Can Fabes (formerly known as El Raco de Can Fabes)
Joan 6, San Celoni
867 28 51
About 30 miles from Barcelona, a 45 minute drive. It is in a very small town, and has a simple,
almost rustic dining room. The food
however, is anything but, with remarkably assured technique in harmony with the
best of local ingredients. Sadly the
bargain basement wine list has been updated for the modern world, though
mark-ups are still very fair by London standards; the superb Alion is not on the
list but is nonetheless available if you ask the wine waiter. Torres Mas La Plana is available in several vintages and is about twice retial price in London. I
would actually rank the food here in the upper quartile of 3 star Michelin
restaurants I have visited anywhere.
Highlights from one meal include a spectacular soup of langoustine
served inside a hollowed-out sea urchin, some stunning salt cod and perhaps the
best passion fruit soufflé I have ever eaten.
The nice thing is that the food, for all its great technique, is
definitely Spanish rather than French (by contrast, the technically perfect 3
star places in Germany uniformly stick to classic French, as if afraid to
explore their own cuisine). If you are
staying in Barcelona, you can either get there by road or train. Either get a taxi to take you out there and
back (somewhat pricey), or take a train from the main Barcelona station to St Celoni, which is an absurdly cheap 3 Euros return fare
(there is then a 15 minute walk at the other end from the little station, as
the restaurant is at the opposite end of the sleepy town. The sadly un-scenic train journey takes about
50 minutes, with lots of stops).
my most recent visit I went for the “surprise” menu, which was as follows.
clams with cauliflower
with local mushrooms (oui de reze)
with a mild curry sauce
bream with red wine sauce
treat was to have a glass of 1851 Solera sherry,
which is made rather like a Pedro Ximines sherry. The home-made breads are excellent here, and
on the food front the highlights were a perfect langoustine and superb local
mushrooms, which worked very well together.
It was also impossible to fault the chocolate soufflé, while the lobster
was also very tender. I wondered whether
it was quite as good tonight though as on previous visits. Still well worth trying!
have been here three times. Last
visited: October 2006
Address: Apartado 30, Rosas (northern tip of Spain, Mediterranean
15 04 57
for its remote location a 40 minute drive up a winding cliff road, as well as
for its very inventive cooking. This is
not a place you will have trouble forming a strong opinion of. You get various menu options, most involving
many small dishes, almost in the style of tapas. The taste and flavour combinations are
extremely unusual and challenging e.g. potato with coffee gelee,
or a sort of pea soup served in a wine glass, hot at one end, cold at the
other, to be downed in one gulp. There
are virtually no conventional dishes here.
Service is precious, to put it mildly.
I don’t mind experimentation if it works, as done by Mark Veyrat at Auberge de l’Eridan (see my French food notes on this web site) or l’Arnsbourg in Alsace.
Weird combinations can be stimulating and, if not reliably good, at
least interesting. My problem with El Bulli is not with the experimentation but the way that, for
me at least, almost none of the experiments actually work. When semi-conventional dishes appear their
execution is good, but not top notch.
For me this is an Emperor’s new clothes situation, with critics blindly
agreeing that the chef is a genius, many of whom who have never made it up here
at all. Perhaps I am just missing the
point, but I did not enjoy this experience one bit. Clearly, lots of influential experts
including Michelin (3 stars) disagree, but be warned. If you just find this pretentious cooking
with indifferent execution, you heard it here first. The cooking here was neatly summed up in
Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” – “El Bulli….shock effect food”.
Last visited July 1999.
Diagonal 423, Barcelona
202 06 86
delightful classical restaurant in central Barcelona, with a small but very pretty
dining room upstairs
in an elegant building.
Service is extremely good, much better than the 1 Michelin star would
indicate. The cooking is a cross between
French and some Spanish dishes, and I found it the most reliable of the
restaurants in Barcelona itself.
The cooking is reliable rather than striking, with most dishes around
the 6/10 in Good Food Guide terms e.g. a fine lobster
paella, prettily displayed. Prices are
fair for the level of cooking. Three
visits. Last visited
Jaume de Provenca,
Address: Provenca 88
430 00 29
A very simple, modern dining room with lots of
wood panelling, serving very competent French dishes mixed in with some Spanish
influence. This gets 1 Michelin star and
I think that is fair. I marked it 6/10
in Good Food Guide terms, which is at the low end of 1 Michelin star. Reasonable prices – around £50 a head plus
wine. Last visited July 1999.
Address: Betran I Rozpide 16, Barcelona
203 84 08
two-star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona, located in a very unlikely area near
the football stadium, at the base of an apartment block. I had a very mixed meal indeed, with lazy and
uninterested service. I would have rated
this only 3/10 to 4/10 in the Good Good Guide, way
below 1 Michelin star, never mind 2 stars.
My advice is to skip this and go to La Dama. Last visited July 1999.
an attractive seaside resort with elegant buildings, a pleasant bay and three
beautiful beaches, and a river running through the town. Stay at the elegant Maria Cristina
hotel. The rooms on the 5th
floor are rooftop and have private terraces.
Room 501 has the largest of these.
Address: atto de Miracruz 21, San
943 27 84 65
This 3 star
Michelin restaurant specialises in Basque cooking. It is a family-run affair, with the daughter
now sharing the cooking duties with the original chef. The restaurant is on the outskirts of San Sebastian (5 minute taxi drive), the dining room spread over two floors. Service is attentive and friendly. Breads are of good quality, and as you peruse
the short menu you are presented with amuse guele. On our first visit here in 1999 we had a little., very fresh sardine on a thin pastry base, garnished
with tomato and herbs. This was
excellent, but even better was a stunning tortilla pancake on a tapioca base;
this may not sound appealing but the warm potato melted in the mouth; a
remarkable dish (10/10). I started with
langoustine salad, several perfect langoustines sautéed and then served in a
little bowl with perfect green salad leaves and a light sauce of the langoustines
(10/10). Stella had “potato accordion”,
slices of fried potato, served with tender prawns in a saffron sauce
(8/10). For main course sole was served
as several baby fillets, with a creamy sauce that supposedly had baby beans in,
but which were hard to discern; there were some excellent walnuts as a garnish
(7/10). I had pigeon, several tender
medallions with a rather oddly matched light stock that was jellied, with a few
baby carrots and beans. The pigeon was excellent, but the sauce tasted like a
chicken stock and did not stand up well to the pigeon (6/10). Cheeses were entirely from the local area and
were in good condition. For dessert
chocolate fondant was reasonable (5/10) rather than stunning. Coffee was good, served with capable petit
fours. The wine list is very deep in
Spanish wines, plus a selection from abroad, and very fairly priced. Vega Sicilia 1981
was around £100, which is retail in the UK, if you could find it. It is nice to see a restaurant cooking
regional dishes rather than trying to mimic French, though the limitations of
Basque cuisine show in the sauces and the desserts, which do not match the best
in France. Still,
an excellent place: very good value. The
food (including service) was less than £50 for four courses.
The food is
still excellent, perhaps 8/10 overall in Good Food Guide terms. The price of the Vega Sicilia
has sadly risen, but only to a mark-up of around 50%. On this meal a starter of tuna with “blue”
potatoes (stained with red onion juice) was cooked rare and was excellent
(8/10) while a dish of prawns with prunes was interesting but perhaps 6/10, as
was a salad of crayfish. A roast lobster
main course was cooked well enough but was very plain (6/10) while sole with a
sauce of garbanzo peas was better (7/10).
This time desserts shone out as the highlight, with a very fine
chocolate fondant (unlike the previous visit) and a perfect lemon ice
cream. Last visited September 2002
Address: paseo del Padre Orcolaga
56, near San Sebastian
943 31 12 09
hillside vista overlooking the ocean means that the best time to visit here is
either at lunch or on an evening with a late sunset e.g. in late June. The décor is modern, with the dining room on
two levels and a separate bar. Breads
were pleasant rolls but may not have been home-made (5/10). For amuse guele
there was an excellent fresh sardine in an apple sauce (9/10) and a much odder
cold dish of pasta and local cheese (4/10).
To start with a pair of scallops with an outer shell of artichokes were
excellent (7/10) while a traditional fish soup was very well made, with superb
aioli (6/10). Baked lobster with French
beans was delicately cooked (8/10) while tuna seared lightly was served with a
sauce of local yellow pepper and, oddly, a fried egg (7/10). Carrot cake with a carrot sorbet was ordinary
(4/10) while local cheeses were in good condition if generally uninspiring
(5/10). There is an elaborate menu of
coffees and teas, and wine prices are absurdly low to London eyes – Vega Sicilia
Unico 1981 (a great year) is just GBP 100, which is
below retail price in London, supposing you could find it. Overall perhaps 6/10. Last visited September
Address: Lasarte-Oria, near San Sebastian (8 km)
943 56 64 71
setting in a residential area, with an airy dining room, a tiled floor and
plenty of space; it has rather odd bottle-green walls of the style in old London private clubs. Amuse guele turned
out to be the highlight, with excellent gazpacho, a
little tuna on tapenade, a local cheese with bacon and a single clam
served in its shell with aioli (8/10 for amuse guele). The cooking here generally aims at
traditional Basque, which has a tendency towards gelatinous textures. As in Chinese cooking, these appeal to some
but not generally to those used to more conventional foods (such as me). I found a liquefied prawn and scallop jelly
therefore interesting but not especially enjoyable (3/10, but perhaps this is
the very finest liquefied prawn you will taste?). A cube of puff pastry with smoked eel, spring
onions, foie gras and apple
was more enjoyable, the odd sounding mix of ingredients providing a quite
effective set of contrasts (7/10).
However smoked salmon in a cream broth with a couple of egg yolks tasted
exactly as it sounds i.e. there was no obvious relationship between the
relatively pleasant but very ordinary ingredients (3/10). The local speciality, hake cheek with pil pil sauce, is supposed to
contain garlic and chilli, but in this case did neither, just retaining the
gelatinous texture with none of the balancing spice (1/10? but pretty
nasty). Turbot was more classically
prepared but cooked for too long, with a simple pistachio and cream sauce
(5/10). An apple pie and ice cream was a
relief, but quite ordinary (5/10) while chocolate fondant with caramel and
cinnamon was also reasonable but still only 5/10. Bread was home made and excellent, and
service was faultless, but this is a most difficult meal to mark. Really I found it just 5/10 and would not
wish to return, yet this now has three Michelin stars, something I find almost
incomprehensible. On the bright side,
wine is priced as fairly as usual in Spain, with Vega Sicilia
Unico at around £100 i.e. retail, and a Pedro Ximines sherry from 1827 (no typo!) at just a few euros a
glass. Last visited
burriotz6, Olartzun, near San Sebastian (11km)
943 49 12 28
A pleasant, relaxed setting in a small village near San Sebastian.
Service was friendly and very capable throughout. The style here is Basque but is not trying to
push any experimental boundaries, and is the better for it. An amuse guele was
a simple hot soup with ham (5/10). I
started with a well-made risotto of foie gras and truffles made with a stock of roast pigeon juices,
giving a darker, more intense flavour than usual (7/10). Truffled egg yolk
with cod brandade was capable (6/10) as was tuna
stuffed with tomatoes and a thin olive sauce (7/10). I had a very rare pigeon with truffled cabbage indeed which was a prime candidate for
food poisoning I suffered the following day, but tasted good at the time
(7/10). Apple pie and sorbet were fine
(5/10) and a lemon ice cream with a warm almond cake was simple and well made
(5/10). Wine prices were very fair, as
usual. Overall perhaps 6/10, but watch
out for the pigeon! Last
visited September 2002.