Thursday, July 05, 2007

The World's Best Restaurant

The World’s Best Restaurant? What must that be like? I was intrigued. I had to find out more.

Black Truffle Stracciatella with Quail's Eggyolk Ravioli at El BulliWhat set off this investigation was a newspaper article which mentioned that Bukhara had been again voted the best Indian restaurant in the world. The prestigious list of the Top 50 restaurants is announced every year by Restaurant magazine. A panel of 651 judges from around the world reviewed restaurants in 70 different countries to compile this year's list.

I discovered that the #1 restaurant is El Bulli which has held this position for an unprecedented three times. El Bulli was also recently awarded a third Michelin star.

Situated in Roses, two hours north of Barcelona, with a dramatic view of the bay, El Bulli is open only from April to September. During the other six months, the chefs are closeted in their nearby laboratory experimenting with new tastes, temperatures and textures that will lead to the unveiling of yet another culinary masterpiece. El Bulli opens for reservations every October for the next season, but usually the entire year gets sold out in a single day!

Cuttlefish a la Brutesca at El BulliThe tasting menu, which changes slightly every day, unfolds in three acts and thirty-five dishes: small snacks that you eat with your fingers, larger-sized tapas to be eaten with a fork and spoon (no knife, ever), and desserts. Each dish is brought to the table by a small squadron of waiters. The waiters are extremely knowledgeable and will explain what each item is, and how to eat it: to start with this end or that, to gobble it up in just one bite, or hurry before it melts.

El BulliMathew Jukes of the Guardian takes you through his spectacular gourmet ride at El Bulli (edited; you can read the original article here):

“…Then, out of thin air, a wave of snacks (nibbles) appeared, each wildly different in texture, flavor, and aroma. Pork and honey scratchings; an impossibly light, dusty popcorn piece served on a spoon, which disintegrated and then disappeared on the tongue; sheer glass panes of sweet nori seaweed; tiny puffed quinoa grains in a cornet; and a parmesan and lemon crunchy asteroid ball.

I was reeling as the flavors cavorted around my palate…

El BulliThe next dish was simply entitled bread with tomato. It was a round ball of crunchy bread, a little smaller than a golf ball, sitting on top of a tiny mug of what appeared to be vanilla ice cream. All of the crockery and cutlery is designed specially for each course. Our instructions were to pop the bread in whole and chew, then spoon up the matter in the mug. A big factor in this other-worldly cuisine is the element of surprise, and this dish had it down to a fine art. The bread puff exploded in the mouth to reveal a warm scented olive oil, which when combined with the tomato flavored ice sherbet was an unbelievable combo.

El BulliThen came the mysteriously titled golden egg, a tiny scarab-sized, sweet button of exoskeleton, which when bitten released the most intense, melting, warm yolk. This was swiftly followed by a mini parmesan ice cream sandwich and a trout egg tempura, in the thinnest coating, but brimming with glossy, wildly juicy fishy flavors.

A tartare of cuttlefish was sensual with black ink and brown foie flavors to overload the senses. Risotto a la Milanese was made with chopped bean sprouts, creamy froth and a separate saffron slick. A translucent squid pillow erupted to reveal coconut milk, and you added tangy lime, mint and ginger to the package - a brilliant Thai squid dish. Spider crab, sardines and rabbit followed as main courses. Sometimes, I just shut my eyes and wallowed in the sensory bombardment, only to reopen them and see my companions doing the same.

The puddings came zooming in: a mad lychee jelly, a chocolate sablet with verveine and hazelnut and a mixed plate of nibbles including mini raspberry ice cream cones, a welly boot of melon on a stick and mysterious pineapple chunk creations.”

Phew, was that good for you too? :)

El BulliDescribes Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini (read her entire blog post here), “It took us six hours to go through the entire meal -- from 8pm to 2am -- but we were in such a state of elation that it was hard to tell if it had been two minutes or two days since we had first sat down. I would like to stress here how pleased we were with the service: the ballet of dishes coming and going was perfectly choreographed, and the waitstaff was exceptionally warm and attentive”.

Chef Ferrán Adrià is the genius behind El Bulli's menu. Many consider him the Salvador Dali of contemporary cuisine. He travels the world for gastronomic inspiration, then returns to his Barcelona laboratory to perfect his next masterpiece. His ground-breaking techniques have inspired other chefs throughout the world to experiment.

"Taste is not the only sense that can be stimulated: Touch can also be played with (contrasts of temperatures and textures), as well as smell, sight (colors, shapes, trompe d'oeil, etc.), whereby the five senses become one of the main points of reference in the creative cooking process," says the El Bulli website.

Pricing: The tasting menu is 165€ and that doesn’t include wine. With wine and coffee you're looking at roughly 220€ per person.

Reservations: E-mail: bulli-at-elbulli-dot-com or Fax: (34) 972 150 717. No phone calls. The restaurant is open from May until September, and starts taking reservations in mid-October for the next season. Send an email round October 15th with the number of people in your party; you will get a response in the next few weeks.

BTW, the road from Barcelona to the restaurant is pretty treacherous and can be an adventure in itself!

El Bulli's move to #1 in the Top 50 list relegated The Fat Duck in England, to #2 for the second time. The two restaurants have similar approaches to food -- both are known for dishes that combine unusual ingredients using sophisticated scientific techniques. More on The Fat Duck in another post!

15 comments:

shampa said...

great post. I also enjoyed your earlier posts on kababs. very mouth watering!!!!

thalassa_mikra said...

Those pictures look amazing! Someday I'll make my way to El Bulli.

As for Bukhara, it's probably the most overhyped Indian restaurant in existence. Had an extremely mediocre and outrageously overpriced meal there on my last India trip. The much talked about Dal Bukhara literally swims in commercial tomato puree - ugh!

Charles said...

I went to El Bulli earlier this year, and wrote (and am writing) about it on my blog at http://edgeplay.blogspot.com

I'm a San Francisco transplant living in Bangalore.

The Last Sign said...

Yummm
"mysteriously titled golden egg".. LOL :)

BeeLee said...

Wow .. great to know this :)
Hey Shantanu, check out my 8 random facts meme when you get a chance :)

Shantanu said...

@shampa: Welcome to my blog. Glad you liked it.

@thalassa_mikra: Well, actually their Dal Bukhara is extremely popular. A must-order item on the menu, and much copied elsewhere.

@charles: Awesome; I will look forward to reading that.

@last sign: :)

@beelee: Thanks for participating!

HAREKRISHNAJI said...

Dear Shantanu,

Your post on The Word's Best Restaurant is one of finest I have ever come across.
Thank for sharing your experiance and also for visiting my blog.

Sig said...

OMG, what an amazing array of food.... I have to go to Catalonia and get to El Bulli... Let me see if I can get into the waiting list for next year this October... Well, first let me get to French Laundry, I haven't even been there yet :(

Shantanu said...

@harekrishnaji: Thank you! Seeing you here after a long time.

@sig: I wish I could too! But can't do that any time soon.

RennyBA said...

What a lovely, informative, and interesting post and how much I would love to try all of them - thanks for all your research and for sharing!

Btw: Thanks for your nice comments on my post at International Blog of Food. Your welcome to Norway any time you know and if you further information, your always welcome on my blog :-)

foodette said...

So, I have to go to Spain for the best Indian food in the world? And it comes in the form of Tapas?

Sounds good to me.... :)

Shantanu said...

@rennyba: Thanks!

@foodette: Ha ha! Yeah, it sort of started with Bukhara and led all the way to Spanish food :)

Alitta said...

Wow all the dishes are mouth-watering. They look too beautiful to be food :D

Shantanu said...

@alitta: They certainly do, don't they! Thanks for visiting.

ChuckEats said...

The Top 50 list is somewhat arbitrary - some are legitimate, many are not, and even more are not even mentioned.

Some restaurants that deserve to be in the Top 10:
El Poblet in Denia, Spain:
http://www.chuckeats.com/2007/10/08/el-poblet-denia-spain-a-midsummer-nights-dream/

Ryugin in Tokyo:
http://www.chuckeats.com/2009/03/02/ryugin-tokyo-japan-pure-excellence/

Noma in Copenhagen:
http://verygoodfood.dk/2009/03/15/noma-rising-third-star/

Koju in Tokyo:
http://www.chuckeats.com/2008/11/12/koju-ginza-tokyo-minimalism-and-perfectionism/