Unless you know the right person, booking a table at El Bulli (Ferran Adri's acclaimed restaurant on the north-east Mediterranean coast of Spain) can become a never-ending quest. However, if you are keen to try Adri's food now, there are ways to jump the queue.
One is the Hacienda Benazuza in Seville - one of two consultancies that Adri is involved with in Spain. The other is the one-Michelin-starred La Terraza del Casino in Madrid, a public restaurant within a private club, where Adri has been the consultant chef since 1998.
La Terraza's head chef Paco Roncero spent three years under Adri at El Bulli, and executes the master's philosophy to perfection at the 65-seat restaurant. The restaurant occupies a rooftop terrace in the summer overlooking the Spanish capital. Diners can either choose from an la carte menu offering dishes like those listed in the panel or, for a fix of Ferran, go straight to the
We chose the tasting menu, and soon were being presented with a cocktail prepared in front of us with great theatricality. Liquid nitrogen was poured over a combination of cachaca (40% proof Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane) and lime syrup, then whisked vigorously until it turned into a sorbet. Refreshing and highly alcoholic, the cocktail-sorbet was served in a lime skin - once we had all consumed a tiny spoonful of tarragon pure. A selection of accompaniments included black olive bread ravioli, tempura-style hazelnuts, violet potato crisps, and a caramelised algae lollipop, which provided a wonderful contrast between saltiness and sweetness.
Then came a minute apple jelly in which a blob of balsamic vinegar was suspended. It was topped with crushed junipers. This was followed by a delicious slice of foie gras encased between two slices of crispy gingerbread. Next were three tapas dishes. The first was an Adri staple from El Bulli - melon caviar - created by dropping a combination of melon juice and algae into a solution of calcium chloride. The resulting melon-flavoured balls of caviar, however, served topped with passion fruit seeds and mint leaves in caviar tins, were disappointing. It was clever, but the flavour was not a patch on the fresh slice of melon I'd had the same morning for breakfast.
Following this was our second liquid nitrogen-produced sorbet of the evening, this time in the form of an almond and garlic soup.
nfortunately, the taste was synthetic and excessively salty. However, the final tapas was a great improvement. A grilled square of watermelon was topped with a tomato confit served warm with a reduction of balsamic vinegar and topped with basil and crushed pistachios. The combination of intense flavours was a hit.
The next four dishes were described as main courses and were, largely, miniaturised versions of recognisable dishes. First was an excellent ice-cold gazpacho with slivers of cucumber and finely chopped tomatoes poured into bowls containing huge chunks of lobster and drizzled with basil oil. Then came barely poached eggs served on a bed of lightly steamed asparagus and accompanied by slivers of wild mushrooms and truffles. Next were lightly cooked triangles of John Dory with a crispy charcoal skin topped with splodges of aubergine and tomato pure. Rounding off the savoury dishes was the tenderest and tastiest piece of suckling pig I've ever eaten - cooked, we were told, at a very low temperature - with a thin sliver of crackling on top. A sweet beetroot pure and puddle of cava sauce were well-judged accompaniments.
While Adri was not in the kitchen, the tasting menu at La Terraza was a fun experience, and one that undoubtedly gives a flavour of his food and philosophy. For me, some dishes just seemed an attempt to bamboozle the diner rather than tickle the taste-buds. Others, though, were brilliantly executed and will remain in the memory for a very long time.
What's on the menu
La Terraza del Casino, Alcal 15, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Tel: 00 34 915 218 700