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Nov 30, 2013 12:44 PM

El celler de Can Roca - Way too over-rated

This was our second visit to El Celler de Can Roca. First time was over 5 years ago and I remember finding El Celler deserving of its 2 star Michelin at that time, though not one that was going out of the way of what is expected from a good 2 star Michelin (read: a good but not an great 2 star Michelin). Then in September 2013, we seized the opportunity of a hard earned reservation (1 year) at El Celler as an excuse to also re-visit France. We basically spent just that 1 day in Spain with the sole excuse of dining at El Celler then moved on to France. Well, given that Restaurant Magazine has rated El Celler as World's #1 restaurant and in light of their now 3 star Michelin, we logically hoped that the meal would have been way better than what we have experienced over 5 years ago. Unfortunately, even with food items that were different, it was even less impressive. I mean, what they are doing is good, make no mistake about that, and would certainly impress people who do not dine a lot at this calibre of restaurant or cooks with experiences in casual restaurants, but if you are used to the usual high level expected among, say, a typical top flight world class gastro destination, you'll find the cooking level ordinary (their gimmicks with the olive tree is déjà vu, their Elderflower infusion is very pretty to espy, but really, at this level, more is expected, especially in terms of the work of the flavors, charcoal-grilling proteins is sublime, but again...not revelatory for this standing of dining, , even the desserts...although good... are not that special for this level of dining ). I love the Roca brothers, have the highest respect for their hard work (few tables have worked that hard to earn the highest respect) and I always had some good time here, and we'll go back there, but in my view, their job is way too over-rated (if this is #1 world's restaurant, then Noma and the Fat Duck, let alone Alinéa in Chicago --we are not even fans of those three tables --- deserve better. I am sorry to insist on this, but really, if you have spent years cooking at high level, you won't fail to understand what I mean). Again, a really great table, an amazing value for what you problem is when people try to sell it as what it is NOT: world's #1 table. That can't be the case. As best value restaurant in the world, it will get my vote with not one single hesitation. As best restaurant in the world, it would make my top 50, indeed, but not a top 20. Honestly, we love Spain and El Celler is a place we enjoy visiting. We are just not comfortable with overselling as what it is NOT.

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  1. So what did you eat, what did you like and what did you dislike? A few food details, please.

    What restaurants in Spain do you love?

    1 Reply
    1. re: erica

      Hi Erica: Thanks for your question. So, as explained, disliked: the déjà vu gimmicky take on the olives, the desserts, the elderflower course. The proteins (so, roasted chicken in my case, was casual /normal stuff anyone with basic cooking skills would have been able to cook) Liked: no dish in particular, but as mentioned, we had great experience here (well treated, and we love Spain). In Spain, we loved: Abac, DiverXO, plenty of other less popular eateries but it really does not matter given that we had none of them in mind when eating at El Celler (El Celler, we judged it as a restaurant that's known as one WORLD'S finest, not a competitor of our favourite eateries in Spain, which are countless since we are really fond of plenty of the casual / traditional eateries of Madrid as well as Southern no fair comparison to make with a place like El Celler that needs to be judged as a completely different type of restaurant ). What we liked have no impact on our appreciation of El Celler (we've cooked for 20 years, both my wife and I, so we do not trade in terms of this is great because that other restaurant is bad, but we certainly know what to expect at X standard of dining) .Again, as I stated: we love El Celler (especially for its cost performance) but found the idea of electing it as world's #1 over-rated. To each, their own, but that is our personal/subjective opinion, of course.

    2. Next someone is going to say that Mugaritz is not really the # 4 restaurant in the entire world?

      Or that Arzak is seriously overrated at # 8 since Juan Mari has been coasting for the past few years?

      A lot of people, including Spanish chefs like Martín Berasategui in an El Pais article, have long claimed that the Pellegrino rankings are a “patraña”, manipulated by people in the Spanish tourist agencies to boost Spanish restaurants and to stick it to Michelin. It seems to have worked well thus far.

      1 Reply
      1. re: willyum

        It's the common misconception about the list that it is really the best of the best. It's really a list of the best places top critics and chefs have eaten in over the last 18 months of so. That gives a very different result i.e. it is really going to focus on the new and innovative, places that are pushing the envelope. Use Michelin for the broad view, use the Top 50 to find the ones that are on trend, and always triangulate with lots of trusted reviewers.