I rarely use the word “legendary” to describe a restaurant, as it carries a heavy weight. However, the three-star Michelin restaurant El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, can certainly wear this crown.
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If a perfect family enterprise can be defined in the form of a restaurant, then this is El Celler de Can Roca. This restaurant is run by three brothers, each possessing unique but equal talents: Joan as the head chef, Josep as the sommelier, and Jordi as the pastry chef. It is not just a world-class dining establishment, but also a warm and inviting place that feels like the living room of the Roca family.
Undoubtedly, it is the harmony between the brothers and their individual talents that led El Celler de Can Roca to be named the number one restaurant in the world in 2013 and 2015. Josep was awarded the title of “World’s Best Sommelier” in 2022. The young Jordi takes a meticulous approach to desserts such as chocolates and “Whisky à la pie.” And with his ability to create up to 14 exquisite dishes, the eldest brother Joan ensures everything remains perfect. This not only symbolizes the values of family and culinary excellence, but also makes it one of the most difficult restaurants in the world to secure a reservation.
(Left)Jordi Roca (Middle)Joan Roca (Right)Josep Roca
Inspired by their grandmother Angeleta, Joan, at the age of 22, and Josep, at 20, opened El Celler de Can Roca in its original location in 1986. Jordi joined in 1999, and the restaurant moved to its current site in 2007. But after more than thirty years, the Roca brothers are never satisfied with the status quo. They take measures to provide their staff with a better work-life balance, constantly travel in search of new ingredients, and pursue their individual projects without losing focus. Now, Joan’s son Marc and Josep’s son Martí have also chosen cooking as their profession, undoubtedly the best proof that the family legend will continue.
During my recent trip to Barcellona, I finally had the opportunity to visit El Celler de Can Roca. For a passionate food lover like myself, it is nearly unforgivable that I paid my first visit only in 2023. However, better late than never. Stepping into the restaurant’s understated entrance, I was greeted by a beautiful garden where guests can dine and chat, as if the restaurant exists to welcome natural light. Here, you can see the Roca brothers, warmly and affectionately greeting guests like old friends.
Sitting down and opening the grand menu that awaited us, it was an overwhelming sight. The keywords of Roca are: history, family, relentless effort, innovation, coexistence of humility and magnificence. Many dishes on the menu incorporate elements of olives, intricate, dramatic, and delicious.
One of the dishes is Sardines with Canaillas and Fennel. The delicate texture of the sardine perfectly combines with the slightly chewy sea snail, accompanied by olives and pickled apples, and topped with refreshing sea fennel. This dish instantly awakens the taste buds.
Sardines with Canaillas and Fennel
The Langoustine with sagebrush, vanilla oil and toaster butter — the perfectly tender langoustine seamlessly blends with the aromatic herb oil and rich burnt cream sauce. The sweet roasted nutty flavor balances perfectly with the spicy and herbal notes of purslane, creating a harmonious balance of flavors. The Fish of the day is cooked daily based on the catch. The delicate and tender fish is enhanced by the acidity of semi-dried tomatoes, capers, and olives. Other elements include hazelnut foam, lemon purée with anise liquor reduction, as well as rosemary and mint; finally some fried bread with freeze-dried garum was added to add some crunch.
The Lamb with Smoked Sheep’s Cottage Cheese. The tender lamb pairs perfectly with the intensely smoky sheep’s cottage cheese. Combined with lemon verbena, rosemary, and thyme herb puree, the flavors are intensified to perfection. The accompanying sweet wine with bitter almond notes and walnut oil further highlights the aroma of roasted nuts. “Xuixo” of duck — inspired by the traditional Catalan pastry xuixo, this duck dish features layers of tender and pink slices of duck meat. The caramelized duck skin adds a sweet richness, complemented by caramel cubes, creating a perfect fusion of sweet and savory flavors.
The Langoustine with Sagebrush, Vanilla Oil and Toaster Butter（Instagram@patriciasleon）
The Lamb with Smoked Sheep’s Cottage Cheese
The next dessert is truly fascinating. As I watched the staff gently tap the air-filled cloud bubbles suspended in the air, a creation invented by Jordi Roca himself, it was clear that this dessert was unlike anything I had seen before. These cloud bubbles are infused with helium, making them incredibly light and delicate, and they must be carefully placed on the plate to prevent them from floating away. Accompanying the cloud bubbles is a refreshing Macadamia rose sorbet with strawberry jelly, with rose petals made made with macadamia nuts, adorned with strawberry jelly and strawberry infusion gel with chardonnay vinegar. The dish is further enhanced with soft and chewy rose mochi, crispy milk cream popcorn, tangy rose jam, and a black pepper twist for a touch of spice. The combination of flavors and textures is truly exquisite.
Next comes the Old Book, a dessert that captivates all senses. As it is presented, one is first greeted by the aroma of an old book. The madeleine-shaped mousse, accompanied by a concentrated sweet sauce made from cinnamon and cream, is served alongside Earl Grey tea-infused whipped cream and madeleine cake. Sprinkled on top are roasted milk powder and caramel brittle, while the dramatic touch of rice paper imprinted with book text adds another layer of intrigue to this dessert.
Air-filled cloud bubble
Macadamia rose sorbet with strawberry jelly
Each dish presented at El Celler de Can Roca is a work of art, not only visually but also in terms of taste. I understand why this restaurant is hailed as a “legend” – it truly deserves such recognition. It is not just a meal; it is an experience that enriches one’s life.
After the lunch, in the tranquil setting of Girona, I had the privilege of sitting with Joan Roca for an interview. As he warmly greeted me, the aroma of the food lingered in the air, instantly reminding me of the sensations his dishes evoke. This was my second interview with him after many years – the first one being in Singapore during World’s 50 Best award ceremony few years ago – and on this occasion we discussed the latest developments at Roca. Recently, “El Celler de Can Roca” has shone with the release of a new book, “El Celler de Can Roca CCR Book,” which covers the ten-year journey of Can Roca. It is a cookbook filled with conscience and reflection. Prior to this, Roca had already published twelve books and produced twelve documentaries.
Joan says, “This book is about these last 10 years at Can Roca which was a period of very intense activity. It details our journey from when we were number 1 on the World 50 Best ranking, as well as the efforts, successes, and challenges behind the scenes in our kitchen. This is not just a cookbook; it is a record of the stories and inspirations behind each dish.”
(左)Jordi Roca (中)Joan Roca (右)Josep Roca
Speaking about the impact of the past decade’s journey on him, Joan expresses, “Travel has truly opened a new door for us. New cultures, flavors, and ingredients constantly shape and inspire our creativity. Now, we also have some ingredients from distant lands in our garden.”
In the foreword of the new book, Josep Roca writes, “‘El Celler de Can Roca’ shines with the release of a new book. It is our reflection on the past ten years, a decade of effort and achievement. This book is not just a collection of recipes; it delves deep into our world, our creativity, and our way of working.”
When asked about their work ethic in managing the restaurant, Joan says, “We are lucky enough to have built 2 teams. One is for lunch and the other one is for dinner. My brother and I often work 14 to 16 hours a day. But this is our passion, this is our house, our family. And we feel also very lucky to work with so many talented people around us.” Regarding the future of Can Roca, Joan states, “We hope to continue bringing our passion and professionalism to every dish. We also look forward to the next generation, such as my son and Josep’s son, who bring new enthusiasm.”
The Author and Roca Brothers
(Left)Joan (Middle)Jordi (Right)Josep Roca