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Restaurant Review: El Bulli Hotel – La Alqueria in Hacienda Bonazuzu outside of Seville (2*)

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.

A jar of 'Molecular Olives'

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.

10 Comments

  1. Nordic Nibbler

    Great pictures Tom, I always enjoy reading your blog. You make a very interesting point about timing and context of cuisine. I first stayed at Hacienda Benazuza in 2001 and for want of anywhere else decided to eat at the hotel´s restaurant. I was totally amazed by the meal I had that night, the genius of the cooking just blew me away. I had never heard of El Bulli or Adria and its a meal that lives on in my memory (the breakfast there was also the stuff of dreams).

    9 years and many restaurant meals later would the same meal today cause such a reaction? Probably not, I fear. There´s a time and place for food and people´s tastes and trends change and evolve. Good food, flawlessly executed will always be a winner in my book, but for that special ”wow” factor something else is needed. As you say, local pubs are now dabbling with stuff poached in nitrogen which is probably as sure a sign as any that this sort of food, as espoused at El Bulli, Fat Duck, WD-50, Moto et al, is now well past its sell-by date in terms of being innovative. I wonder what the next global food ”movement” is going to be and where it will come from?

  2. Lost in the Larder

    Absolutely amazing photos guys! really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

  3. Kavey

    Very interesting review and thoughts on time and place of food…

  4. Best Hotel Reviews

    WOW, the pictures are the best man… good job!

  5. Tom

    Lost in the Larder/ Best Hotel Reviews – thanks, glad you like the pictures. I have to admit that *some* of them are the work of Jen who is rather more skilled than me… I still only shoot semi manual (which she mocks me for).

    Nordic Nibbler – thanks for the comments. My guess on the next movement is the whole Noma pick your own, localised, intense variation on what is available style of cooking. I have had some unsuccessful attempts at that in the UK where everything has goats curd and the flavours can be a bit muted. I've also had some great successes so who knows. Personally I love fusion and hope that instead of localising the influences become even more global whilst the sourcing can be local (as it should be for better produce)

    That said, that is what I think it might be in Europe. In Asia, as I am slowly coming to realise, these food trends pass completely unregarded outside of some high level hotel restaurants and they have a law unto themselves on what good produce is and whether it is important to a dish.

    Kavey – glad you enjoyed. I find the same thing sometimes when you revisit old films you loved or architecture which blew you away the first time… your further experiences can diminish what is still amazing due to the context.

  6. Anonymous

    Great pics, but they don't flow with the post. It was difficult to tell what was what. I'd arrange the pictures to go along with the story, other then that, great post.

  7. Tom

    Anon – agreed. What I had intended to do was (as I have done previously) put in a small font after each dish what it was and its place in the overall meal. However, blogger's terrible formatting turned it into a nightmare so I gave up.

    We are hopefully moving to wordpress sometime… as soon as I can spend some time fiddling with templates.

  8. Waleed

    Is this place still open for business?

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