The world’s best restaurant – that’s how it was billed. Not just by the Costa Brava Tourist Board, who invited me there, but the prestigious S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurant Award went to El Bulli no less than a record five times.
At first the cynic in me stirred. After all, who decides what’s best? With something so subjective, how can one restaurant possibly be declared as the best in the world?
Then I stopped for a moment and had a word with myself.
Holy guacamole. I was going inside the world’s best restaurant. And even if, technically, to my picky scientific brain, I couldn’t prove it was going to be the best, even I couId believe it was going to be pretty damn good.
El Bulli sits on the edge of a wild cove in Spain’s Costa Brava. One flanked by gorse bushes and carpeted with sand, with the kind of untamed nature would suit the opening scenes of an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
The sign, simple and slightly rusted, read El Bulli. No glittering glass or concrete high rise. No queues of limousines.
In fact, precious little sign of life at all.
In our enthusiasm, we’d arrived a little early. Passing by the picture of a bulldog (the inspiration for the name: El Bulli has nothing to do with bull-fighting), we went in.
“Managing the list is the most stressful part,” said Pol Perello, El Bulli’s head waiter and director of communications. He’s tall and relaxed, standing in a white-washed hallway that could double as an entrance hall in many of Spain’s houses.
His eyebrows tighten. “We have 15 tables every night, with 45 chefs, 26 waiters and a different menu on each table. We serve 48 – 55 courses…”
“…and we have over 2 million applications each year for a table.”
Eight thousand places. Two million applicants. “So how do you decide who gets a place?”
For a second, I feel guilty. Pol blushes into silence and the questions move on.
I’m not sure what I’d expected, but given El Bulli’s reputation for molecular gastronomy and the controversy surrounding their “scientific” approach to food, I’d probably imagined test tubes and chrome, not green moss and stone.
Then we enter the kitchen and meet the man himself: Ferran Adria, the head chef.
To be continued. Inside the kitchens in the world’s best restaurant.
Then finally: Interview with the Best Chef in the World