El Celler De Can Roca Part 2: The Sea

And now back to the main event…

El Celler de Can Roca Part two:

The start of the menu! (Not all from the sea admittedly, but the majority was…)

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We had some delicious bread to choose from before the main menu started, and were encouraged to try at least three different types – I tried to only eat a teeny bit of each, as I was getting a bit worried about how much there was to come!

Luckily the first course was very light and refreshing. We started with a summer vegetable stock which was a joy to behold, I didn’t want to eat it as it was so pretty. But I managed it in the end. It was in-between sweet and savoury as there was mango in it as well as all the lovely vegetables, and it was served at a low temperature.

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Next came a white asparagus and truffle ‘viennetta’. Yes that’s right, savoury ice cream. The first mouthful was a little odd, possibly because my brain was trying to decide if it liked creamy cold vegetable ice cream, but from then onwards it was enjoyable – if still slightly strange! It was paired with a Riesling which was quite sweet and therefore further confused my brain as to whether this was dessert or not… but it’s good to try something completely different 😉

The Fish Courses

The OH and I aren’t the biggest fish/seafood fans in the world – I like fish as it’s long as it doesn’t taste too ‘fishy’, and i’ll try pretty much any seafood, but prawns are the only seafood I actively seek out on a menu – the OH doesn’t like them at all so that’s the only time i get to eat them! We decided therefore that there were a couple too many fish/seafood courses for us, as interesting as they all were, I would have been more excited about a couple more meat/vegetable ones.

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The first fish course was Mackerel – a ‘fishy’ fish! It was marinated in sugar and salt, served with pickled capers and chillies, fried tomato, mullet roe, and a mackerel sauce. It looked stunning – the mackerel sauce was made using the skin so that it glistened on the plate, and it was made to look like the pattern on the skin. Clever stuff. If you like mackerel i’m sure you would love this dish, I really liked the pickled bits with the mackerel as it was a nice contrast in flavours, but overall it’s just too fishy for me.

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Next up was the dish I was most scared of when looking at the menu: A salad of Sea Anemone, Razor Clam, Sea Cucumber and Seaweed in escabèche. I’d never tried any of the items listed except seaweed before, and the presentation of the dish didn’t particularly allay my fears either – it looked like everything was about to crawl out of the bowl! A good-looking bowl it was though. The actual taste of this dish was fine, although I didn’t think any of the seafood tasted of much – it seemed to be more about the texture. I would’ve been happy with about half of that amount. You did get to eat it with tweezers though which was pretty good fun!

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Next up was a dish entitled ‘A whole Prawn’. This was: Charcoal-grilled king prawn, crispy prawn legs, head juice with seaweed, and a seawater & sponge cake of plankton. I thought this was going to be my favourite of the seafood dishes as it had my favourite item of seafood as the main event – sadly i didn’t love it.(The OH liked it more than I did!) The crispy legs were pretty tasty, the head juice was ok, the plankton sponge cake was strange, and the prawn just wasn’t cooked enough for me – I really didn’t like the texture of it. Strange.

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Luckily the next few courses made up for the first few 🙂 Next up was Langoustine. This was brought to the table in a steamer with hot rocks underneath. It was then cooked at the table – the waiter poured sherry onto the hot rocks, then put the lid on the steamer – within about thirty seconds the langoustine was cooked. The sherry gave it a sweetness, and it was a nice touch to see it cooked in front of you. it was served with a bisque velouté that was utterly delicious – I could’ve drank another couple of cups of that at least! The wine pairing for this course was sherry (unsurprisingly). But surprisingly, it is that blob you can see on the spoon above. It had been reduced down to almost a caramel, so you had to just suck it off the spoon – another nice touch.

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The last of our fully seafood/fish-orientated courses was another good one: Confit Skate served with six different types of mustard. Doesn’t sound like much, but the Skate was melt-in-the-mouth, and the mustards all gave an interesting dimension to the flavour of the fish. There were hazelnut flavours, bergamot, honey, and more – it was fun to mix up the different sauces with the Skate and see what you came up with…

Next up: The Meat courses… (this really is turning into an epic!)

Christmas Gift Ideas: Homemade Vanilla Extract

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Think of this post as an ad break between the epic movie that is ‘El Celler de Can Roca’…

I’ll be honest, i’m struggling with motivation a little bit at the mo – blog-wise and life-wise, and now that Christmas is turning up pretty quickly, I’m realising I need to catch up with that too! I made Vanilla Extract last Christmas for friends and family, and I’ve had a request for more this year. This is fine, as it’s a really quick and easy thing to make – but it does need about two months to mature, so I really should’ve made it a month ago. It will be ok though, i’ll just give it to people with a little ‘Best after’ note so they know when to start using it!

Vanilla extract is made with only two things: Vanilla beans/pods, and alcohol. Commercial Vanilla extract can have sugar syrup in it too, but if it’s just used for baking there’s no need. Vanilla beans can be expensive in the supermarket, and you’ll need quite a few for this recipe (depending on how much you want to make), so I tend to buy them in bulk on Amazon or Ebay – this year I bought a pack of 10 ‘extract grade’ beans from here – they were £2.30 and they were perfectly good – not dry, and smelt amazing.

You don’t need to buy expensive alcohol either, I usually buy standard vodka as it has the least flavour, but I know people also use rum or bourbon which would be nice in baking too.

Anyway onto the super-easy recipe…

Homemade Vanilla Extract

70cl Bottle of alcohol of your choice (my vodka was 37.5%)

10 Vanilla Beans

attractive bottles/jars to gift them in

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1. Cut your vanilla beans in half length-wise with kitchen scissors or a knife – if you’re going to leave them in the jars/bottles to continue maturing, leave them connected at one end (it looks prettier!).

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2. Put them in your bottle of alcohol.

3. Leave for as long as possible!

If you have your gifting bottles/jars ready, you can make the extract straight into these – just divide up the amount of beans/alcohol, and make sure you sterilise the jars before using. I haven’t got round to buying nice bottles yet (told you I was disorganised this year!), so will be leaving mine in the vodka bottle until the last minute, and then decanting and fishing out the pods so they can continue to mature in their new bottles.

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Here’s a photo of the extract I made last year (excuse the phone quality)

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Even if you don’t want to give this as presents to people, it’s really nice to know you have an endless supply of vanilla extract to hand 🙂

P.s Vodka is an excellent base to make Christmassy liqueurs with too, and they only take 2 weeks – so i may be making limoncello or similar soon – watch this space…

P.P.S. Happy thanksgiving to any American readers!

El Celler De Can Roca Part 1: Snacking

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In September I took the OH to Girona for a special birthday. It’s a lovely little medieval city and has lots of places to get delicious food (as posted about here), but its most famous restaurant has to be El Celler de Can Roca – the three michelin star restaurant which is currently number two in the world – and the main reason we came to Girona.

The restaurant is owned by the three Roca brothers and first came to our attention when it featured on Masterchef: The Professionals three years ago. The food looked amazing, the space looked amazing, and the brothers seemed pretty interesting!

I booked a table at the restaurant back in October 2013 (when it was number one in the world!), as bookings open up 11 months in advance. It was a stressful morning with an expensive phone bill at the end of it, but i’d managed it hurrah! Now I just had to try and keep it a secret…

…and I managed that too :-). He found out on his birthday, which gave us a month to get excited together.

When it actually came to the day of the booking, I felt quite nervous – maybe because I was worried it wouldn’t live up to expectations, and worried it wouldn’t be worth the (large) amount of money I would be paying for it.

Luckily, overall it was as amazing as we hoped it would be!

Below is a little description of the first part of our evening and what we ate…

The Venue

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The restaurant itself is a modern space, elegant but unstuffy – an elongated triangle-shaped dining room with an atrium in the centre, filled with silver birch trees. Most tables were placed to look out onto the trees, which was nice!

Each table had three rocks as decoration – to represent each of the Roca brothers.

We turned up early to the restaurant, and the concierge showed us round the kitchens which was a nice surprise.

The restaurant has two menus: The ‘Classic tasting menu’ which was 7 courses, or the ‘Feast Menu’ which was 14. Each are to be served to the whole table, so everyone has to decide on the same one, and there is the option to have wines matching each course.

Now there were some lovely sounding dishes on the classic menu, but if you’re coming all this way, making it a special occasion, surely you’re going to have the feast menu and the matching wine for each course?! Well we did anyway 🙂

The Snacks

Before the menu even started we were given a class of local sparkling wine, and then a succession of ‘snacks’ – one of which was possibly my favourite for the whole evening!

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Caramelized Olives were the first thing brought to the table, hanging on a bonsai tree. These were delicious but strange – who would’ve thought anchovies and caramel would go? We also had a black ‘bon bon’ each (just pictured in top photo) – filled with grapefruit and black sesame – these literally melted in the mouth and were very refreshing. Following these were prawn crisps on a mini fishing net, which were very crisp and nicely prawn-y. It was a good start, and we were excited about what would be coming up next….

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…Next came what was probably my favourite of all the dishes that evening – ‘The World’. A paper globe opened to reveal a tiny morsel from 5 of the countries the brothers have most recently visited or been inspired by. From top: China – crispy pancake with pickled veg and plum cream. Mexico – mini burrito with beef, mole poblano & guacamole. Morocco – tiny pastilla filled with almond, rose, honey, saffron, ras el hanout & goats yoghurt. Korea – Panko fried bread with bacon, soy sauce, snow peas, kimchi & sesame oil. Turkey – Vine leaf ‘tartlet’ with lentil puree, eggplant, goats yoghurt & cucumber.

These were so tiny and perfect, each one an explosion of flavour that really captured the tastes of each country for me – I would’ve been happy with another 20 rounds of them. But surely we’d be on to the menu next…

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… not yet! The next ‘snack’ was two different types of ‘tapas’ on spoons, resting on a silver coral sculpture. You can probably guess these were both seafood. The top was pickled barnacle with bay leaves & albarino (a white wine grape), the bottom was Mediterranean lobster ceviche. I was quite sceptical about eating barnacle, and not terribly excited about raw/cured lobster either. They were perfectly edible, but I’d say a spoonful was enough for me! I like a bit of seafood, but probably only actively order prawns or mussels in a restaurant, and the OH isn’t particularly enamoured with any of it, so if you speak to a seafood lover they may well be in raptures about these two snacks…

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This next ‘snack’ sorted us both out though – truffles of the savoury kind – one of my favourite things. The little things in the stone bowl were truffled bon bons – made to look like truffles found in the wild, they had a crunchy outside and creamy truffle inside – yum. The two little spheres on the slab were a type of brioche dough filled with and topped with truffle. And again I say yum. Truffle is a strong flavour, and if you’re not a fan it would be a bit overwhelming, but for me it was delicious.

And then it was time for the 14 courses (and wine) to begin!

Part 2 coming up…