha Xiu Bao received) and led into the kitchen where we met the man himself, Ferran Adrià, who was very kind, stood patiently for photos and was incredibly gracious.

After a peek around the kitchen, we were led to our table where we had a good look around the dining area and a view over the beach. Unfortunately it was evening when we arrived so the view was fleeting but still pretty in an isolated type way.

We were given refreshing sake and with a swirl of frozen tonic water, which was flavored with yuzu.

Then the parade of little plates started arriving. These came fast and furious, with strict instructions on how to eat them.

First up were nori-Trias - little dried seaweed wrapped black sesame butter.

Although the sesame wasn't exactly sweet, I didn't think the combination worked as well as it could have done. Wasn't quite Japanese enough if that makes sense. But that is very well because of my own biased tastebuds, which expect a more Japanese-type taste to the two flavors.

Next came the shiso soft candy, a soft, gelatinous, with the sweet sharp taste of shiso to refresh the mouth.

Sadly, Shiso leaves are not a personal favorite of mine and I did not enjoy this. It's just a flavor I don't enjoy although I know many who do. This was made with the red Shiso leaves rather the more common and stronger flavored green Shiso usually used with sushi.

Then two types of biscuits arrived, one with Parmesan and one tomato flavored.

I looved these, especially the tomato one, which made with what I think were very concentrated sun-dried tomatoes. It even stuck to the teeth, even as it crumbled in my mouth. The Parmesan biscuit was less high impact and memorable but still a very tasty beginning.

Then, the spherical olives came. Authentically scooped out individually by the waitress from a jam jar, they are one of the taste sensations that El Bulli was famous for and have been described as even more olivey than olives themselves.

It burst in the mouth, releasing essence of olive and olive oil. The table seemed to love it. It was very special, something I've never had before and it was different. I think I might prefer real olives rather than these but they were very different indeed and did live up to my expectations of how this would taste.

The next taste however, was unexpected and not as welcome. They were pinenut and chocolate bon bons, quite bitter from what I assume to be the high content cacao and the texture was somewhat muddy and sandy. I didn't enjoy this and declined seconds. I couldn't distinguish the taste and they didn't seem to 'teach' me anything new in terms of tastes or textures.

I was happy to see the next dish, a beautiful, delicate passion fruit orchid, beautifully formed, with lots of attention to detail.

It tasted wonderful as well, like concentrated fruit leather with a hard shell like texture. Sadly I can't remember what was inside the flower. Hopefully Umami or Cha Xiu Bao can remember.

The next dish was also beautiful in the same way, entitled basil leaf, it looked like a beautiful long green leaf. We were told it was made of mango and basil, I'm guessing made in the same way as the passion fruit flower as it had the same shell like texture with the fruit leather taste but this time not as intense mango and not as basil-y as I thought it would be.

The Asian influence was even more apparent with the next taste which was named a Pekin crêpes and filled with crab and soya wonton.

This tasted ok but I seem to remember it being a touch salty for my taste and the wrapper a bit oilier than I'd prefer

Next up was a coconut concoction that I can't place the name of. It was like flaked coconut ice sorbet shaved into a dry ice like state.

It was interesting because it had a moist like touch but a dry type of texture. To my untrained tastebuds, it tasted just like flaked fresh coconut so didn't impress me much. However, I'd be interested if the others could shed light on what I missed in this.

I *think* the next dish was "brazo de gitano" but I can't be sure as the order in the menus we were given may not match exactly the order in which the dishes came. I asked the boy who knows a bit of Spanish and it translated as arm of the gypsy. Hmmm...

It was essentially a beet root meringue wrapped around a thick creamy yogurt. Certainly great textures and almost like a mini pavlova with unusual ingredients. Taste wise, it wasn't a win for me.

The next one was a lot of fun. A Gorgonzola moshi, it was exactly that, a very thin outer layer, it tasted intensely of gorgonzola and was lovely. But then again, I like gorgonzola!

It was very good, creamy and unctuous and I didn't think the thin outer layer detracted from it and I can't be sure it was actually made of pounded rice flour or mochi ingredients.

Finally (for this post anyways), we had a grilled strawberry. It was very warm and fragrant. We were instructed to put it into our mouths in one bite.

It was a surprise because the warmth increased the fragrance of the berry but it was filled with some sort of stock so was salty at the same time. I enjoyed the taste of this and the surprise when put in my mouth.

What I didn't enjoy so much is when the waitress abruptly pulled the plate away as soon as they were taken, spilling strawberry juice over my bit of the table and onto my white cardigan. I also didn't exactly enjoy it when she signaled to another wait staff to lay a napkin over my table as "I" spilled strawberry juice over the table.

I must admit that we started to become a little overwhelmed by the speed in which the food came and with cameras and pens flying, the wait staff became a little annoyed at the delay with which we ate the snacks as they deteriorate with time. We couldn't help it though, they were so beautiful we wanted to savor them with our eyes as well as our mouths.

End of sección una for now. Oh and the boy has promised to post his comments in the comments section as a supplement. He and I, surprisingly, came away with very different impressions of the meal overall so its definitely worth reading! Oh, but no promises on how quickly he will post these comments!


Susan said...

FINALLY!!! Can't wait to see The Boy's comments and parts 2 and 3 - but I won't hold my breath! :)

Sui Mai said...


Parts 2 and 3 is done but will be published throughout next week while I'm in Canada!

Anonymous said...

Ohh how divine (spillage aside!). Thanks so much for the detail, allowing us to share vicariously in the experience!