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Image 1: It was a long-anticipated dinner. There was no room for mistake. Not only did all eight of us arrive on time, we arrived way too early, even before they opened their parking lot.
Image 2: Ferran once said "a great meal begins with a great journey". Our great journey did not just begin from the 6km of cliffy winding road before reaching El Bulli. Some of us began our journey from London, some from Denmark, and one all the way from San Francisco just for this meal!
Image 3: Even though I was here 4 years ago, I was very anxious -- wasn’t sure if they really had my reservation, wasn’t sure about the food, wasn’t sure about the experience, wasn’t sure if it was really worth such a long journey for all of us…
Image 4: But once we entered, all my worries disappeared. They really made us feel at home. A warm welcome by co-owner Juli Soler followed by a tour of the most sacred spot of the culinary world ---
Image 5: The kitchen of El Bulli! Thousands of creations had come out from this place. This is the frontier of gastronomy! We were delighted to meet Ferran in person. He is in the restaurant almost everyday to command the kitchen team!
Image 6: www.elbulli.com Chef: Ferran Adrià
30-Course Tasting Menu: €270
Last season: 2011 January to June
Image 7: Casual and relax environment. The main focus for everyone here is to enjoy Ferran's culinary creation!
Image 8: With no time wasted, once we had warmed up our seat, they started our 40+ courses imaginative adventure with a series of “mojito” amuse bouche.
Image 9: A caipi-mojito tea as a warm palate cleanser.
Image 10: Followed by sweet mojito parcels that exploded in our mouth with a wonderful essence of ginger and lime. Sensational!
Then an exquisite looking mojito baguette!
Image 12: Concentrated mojito and apple coulis sandwiched in two airy meringues.
These mojito treats definitely achieved Ferran's goal of providing surprising contrast of the three T’s: Taste, Temperature, and Texture.
Image 13: While I was still enjoying the mojito aftertaste, they continued to load our table with various El Bulli snacks. Here is a peanut and honey cookie, more like a crumbly sweet peanut shortbread. It wasn't easy to pick up without breaking it apart. That's how delicate it was!
Image 14: Then, a beautiful landscape of seaweed on a black sand beach!
Image 15: Dried-fishy flavour followed by a burst of fresh lemon! Wow, an extremely awkward combination... only El Bulli has the gut to serve this!
Image 16: Time for a cocktail - Almond Fizz. Sweet almond liqueur at the bottom then topped up with soda water creating a layer of foam...
...and finished off with a dehydrated raspberry.
They then brought us a shocking melon-size gorgonzola globe with shaved nutmeg. It really made us wonder how they made such a thin hollow sphere!
Image 19: We had to break it apart and eat by hand! The cheese was a bit strong by itself but the subtle hint of nutmeg made it work.
Image 20: Hibiscus and peanut - Similar idea as the mojito parcels, but using hibiscus and creamy peanut butter instead.
Image 21: Don't let its unpleasant appearance fool you. This liquid hazelnut was one of the highlights of the meal. I have no clue how they managed to enclose these mouth-watering hazelnut liquid in a fragile and long sugar casting, but my palate was completely seduced by the flavour of the rich hazelnut! Amazing!
Image 22: They continued to bring out these tasters without much of a break. This parmesan porra is like a crispy-fried dough using parmesan. Great snack! I can have this anytime of the day! The meal was fantastic so far!
Image 23: More plays using sugar – Olive oil chip. Two thin sugar disks with olive oil in between. Intense olive fragrance but unusual composition!
Image 24: Raspberry coated with hazelnut - Rich powerful sweetness followed by a sharp acidity. The sudden contrast really had awakened all my senses!
Image 25: Sweet version of shrimp tortilla. This sweet powdery cake had mini dried shrimps, a popular ingredient in Chinese cooking. Odd but tasty!
Image 26: The savoury version of shrimp tortilla with mini fresh shrimps was not as special though.
Image 27: Sugar cane for us to chew before a series of main courses. This is El Bulli, you need to expect the unexpected! Instead of sugar cane's sweetness, it was pickled ginger flavour that came out!
Image 28: Now I see what the pickled ginger was all about. Like Japanese cuisine, pickled ginger is used to refresh our palate before enjoying delicate flavour of sashimi. Using sugar cane, Ferran created an adaptation of pickled ginger without filling up our stomach! Genius!
Image 29: My favourite - Langoustine sashimi with flash-poached head. Pull the shell out from the tail, pop the meat into the mouth, suck all the juice from the head - this is what real food is all about! Delightful!
Image 30: Now, another version of Langoustine. A quick sear on the grill, then tempura the leg, and finally make a juice out of the head! Same ingredient as the previous dish but completely different result! Superb textural contrast – bouncy flesh, crispy legs, juicy head!
Image 31: You can’t get a better flavour than this - the deep concentrated flavour of the brain… Wow!
Image 32: More real food - Quail and carrot escabeche. Four mini pieces of barely cooked quail breast dusted with four different seasonings.
Image 33: Our servers then carefully brush on a delicious sauce – carrot, garlic, herb… it was simply packed with good stuff!
Image 34: They later told me the quail was only a few days old which explains why the breast is so tiny!
Image 35: Next, cardamom. Not for us to eat, but for us to smell while having the next course.
Image 36: More meat courses – Thrush. Resting on a crunchy sesame cracker was the meat from a bird with two layers of fat in between. Whoa, it was extremely gamey, definitely not a pleasant meat to eat. No wonder it was accompanied by a cardamom scent for us to smell. It really helped!
The second serving of the thrush course was its legs. It was very small that I couldn’t even get a full grip of the bone using my fingers!
Image 38: Well, El Bulli doesn’t waste any ingredient – a third serving of thrush - Thrush cappuccino! Even though it was light and foamy on top, it was quite gluey and gamey at the bottom! Maybe it would be nice as a sauce for the meat, but awful by itself! Thank god there was no fourth serving of the thrush!
Image 39: For the first time after something like 20 courses, we finally received our cutlery! Note that it was 2 hours into the meal and none of us had left our seat as we couldn’t afford any risk of missing a course!
Let’s continue. This looks like a beef tartar...
Image 41: ... but it was actually tartar of tomato. The skin of the tomato was removed to further mimic the texture. With egg yolk, shallot, parsley, and pepper, it was really a vegetarian version of beef tartar garnished with broken pieces of thin ice.
Image 42: The smallest dish of the meal, soya matches. Soya filled candy with gold leaf. The whole match was edible! Interestingly, this course was related to the next.
Image 43: What? Dessert already? Well, again, it’s El Bulli, something that looks like tiramisu doesn’t mean it is tiramisu. It was in fact an airy sake mousse covered in soya powder!
Image 44: This is probably the most mind-bothering course in my life, Caviar! It really messed up my mind while eating this course. Sitting on a caviar sauce on the right was “Hazelnut caviar”, and sitting on a hazelnut sauce on the left was real caviar!! Wow! The texture and taste were flip-flopped moving from right to left. I was confused in a fun way! What an intellectual dish!
Image 45: Similar to the thrush course, they brought us an aroma to accompany our next course. There is no better smell in the world than this – white truffle from Alba! This turned out to be used for the next two courses.
Image 46: First, it was a parmesan macaron to pair with the white truffle smell. Parmesan and white truffle – classic combination! At El Bulli, even a macaron can be surprising -- it was a fake macaron! The whole thing was just made from parmesan mousse!
Image 47: We were questioning in our mind if the white truffle flakes were for us to eat or for us to smell. There was no way I would let the truffles leave the table without having them inside my stomach.
Image 48: Finally, our server placed a warm pancake which was a major relief!
Image 49: He instructed us to unwrap and place the shavings of truffles on this blini, a Russian pancake. The blini had melting parmesan inside as our second serving of parmesan and white truffles - Truffled Blini. Divine!
Image 50: More delicacy - steamed baby eel. Strands of firm and fatty little creatures - simply the best “meat spaghetti” ever! No wonder they are sold up to few hundred Euros per kg!
Image 51: Closer look revealed eyes of each eel. I felt bad for eating so many lives in one dish… Well, they are delicious though! Worth the sacrifice!
Image 52: Smothered in a dark sauce was a pair of fresh clams. We noticed the muscles were still moving! Really fresh indeed!
Water from the clam was served separately on its shell to give us a taste of the sea.
Image 54: Ceviche of Lulo, a very unusual fruit. They described it as a cross between tomato and passion fruit.
Image 55: Wow, this dish must be designed for people who love eating fresh lemons! My eyes were in tears!
An Oaxaca taco containing lumps of avocado and grapefruit. Hmmm… strange!
At that point, we really needed a quick break before continuing further...
Image 58: The marathon continued with gazpacho and ajo blanco, the two popular Spanish cold soup. But we didn’t see any soup... Of course, how could soup look like soup at El Bulli?!
Image 59: The colourless tomato granite is Ferran’s version of gazpacho, surrounded by an almond garlicky paste which is Ferran’s version of ajo blanco, with a drizzle of olive oil which is the essential element of both soups! Another adaptation of classics – this is what El Bulli is all about!
Image 60: After a refreshing soup, a course wrapped in parchment paper.
Image 61: Nothing too fancy, just endive and walnut with an aromatic bay leaf. Simple ingredients could really be a culinary delight!
Image 62: This course definitely illustrated point #3 of Synthesis of el Bulli cuisine - “All products have the same gastronomic value regardless of their price.”
Image 63: They then brightened these products by a spoonful of shinny olive oil caviar. These caviars were made by a spherification process, one of the famous El Bulli’s cooking techniques.
Image 64: We had courses of seafood, courses of meat, now courses of seafood and meat again! Anchovy resting on a raw oyster with woodcock sauce accompanied by a short pillar of rather firm bone marrow.
Image 65: The sauce was intense and the anchovy was salty. I found it very difficult to detect the flavour of the oyster itself.
Image 66: I much preferred the reverse -- woodcock with oyster sauce. Dominated by the gamey bird meat , the oyster flavour did kick in leaving a deep aftertaste.
Image 67: Now the last preparation of woodcock. Wow… I could imagine a violent hunting scene from this dead bird’s head on a fallen bark!
Image 68: Their long beaks become very handy for you to pick them up and to suck out their brain! I didn’t mind sucking out the brain of the langoustine, but woodcock… Disgusting!
Image 69: Well, it was the season for game meat so there was more. Serving on an El Bulli spoon, blackberry risotto with hare sauce. Not only did this utensil resemble a medicine spoon, even the taste wasn’t too far off - concentrated syrup with berries flavour!
Another serving of hare - wild strawberry in hare consommé. Weird!
Our last main course, hare ravioli with cute triangular packet of hare sauce. The whole course was just too intense for me, especially after 30 courses!
Image 72: If sucking the bird’s brain wasn’t barbaric enough, then what about drinking blood?!
It was actually a very tasty beet juice with a spicy touch of ginger! A nice finish before moving on to the final lag of this unforgettable meal!
Image 73: You wouldn't find such a tiny chestnut other than at El Bulli. Our dessert began with Mimetic-chestnut. Thoughtfully constructed to have the same taste as chestnut but with a liquid center!
Ha, there was an actual chestnut underneath!
Image 75: Getting close to the end. An interactive course of sugar cubes with tea and lime where we squeezed drops ourselves. We got fooled again -- the “sugar cube” was the lime and the drops were the sugar! Brilliant twist!
Image 76: Besides the fact that it was a clever play, this sweetened tea extract on frozen lime ice perfectly prepared our mouth for the next course.
Image 77: Even in deep winter, it was not easy to find a frozen pond in this region, but we found it here.
Image 79: Thin layer of mint ice sprinkled with brown sugar and green tea powder on top.
Image 80: The result - a deconstruction of mint flavoured iced green tea!
By letting a piece melt on my tongue, I realized the taste came in several stages. Started off with an ice cold sensation, then it slowly melted into refreshing mint water, and once the mint has gone, it was the brown sugar sweetness, and lastly, an elegant long lasting flavour of green tea. Sophisticated course!
This thin ice on a hollow bowl concept reminded us of the famous “Fish Market” at Osteria Francescana.
Image 82: More unique sweets. Long sticks of crystal cake. It was like eating a crispy icing sugar with nuts. Not bad.
Image 84: Definitely wasn't the type of donut that I was expecting.
Image 85: Another highlight of the meal, apple rose arranged from a long strip of apple soaked in Muscat decorated with…
Image 86: … dill and muscatel balls. The whole combination resulted in a crisp fruity fragrance in my mouth. Felt like my mouth was sprayed with a perfume! Marvellous!
And for the grand finale, the biggest item of the meal, a big box!
Image 88: Oh my god… It transformed to our petit-four which was not petit at all!
Image 89: A drawer on the right!
Image 90: And a drawer on the left!
Image 91: Look at these weird confections!
Image 92: These things on the right looked like peanut in a shell, but it was actually creamy white chocolate with peanut flavour. Another smart play!
Image 93: I always find chocolate coated with strawberry a terrible invention - the acidic juice mixed with the melting sweet chocolate in the mouth – nasty in terms of both texture and taste!
Image 94: Thanks to Ferran, this freeze-dried strawberry solved the problem – retaining the flavour, reducing the acidity, and eliminating all the juice!
No one should use fresh fruits for chocolate fountain ever again!
Image 95: Pity that only three of us were able to sample everything, but a few did ask for doggy bags! They even brought us more to take away!
Image 96: Haha, look at the bag -- the 6km winding route to El Bulli!
Definitely one of the most elaborate mignardise we have ever seen. Impressive!
Image 98: Ferran did come over to say goodbye and there is no better souvenir than an El Bulli’s menu signed by the master! I am their 226th customer of their last season and he will be back in 2014 for the El Bulli Foundation!
Image 99: We finally reached the finish line of a 40+ courses marathon. We were all impressed - impressed by his creativity, impressed by his concept, impressed by his courage! We were the first table in but the last table out!
Image 100: That was another day at El Bulli! Many chefs aim to have no repeated ingredient in a tasting menu to show off their wide range of produces. Here is the opposite -- many repeated ingredients but using different cooking techniques to achieve a wide range of results. A spectacular show!
Image 101: That’s it to our long anticipated meal. Were there a lot of delicious dishes? No. Were there a lot of memorable dishes? Hell yes! And compared to 4 years ago, the meal had more “real food” this time.
Image 102: The World's best restaurant, a 15-year Michelin 3-starred, a place with more than 3 million reservation requests for the last season... All these will be a history soon! What we have witnessed was not just a meal, it was not just a tasting experience, it was the beginning of a legend!