We were heading into our final days of our tour of Costa Brava. I know I sound like a broken record when I say I have so many stories to tell. And, I will, I promise. But, when you have the chance to get a sneak peak into the best restaurant in the world, the story is one that has to jump the queue.
This story starts simply enough. We were headed to a traditional rice lunch in Girona with our friend, Jaume, because, well, on Thursdays you eat rice. Jaume, Marketing Director of the Costa Brava Tourism Office, who we’ve been working with during these five weeks. As we drove across Girona, with Jaume riding shotgun in our rental car, he mentioned that the rice we would eat was at the original Restaurant Can Roca, run by the mother of the famous Roca brothers.
What is El Celler de Can Roca?
For those of you “normal” people, whose Facebook feed was not inundated two weeks ago with big time foodie news, the Roca brothers run El Celler Can Roca. Can Roca was just crowned the best restaurant in the world. They often run neck in neck with Noma, a restaurant in Copenhagen. But, this year, they topped the chart.
Costa Brava is home to more Michelin star restaurants per capita than any other region in the world. Can Roca tops them all, and it is impossible to travel to Costa Brava without hearing the restaurant named in almost every conversation about the food in Catalunya.
Before the announcement was made, we thought about making a reservation at Can Roca, until we learned the restaurant is booked 11 months out. And, we did not want to ask Jaume to pull some strings on this one, particularly when a meal with wine pairings runs about 300 Euros per person.
We just figured it was interesting enough that we were just down the road from Can Roca when they became, once again, the best restaurant in the world. Now, we were headed to a rice lunch at their mother’s restaurant. Afterwards, Jaume promised to take us to the gelato shop in town that is run by one of the brothers. For us, this was a sufficient brush with foodie royalty.
Then, Jaume called Can Roca and asked if he could bring some bloggers by, just to see the kitchen, at the front end of their lunch service, before it got too busy. And, this is where our story starts.
Touring the Best Restaurant in the World
To soften the blow of where you think this story may be going, no, we were not magically able to score a reservation to dine for lunch at Can Roca. Even Jaume does not have that pull. But, what happened in the next hour was nonetheless a little amazing.
Joan Roca, the head chef and creative mind behind the cuisine at the best restaurant in the world, greeted us at the door. I was already in sensory overload.
I’ve never been inside a restaurant quite like this. I’ve seen a few TV shows about El Bulli, Ferran Adria’s restaurant, also located in Costa Brava, but which closed a few years ago. El Bulli was the best restaurant in the world for many years. While experiencing El Bulli on TV, I saw the enormous kitchen, the dozens of chefs, the quiet bustle of activity, the modern and professional interior. But, being inside such a place, and seeing the reality of it all, was overwhelming.
We followed Chef Joan through a large, white automatic door, and into the kitchen. We briskly walked best several stations, where some of the starters were in their final stages of preparation. A woman carried small olive trees, there was a corner with large silver serving contraptions, another area with bowls of fresh liquids, perhaps a cold soup. All of it looked familiar, but yet slightly strange and new.
I tried to snap some photos as we toured, but felt like a bull in a candy shop. Not knowing where to stand, and keenly aware of the leather backpack I wore, I felt like I bumped everything and everyone. I recognized quickly the privileged place we were in. People would pay a lot of money to get a sneak peak inside the kitchen at the best restaurant in the world, and here we were, lowly food travel bloggers, interlopers, being treated like celebrities by the chef of Can Roca.
As we carefully backed out of the kitchen, though the automatic doors and back into the hubbub of the foyer, we were asked, “would you care to see the cellar?”
Exploring the Wine Cellar at the Best Restaurant in the World
Would I? Of course! We ventured further, deeper into the restaurant. We snuck past a private lunch of a dozen men in the corner and entered the cellar, feeling the cool, controlled air. It was dark, and packed to the brim. It was more of a collection of wine than a typical wine restaurant wine cellar, with boxes filling every empty space. As our little group entered, and met the sommelier, we happened to run into Josep Roca, the wine-minded brother behind Can Roca.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to grab a moment of Josep’s time, I asked quickly, in Spanish, how many bottles there were in the collection. Josep replied 60,000, but as my Spanish is not spectacular and I often have a problem with numbers in foreign languages, I took a moment. I repeated back to him the number, and he confirmed. We were standing in a cellar with 60,000 bottles of wine!
No wonder Can Roca’s wine list consists of three large books, on a moving cart, each of which is hundreds of pages long. If I ever had the chance to dine at Can Roca, I would order the wine pairings. It just seems easier.
After a brief tour, we exited the cellar, back to the group of men in the private dining area. Jaume introduced us to Rafa, who owns a winery and restaurants in Cadaques. He invited us to lunch the following day at Can Rafa, his waterfront fish restaurant. Everything was coming up roses. With treatment like this, we told Jaume, we would never leave.
We slowly made our way out, as I relished every last moment. My head was on a swivel, trying to take it all in. The contemporary decor was shockingly different than the historic stone and ivy building we entered. Can Roca exuded an organized chaos, with servers and staff quickly moving from the dining room to the kitchen, new guests arriving for lunch. All of this activity occurred almost silently, under a hum.
We exited the restaurant, and Jaume asked us to sit down in the garden. Apparently, Chef Joan offered to bring us out a little something.
Getting a Taste of Can Roca
As the minutes wore on, dangerously close to our reservation at Chef Joan’s mother’s restaurant down the road, a well dressed server approached with tall champagne glasses to serve us each a glass of the Celler Can Roca cava, the Spanish sparkling wine. I was not surprised in the least that the best restaurant in the world would, of course, have their own branded cava.
Then, the food started to arrive. As we did not see a menu, and the food arrived so quickly, I am not entirely sure what we ate. I caught little bits of descriptions, as I tried to snap photos, wanting to capture every moment of the experience, while trying not to miss anything.
We already received a sneak peak at some of these dishes, in the kitchen, and in the restaurant, but I was not expecting such treatment.
The first set of delicious delectables represented a taste of the world, five bites from each of five countries including China, South Korea, Mexico, Turkey, and Morocco. The five bites were served inside a paper lantern, decorated with a map of the world. The large black satin bow was ceremoniously unwrapped, and the paper globe removed, to reveal our first “course.”
Jaume, and our friend Gemma, reveled aright along with us as we were all almost giggle tasting the food and the wine. Just as we started to taste, the last of the Roca brothers, Jordi, arrived. He greeted us, and chatted with us. Jordi is the pastry chef, or master of sweets if you will, of Can Roca. It made me realize quickly how evenly matched and paired the three brothers are, each with their own speciality and passion.
After our pleasantries with Jordi, the next course arrived, a seared pork belly on avocado. The pork belly arrived accompanied by our own little olive tree, just like the one I saw in the kitchen. The tree was adorned by icy olives, hanging on hooks as if the tree were dressed for Christmas. Each of the little hooks was monogrammed with the famous Can Roca “R”, which has three legs representing each of the brothers.
Next, Chef Joan sent out yet another course with four more little bites, including something described as a bread, although it looked like a peanut. There was a red citrus ball, which exploded in the mouth. And, a trio of fish-inspired dishes including an anchovy spine.
Remember, Chef Joan offered to send out “a little something.” Within thirty minutes, Celler Can Roca offered us each two glasses of cava, and 14 tasty morsels to test out the cuisine from the best restaurant in the world. Finally, Jaume had to remind them that their mother was waiting for us, as we did not want to disappoint Mama Roca.
We finished the last of our bites, and our last sips of cava, and walked away from our impromptu tasting at the best restaurant in the world – El Celler de Can Roca, having met all three Roca brothers along the way.
Our lunch at Restaurant Can Roca, up the road, was tasty as well. It was a traditional meal, and the restaurant was packed with locals. Our meal, with freshly fried calamari, and black rice with seafood and meat called mar y montana, and crema catalan for dessert was fabulous. Although, I was not entirely hungry when we sat down because of my 14 bites of luxury goodness.
And, because Jaume aims to impress, we then stopped by Jordi Roca’s gelato shop in the center of Girona, Rocambolesc. They offer gelato with elaborate toppings that are inspired by the desserts that have been offered at Can Roca.
We did not expect any of this when we woke that morning in Costa Brava. We expected a simple but flavorful Catalan lunch with Jaume and Gemma, and a little bit of business chat. Instead, we were welcomed by the Roca brothers with open arms, and received a little taste of the best restaurant in the world, right there in Costa Brava.
For more luxury dining tips and stories, check out our Luxury Travel Guide.