Restaurants in Spain


Can Fabes (formerly known as El Raco de Can Fabes)

Address:       Saint Joan 6, San Celoni

Telephone:      (93) 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).  


On my most recent visit I went for the “surprise” menu, which was as follows.


Razor clams with cauliflower

Langoustine with local mushrooms (oui de reze)

Lobster with a mild curry sauce

Sea bream with red wine sauce

Baby goat


Peach soup

Chocolate soufflé  


A 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!  


I have been here three times.  Last visited: October 2006


El Bulli

Address:       Apartado 30, Rosas (northern tip of Spain, Mediterranean coast)  

Telephone:      (972) 15 04 57


Famous 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.




La Dama

Address:       avenue Diagonal 423, Barcelona

Telephone:      (93) 202 06 86


A 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 March 2003.


Jaume de Provenca, Barcelona

Address:       Provenca 88

Telephone:      (93) 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

Telephone:      (93) 203 84 08


The only 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.


San Sebastian


This is 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 Sebastian

Telephone:      +34 943 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 (7km)

Telephone:      +34 943 31 12 09


A spectacular 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 2002.



Martin Berasategui

Address:       Lasarte-Oria, near San Sebastian (8 km)

Telephone:      +34 943 56 64 71


An unlikely 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 September 2002.



Address:       barrio burriotz6, Olartzun, near San Sebastian (11km)

Telephone:      +34 943 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. 




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