The City, London
When Bloomberg launched its new City offices, it designed the ground floor with cooking in mind. Current tenants range from Japanese restaurant Koya to Andrew Wong’s latest venture Kym’s, via the messy pleasures of Bleecker Burger, as well as solid morning offerings from the reliable Caravan and the day-fuelling, healthy Scandi delights of Ekte Nordic Kitchen.
El Celler de Can Roca
There are restaurants – and then there is El Celler de Can Roca. Having taken the number one spot in the World’s 50 Best restaurants list twice (and assorted other Top 10 places over the years), the Roca brothers’ remarkable culinary institute is no longer eligible for the list, instead being moved to a new category called “Best of the Best”, presumably to give other places a chance.
It’s probably reasonable as they show no signs of slowing. The friendly rivalry between head chef Joan, sommelier Josep and pastry chef Jordi has helped El Celler push the envelope for 30-plus years, from its 1986 origins next door to their parents’ restaurant, to the current purpose-built location that opened in 2007.
It is, to be fair, a strange building – with a slight air of Portakabin in the main dining area – but it’s “backstage” where it most makes sense, with space for 30 chefs (and a whole lot of gadgets) to create and fulfil the brothers’, and especially Joan’s, often outlandish vision. To bring that into perspective, the place seats just 45 diners. What really sets El Celler apart from other such culinary ‘temples’ is that there’s a great sense of fun to proceedings. Yes, you’re here to see ingredients taken to the utmost degree, to be challenged and have your senses manipulated, but there are regular moments through the tasting menu where things are left delightfully simple.
Even at the most extreme (a dish called Anarchy, for example, features 43 elements – 12 creams, seven gelatines, seven sauces, three granitas, two foams, two ice creams, three fruit cakes and seven “crunches”– on one plate), it all feels like it’s mostly intended to make you smile. There’s incredible technique and technicality behind the dishes, mathematical precision to much (though not all) the presentation, and incredible attention to detail – the famous caramelised olives are served on a bonsai tree and attached with tiny hooks that, despite their size, all bear the Roca logo – but there’s still much playfulness. This probably goes double for Jordi’s role, such as the much-discussed dessert based on a Lionel Messi goal, served complete with commentary. Anyone with even a vague interest in food probably owes it to themselves to go at least once.
In the open-air setting of 1884 the “kitchen” is three Francis Mallmann designed cooking devices: a woodfired stove; a parilla because, hey, Argentina; and a dome of smoking racks, moveable heat sources, warming shelves and griddles that will instil considerable barbecue envy. The results are remarkable.