Now let me just say this. I had no real desire to go to El Bulli and am not in any way disappointed by the fact that after about 6 years of trying and getting up to 20 of my friends to send emails requesting reservations on my behalf each year that they are closing. Of course, what I really wanted to go to is the offshoot, the second in class, the emulation, the El Bulli outpost that is La Alqueria in Hacienda Bonazuzu just outside Seville.
Before I get to La Alqueria let me ask a (stupid) question; do you know what communism is? Well, of course you do. If you are British you live in a state which although not communist would have been unrecognisable to a 19th century Brit due to the intellectual influence of communism from 1900 onwards. Before that intellectual door opened with Karl Marx (and don’t mention the Hussites or other proto-communists) there was the deserving and undeserving poor and a paternalistic approach from those who lucked out through inbreeding. This suddenly changed with Marx’s Das Kapital and its influence can still be felt today.
This relates to El Bulli because it heralded one of those gastronomic divides in eating (much like Noma appears to be the next one) where science intertwined with food and created something unrecognisable from what had come before. The triple cooked chips you eat at your local gastropub and the flirtation with liquid nitrogen by any “inventive” chef descend from that.
What I kept feeling all the way through the meal at La Alqueria was the result of this. Ok, I recognise this, I’ve seen that before. This chef has moved that on. You served that in a martini glass? Just like if you actually go back to Das Kapital and read it again or the first time, it is now familiar stuff and has been advanced (or at least been written more fluently).
This is not to say that our meal at La Alqueria was not good. It was excellent. It just wasn’t quite as much as I had dreamed it would be.
It started fantastically with one of Ferran Adria’s/ El Bulli’s classics – what I would call a scientific or molecular olive. An enjoyable explosion of liquid olive sealed inside an olive gel that was a demonstration of everything that is challenging about this kind of cooking. We then had a series of precise and obsessively cooked teasers that we loved. The only problem was that the staff were so eager, so helpful, so proud of what Spanish cuisine was that it was non stop, a rotunda of food.
Our favourite teaser was the deconstructed omelette in the martini glass. Now the presentation may have been tacky but it was good. From the rich rich sauce to the onion confit resembling a yolk at the bottom.
We then moved to what I would describe as the starters stage – a white asparagus with a hollandaise and grapefruit and a tuna mayonnaise with a tomato’s interior. Both were precise. Both were excellent and did simple (slightly plebeian) food combinations anew. Still, there was a feeling that everything up to now was preprepared on an El Bulli factory line. I suppose this was always going to be a problem in a restaurant which is avowedly serving up El Bulli “classics” from the past 20 years.
The mains had a different feel. Perhaps La Alqueria’s chef is allowed to run a bit freer with them as they felt more personal and slightly fresher. The best was a rabbit shoulder with a warm apple jelly. It was rich, warm and inspiring. Excellent.
Puddings descended into the what I presume was the El Bulli repertoire again. A beetroot smear pudding with a fake tomato made out of sorbet was half fantastic (the sorbet) and half prepared far too early and baked on smear.
The science came to the fore again with a white chocolate English bread pudding which came out like a powder soufflé and you had to eat in seconds. It is the picture which looks like the end of a cocaine fiesta and made you choke as you inhaled it. Despite the choking it was fun and we both loved it.
We ended the evening by driving back to Seville singing to the Diana Ross songs on the radio at the top of our voice. It wasn’t quite the molecular gastronomy masterclass I was expecting but was probably more enjoyable because of that.
Price – 300 euros for two with wine
PS – the one dish we don’t have a picture of was a razor clam with lemon foam as it looked like the top of a bubble bath (but thankfully tasted better).
PPS – for other posts on Spain click here.