Cuisine: Catalan / Seafood
The closure of elBulli in 2011 marked the advent of a new culinary movement that had been inspired by Ferran Adria’s molecular cuisine. Interestingly, whilst many of these chefs had at some stage worked in elBulli under Adria, many of them subsequently made a conscious decision to part either partially or entirely from the molecular discipline. Foraging, ethical sourcing and quality of the produce and ingredients was the new thing. Many of them, like Rene Redzepi from Noma, catapulted into the culinary spotlight, but others had resorted to keeping an equally talented but low profile. The restaurant Compartir, opened by three of the elBulli chefs, is exactly the latter. Located in the picturesque coastal town of Cadaques it’s fair to say that the three chef’s didn’t get far from elBulli to start their new venture.
We couldn’t really predict what our meal going to be. Some of my friends who missed out on a meal at elBulli had secretly hoped for a molecular feast but the food here couldn’t have been more different. Having had a holiday house in the region for the last twenty years, I knew what amazing produce the Emporda region and the Costa Brava had to offer but I didn’t quite expect to be amazed by the quality of the seafood we were about to have.
The name Compartir literally means ‘to share’ in Spanish. Suffice to say, majority of the dishes were designed with that concept at the heart. We commenced our meal with some delicious prawn crackers to whet our appetite. Light, airy and void of oiliness, this prawn cracker didn’t scream out amazingness but was certainly the best of its kind I’ve had. I particularly loved the deep flavour of prawn that came through despite its light airy texture.
Decadence is an appropriate word to describe the first plate of nibbles, a wooden board covered with the glorious Iberico ham “Joselito”. Maybe it was the salty air blowing off the nearby coast that exacerbated our thirst, but this ham was going down like a treat with our cold Estrella Damm Inedit, (aka the elBulli beer), which is perhaps one of the better lagers Spain has produced.
And when there’s ham, there’s Pa amb tomaquet or simply bread with tomato, a truly iconic catalan dish. Crusty home made bread rubbed with garlic, drenched with grated tomato and its juice and a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil.
As a rule, the one thing my wife generally tries to avoid is tomato (I know, she’s clearly crazy) so I am not entirely sure what possessed her to order this. However, I certainly was glad she decided to order the Tomato and strawberries with parmesan and basil, even she admits this is one of the best balanced salads flavour wise that she has tasted. Classic flavours which worked unbelievably well together.
On to our first seafood dish of the Warm razor clams from Langosteira beach with a lemon touch. A simply beautiful dish and the quality of the razor clams from the colder atlantic coast was just stunning. Full of natural sweetness from the high content of glycogen, what amazed me the most was the size of the meaty molusc even after slightly cooking it. Lemon was all this needed to give it that zing.
The amazing seafood continued…..Luck had it that I finally had the opportunity to try the highly sought after gooseneck barnacles (percebes) from the coast of Galicia. These bad boys have the nickname of ‘fortune on the rocks’ and can fetch as much as 300 euros a kilogram. The downside to this is the danger that comes as the waves violently try to throw about the men that scavenge for them on jagged rocks. The Galicians claim that when cooked they set the palate on ecstasy. They were not far off for I had never tasted something that had such an intense flavour of the ocean. As you bit off the tip and sucked the inside, you could taste a combination of rich crab meat, oyster and prawn simultaneously. All this from just boiling them in water!
More elBulli moments with this clever dish of the Cod buñuelo (crouquettes) with honey espuma. The deep-fried cod was lighty and airy yet retained an amazing concentration of cod flavour. The clever piece of cooking here was the use of the honey foam. I find the classic combination of honey and cod sometimes too sweet for my liking, but the foam introduced the aromatic honey without tipping the balance of flavours.
The Iberico rice casserole with wild mushrooms was as rustic as a dish got here. I recognised many of the mushrooms as I often foraged for them when I visited my parents who live in the region. There were trumpets of death, yellow foots (camagrocs) and girolles that added that earthy undertone to the rice. The addition of the iberico chorizo to the dish was sacrilegious but worked well with the saltiness and distinct flavour it brought.
We couldn’t finish the meal without opting for the Sea bass with mushrooms and seaweed that had been strongly recommended by the waiter. You could definitely see the Asian influence here with the citrusy yuzu flavour, sesame seeds and the seaweed like mushroom. The rich and sticky sauce, which still remains a mystery, had a surprisingly smokey note to it. I did however find the fish on the small size and wished that we had ordered another plate given we were nine people!
The dessert dishes were neither Catalan nor rustic but a deconstructed Cheesecake and cherry ice cream. Nothing special to note here other than a good level of tartness from the cherry ice cream balanced against the crème anglaise and sweet crumbs of cookie.
Some Liquid chocolate bon bon with mango sorbet to finish the meal and that was it. Admittedly this wasn’t a destination restaurant in the same league as elBulli. It was however honest, without pretension and offered some of the freshest and most delicious seafood I have had to date in the region. Rather than concentrating on crazy molecular theatrics at the table, these three chefs made the conscious choice to apply their vast experience and skills in drawing out the natural flavours of the high quality ingredients and produce they had at their disposal. This restaurants was established with the customer in mind. It was a place to catch up with family and friends over good honest food without having to fork out a fortune. This is exactly the kind of place I could visit every month.