It's a bit of a tradition for people who are manage to wangle a reservation at El Bulli to also snuffle out a small one-man place in a back street in Roses which Ferran Adria has gone on record as describing as his Platonic ideal of a restaurant.
It's called Rafa's and it is a tennis-themed sports bar owned by Rafa Nadal with an all you can eat buffet and slush ice machine. Only kidding: it's a seafood place run by the eponymous Rafa who serves whatever has been caught in the Mediterannea 400 metres from his front door every day. Adria raves about Rafa's reverence for his ingredients and his restaurant's locavore credentials and, understandably considering that wherever he travels in the world there is a 20-course tasting menu waiting for him as a gift from a star-struck chef who wants to impress the father of modern gastronomy, he especially appreciates its simplicity.
Tragically, when we turned up at the address I had found for Rafa's for lunch the day of our reservation at El Bulli, this is what we found.
Untragically, it was open for lunch the next day and, despite having put away 47 courses plus a case of chocolates the night before, we were hungry.
We pointed at a bunch of stuff in his cabinet, and Rafa set to work preparing it, then cooking it on his grill (everything is grilled).
There are no sauces, no stocks, no vegetables as far as I could see, just the freshest local seafood dressed with olive oil and salt.
This was sea cucumber. Not all that flavoursome, but with a great texture not unlike tender squid.
If it hadn't been for these langoustines, the bill would have been very moderate, as it was it was still reasonable, and the sweet, juicy langoustine were well worth it.
Just as we were finishing, a couple of young lads came in with a tray of sea urchins, perhaps my favourite thing in all the world (as in: 1, wife and children, 2, sea urchins, 3, My panache, 4, All of my property etc.)
You can forget about all those classic, exclusive, high-rolling gourmet specialities – oysters, caviar, that coffee which is made from civet poo, Amedei chocolate, Strawberry Ribena, and so on – fresh sea urchins trump them all. They are like… like if mermaids made vanilla ice cream. I asked how much they cost, expecting something absurd (€5-8, maybe?). They cost €1 a piece.
The first of several:
It may not have been quite so imaginative, pioneering, refined or surprising as the meal which had preceded it at El Bulli the evening before, but lunch at Rafa's is right up there in the top five meals of all time, for me, and every bit as memorable.