Review: El Bulli

Back in 2008, after 2 years of trying for a reservation, I received a much awaited email from El Bulli giving me the “option to dine” on 17th April at 7:30.  There was no negotiation; this is not the kind of email you respond to asking to dine 30mins earlier or later; when the number one restaurant in the world gives you an option to dine, you take what is offered and be extremely grateful!  So I immediately booked two tickets to Spain and called my good friend Tiffany to tell her the news.  The following is her account of our dining experience:

After all the twist and turns we finally caught a glimpse of a signpost, a marker to let us know that we had arrived.

The restaurant itself seemed so unassuming on the outside.  Just a plain building in a cove by the water.

After a moment of playing tourist and having our pictures taken with the iconic bulldog logo, we stepped through the doors and were greeted by the host.  A quick tour of the kitchen and immediately we were greeted by Ferran Adria.  He offered to take a picture and I stepped back to let Clint have his moment, however, Ferran Adria beckoned me to join them.

I remember standing there feeling a little awkward, thinking, “should I put my arm around him, no that’s too familiar, this guy is like a cooking idol, a god of the kitchen, but I put my arm around everyone I take pictures with.”  In the end the picture was taken before I could make up my mind, you might even notice the questioning look on my face as I continued to contemplate.

We were seated at our table side by side so that neither of us would miss a moment of the action.  We were greeted with a Kyoto cocktail made with sake and yuzu.  Very refreshing, a great palate cleanser before our meal.  At this point I just want to point out all my pictures turned out very blurred so I’m stealing Clint’s, besides, he’s better and more experienced at shooting food.

Course #1 Sake and Yuzu cocktail

The welcome cocktail was also accompanied by an assortment of nibbles.

Course #2 Nori-Trias

Course #3 Tomato cookie

Course #4 Spherical olives

Course #5 LYO fruit, freeze dried pineapple

Course #6 Pine kernal and chocolate bonbon

The most unusual dish of the night for me was the first dish after our opening nibbles, but I guess it’s a good thing to get it out of the way.  Rabbit ears.  I started with the top and the crispy ear was not too bad, tasted like fried pig skins, but the meaty part was a little odd and unusual to me.  To think I was a vegan for a week…

Course #7 Crispy fried rabbit ears

Course #8 Beetroot coral

Course #9 Coquito, 2008

“coquito” 2008  An interpretation of an eggnog like beverage with the coconut highlighted.  The more solid looking piece had an interesting texture that melted in my mouth.

Course #10 Black sesame sponge with miso

Black sesame sponge cake with miso.  One of the first of a few dishes with a sesame influence.

Course #11 Flower paper

Flower paper, one of my favorites.  The sweetness of the spun sugar punctuated with the various tart flavors of the flowers.

Course #12 Cream LYO, Iberio ham

Course #12 continued….

Horchata – truffle.  I enjoyed this dish, though it was Clint’s least favorite.  The horchata was more concentrated and much more bland than the drink of the same name, the truffle was very strong, blended together the horchata mellowed out the truffle, a good compliment.

Course #13 Horchata – truffle

Course #14 Shanghai fried brioche

Def. one of my favorites of the night, a bit less experimental and more familiar in flavors.

Course #15 Haricot bean with Joselito’s Iberian pork fat and black garlic

Course #16 Tangerine flower sorbet, pumpkin seed oil and mandarin seeds

Course #17 Anchovy and ham, yoghurt yuba

Course #18 Broad beans

Course #19 Turnip couscous with sea urchin

The turnip cous-cous was very mild and the leaf on the side tasted like oysters when you bit into it.  The sea urchin was very strong, too strong for my taste.

Course #20 Textures of white asparagus

Asparagus in different cooking times.  This one was very simple and surprisingly very memorable.  The progression from a crunchy tip to soft was enjoyable along with the different flavors of each.  The first one I bit into had a peanut sauce, but I can’t remember the rest.  The frozen egg pellets melted quickly, to me it didn’t add anything to the dish.

Course #21 Peas 2008

Course #22 Sea anemone 2008

Course #23 Polenta gnocchi with coffee and saffron

Another favorite dish.  The polenta had a strong parmesan flavour to it and I was surprised how well the coffee grinds on top went with it.

Course #24 Negrito 2008

Course #25 Game meat canape

The chocolate biscuit was very light and fragile, mine broke as I picked it up.  The flavor itself was lightly sweet and the game meat pâté was melt in your mouth.

Course #26 Hare jus, apply jelly cru

Hare jus, apple jelly-cru with black currant marinade.  I really enjoyed the apple jelly by itself, the combination with the hare juice did nothing for me.

Course #27 Gorgonzola moshi with honey

The gorgonzola was very strong and enjoyable, but this moshi itself was rather large for the flavor, but the honey that went with it helped mellow out the flavor.  A theme that was used often, the contrast of two flavors, one strong and one a bit bland, that when combined creates a more subtle flavor.

Course #28 Cypress honey with peach shots and fresh almond marzipan

Course #29 Charcoal

My birthday cake!  Clint had me convinced that he didn’t mention to the staff that it was my birthday so I wasn’t expecting the infamous birthday cake card and throughout the night I’d periodically bitch about it.  Even when I saw the staff bring out the card, I nudged Clint to show him the cake I thought someone else was getting to celebrate another birthday.  It wasn’t until The staff started walking the cake in our direction did I realized Clint managed to surprise me once again.  Sadly, we were not allowed to keep the cake.

Morphings.  The night was ended with a few sweet bits to end our meal.

Course #30 Morphings 1

Course #31 Morphings 2

Course #32 Morphings 3

Course #33 Morphings 4

After the meal we asked for another copy of the menu, one for me.  Clint spoke with the server and asked him about how they choose who gets to dine at the restaurant.  All we could get out of him was that it is very difficult and that everyone should keep trying year after year.  On the way out we took a few more pictures of the kitchen then headed to our car and drove off into the night.

By Tiffany Hsu


About chefcjcooper

A kiwi chef - food, wine and cigar aficionado; travelling the globe and sharing my tales of culinary discoveries.

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