Magali, one of our oldest friends and my lawyer refuses to charge me for her services; so a year and a half ago we agreed that I would pay in kind. In short, I would come up with the impossible, a reservation at Ferran Adrian’s El Bulli restaurant in Rosès just over the Spanish border. We would compliment this with an all-expenses paid weekend in Barcelona.
My contact at El Bulli came up with the goods and a date was set, 23rd September, and we were all systems go. Now a reservation to El Bulli is a rare and precious thing, and it was in blind panic that I heard France 2 announce that El Bulli was to close for two years…heureusement, it was just a false alarm. El Bulli is to close but only in 2012 so my reservation and pride were left intact.
On Wednesday evening Elodie and I set off for Marseilles with my feeling the fatigue of three full days of work, 6 am to 11 pm inclusive. Or so I thought. During the night a huge abcess blew up in my thigh and promptly emptied itself leaving me with a light temperature but a liberated optimism to go to Spain the next morning. And so we set off arriving in Rosès early evening. Attempting a siesta I had a severe bout of shivers which was calmed just in the nick of time for our arrival at the restaurant, and the wonders of Paracetemol opened up a miraculous window for me to enjoy with Mik, Elodie and Magali what has been deemed the world’s greatest restaurant.
Our reception was delightful, warm and generous, and after a tour of the kitchen and an introduction to Ferran we were seated at exactly the same table as during my first visit. Juli treated us to a bottle of delicious Gosset champagne and the procession commenced.
Three delicious cocktails led us into the first of 36 differents mets, broadly speaking following a savoury, then fishy then meaty theme. This of course does not to justice to the sheer invention and variety of Ferran Aria’s cuisine; it is a marvel both in flavour and texture. Not everything hits the spot, and notably I found a couple of cheese based dishes just a little overpowering.
We followed the champagne with a bottle of Mauro Crianza 2002, an unfancied year in he Ribeiro del Duero, but a successful wine from one of Spain”s most esteemed wine makers. If I was to fault it I would have to say the tannins are a bit tough, but the fruit is in no way diluted and the alcohol is right up there, although I suspect 13.5 is an understatement.
As the meal ran on, and are bellies filled, so the Mauro emptied. You don’t really go to El Bulli for the wine, and all expenses paid or not, I was not going down the Unico path – though 330 euros seems a pretty good price for the 1990. As I leafed through the wine list I fell upon a small list of vintages from Languedoc’s La Grange des Peres, in its red version a mourvedre and syrah based odd-ball by most accounts the equal of Guigals Côte Rôtie La Mouline. My friend and colleague Pierre Boinet had given me a bottle way back in 1999 of the 1996 vintage, and I had taken this to Italy last year to taste with Jurij Fiore of Poggio Scalette. Unfortunately, the opportunity to drink it never arrived but Jurij later confirmed that the bottle was a true marvel which he was able to share with his father Vittorio anda friend from Belgium.
Anyway, here was that same vintage on the list at 72 euros, surely a steal for a fourteen year old wine and just begging to be ordered. And although a whole bottle proved too much for us, Magali does not drink wine, only Champagne, poor waif, it was stupendous: a bright, clear crimson, it has lost the deep colour of its youth and it exists now within light tannic shell; lovely flavours of plumb and damson filling out the palette, whilst exhibiting a fine acidity that drives the wineon. After finishing my glass, I continued to take sips of Elodie’s and it is clear the wine has meat enough to last a good few years yet.
We finished off the evenoing with café and an amazing array of petits fours on the enclosed terasse, waves lapping behind our heads in a glorious Indian summer heat.
We went back to our hotel and hit the sack. And the shit hit the fan with abundance. My health disintegrated into a spiral of severe shivers, vomiting and insomnia. At seven the carrottes were cuites and I prepared mys elf for the final leg of our odyssey, a fever-ridden rush back to Dijon and our friend Nathalie in A & E.
Elodie showed amazing calm and strength and after wavering as to whether to deliver me to Marseilles, we arrived in Dijon at eight thirty in the evening. With a forty plus temperature and violent shivers I was hooked up to drips, scanned and sliced open at three in the morning.
It transpires that it was a close run thing, I really did come close to passing over to the dark side, and I can tell you the effect on my morale was devastating. However, that didn’t happen and I’m still here to tell the tale. It is somewhat amusing to think that my epitaph might have read: Last supper, El Bulli. That would have been really going out in style.
But hey, I’m still here and although I suspect that someone out there is really out to get me, there is also a guardian angel that let me have five hours of gastronomic and vinuous heaven before dragging me back into the mire.
It ain’t all bad and the food really was great. Those sea anenomes… just thinking about the makes me want to weep!
Juli and Ferran, I salute you.