Following only days after our meal at ‘The World’s Best Restaurant’, Sant Pau had to meet a very high benchmark in order to impress us. Interestingly, the restaurant doesn’t feature in the S.Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants list, yet they have maintained three Michelin stars since 2006. On top of this, the owner and head chef Carme Ruscellada has the most Michelin stars for a woman in the world! I pondered if the list had made a huge mistake.
It began on a great note with a very scenic train ride along the Catalonian coastline from Barcelona to a little seaside town called Sant Pol de Mar. The train line ran right next to the Mediterranean and for parts of the trip there were no buildings, fences or anything to impede our view to the sea. Below is a short video of the view from our train.
We arrived a little early in the small seaside town so we took a brisk walk around the streets and along the beach. We made our way to the restaurant, which had a very Mediterranean façade with vibrant colours of blue, lemon and touches of red.
Inside, was a pool table, with all the equipment displayed and covered by a glass table top. It gave a cool vibe upon entering.
Walking into the dining room, it was clear the tables and chairs were positioned to make the most of the diners view over the Mediterranean Sea. While we weren’t seated at the best table we were still in a good position which maintained a view to the water.
The menus gave two options. One enabled you to choose your own dishes from a one page list or opt for the 165€ degustation menu. Being a once in a lifetime visit we chose the degustation menu, titled “A Plethora of Natural & Gastronomic Colours” with each dish on the menu based around a colour.
We began with Amber: Jellyfish, rice noodles, bacon, peanuts, curry, turmeric. The jelly, rice noodles and crunchy peanuts was more complex than at first expected, providing a suprising combination of textures. The curry flavour was pronounced and complemented the other Asian ingredients.
When we saw the next dish, Fuchsia: foal loin, beetroot, brick pastry, we were apprehensive about the use of young horse in the dish. When it arrived we were surprised to see a little red cornet. The pastry was incredibly crunchy with a strong beetroot flavour but neither Dad, Pop or I could detect the taste of meat.
Violet: sea anemone, leek, carrot, violet was presented as a crunchy fried ball with a thick violet coloured sauce. The flavours in this dish are quite hard to describe but there was a distinctive seafood flavour from the sea anemone.
The next dish was called Grey: aubergine, lemon, celery, vermouth, oyster leaf and looked like an actual oyster with some chopped herb on top. The strange thing was that it tasted like an oyster with the same texture too! The oyster flavour came from the oyster leaves while the aubergine was cooked to resemble the texture of an oyster and the sauce provided a sharp contrast. A crazy but well executed dish.
At this stage the house-baked bread was brought out. It was so good we couldn’t restrain ourselves. It had a crusty exterior and soft fluffy interior – it was perfect!
On the back of our menu was a recipe for the next course, which was titled Green: cod, olives, pepper, parsley, plankton. Shaped as a fish, there was a cod tartar with a green plankton gelatine skin on top. Smeared as waves underneath was a green pepper mayonnaise. The cod was quite soft and went well with the creaminess of the mayo.
I considered that the next course was the best dish of the trip. It was called Yellow: king prawn, saffron, egg paste, Sansho pepper and featured the best sauce I have ever eaten. The sauce was silky and had a pungent prawn flavour yet was balanced perfectly with the saffron. The prawns hidden beneath a thin pasta sheet were expertly cooked. What a dish!
The next dish showcased Carme’s understanding and appreciation of vegetables and traditional Catalan cooking. The dish was called Red: artichoke hearts, tomato, duroc pork dewlap and had a great contrast of textures from the smooth green puree to the artichokes with a slight bite to the crisp cracker with tomato dust.
Carme’s other restaurant in Tokyo, which holds two Michelin stars, is where she combines her love of both Catalan and Japanese cuisine. Orange: gambas, romesco dashi, potato and pumpkin combined the traditional Catalan romesco sauce with Japanese dashi to create a light subtly-flavoured sauce that was poured onto the big prawns and potato balls in front of us. Once again the prawns were cooked al dente, maintaining their texture and sweetness.
Black: monkfish, black garlic, vegetables arrived at the table looking very dramatic with the black standing out on the plate. Once we cracked into the fish it revealed stark white flesh that was beautifully sweet like lobster meat. The tempura vegetables provided a crisp element contrasting nicely with the delicate monkfish.
The last savoury dish arrived with some theatre to it. Described as White: beef chuck, custard cheese dim sum we were quite shocked when an Asian looking steamed bun arrived. We were instructed to crack the bun open and pour the sauce inside. The meat inside was slow-cooked and very tender. The dim sum pastry was quite unexpected in that it tasted like cheese and melted in your mouth. The sauce was laced with truffle and it was quite a mind-blowing dish to finish the savoury part of the meal.
Instead of being served a cheese plate at this point of the meal, the waiter brought out Maroon: Tou dels Til.lers Roi cheese, HKM sauce, pistachio sponge. This dish is difficult to explain as all the flavours of a cheese board were there from the slightly sweet jelly on top, which tasted like quince paste to the slightly salty cheese to the quite hard pistachio sponge on the base. It was a fantastic take on the typical cheese board.
The first dessert was called Blue: butterfly pea flower foam, sea water sorbet and is probably the strangest dessert I have eaten so far. The white part was salty and the purple foam was faintly flavoured yet very light and airy. A touch of good quality olive oil was drizzled on top, which went perfectly with the strong saltiness of the white sorbet.
At this point of the meal Carme came out from the kitchen and had a chat to us about the meal and we took a photo with her. I really like this touch and wish more restaurants would do the same as it enhances the dining experience.
I can’t really remember too much about the next course, which was called Beige: toast milk powder, tea veil, pink endive, rocket, orange but it had a really crunchy biscuit and toasty notes throughout the dish.
The last dessert, called Gold: 24k gold shavings, chocolate, cream, whisky, was decadent and spectacular. Presented as a log, one crack revealed the individual elements laid out in a row. There was one element, which featured sweet potato and was delectable with the rich chocolate. Here’s a little video of me cracking into the log.
When I thought all the surprises were over, a large dragon made from different chocolates, pastries and cookies was placed before us. The flavours were puff pastry with angel hair and pine nuts, chocolate cookie, spiced cookie, coconut and yuzu cookie, liquorice and sherbet philo, black chocolate and white chocolate and wafer. I loved every single flavour and was amazed with how unique the petit fours are at Sant Pau.
At this point our waitress Rie, an incredible host during our lunch, allowed us to go downstairs and walk through the kitchen and take more photos. We had a good chat to Rie in the courtyard about all of Carme’s restaurants and gave our thanks for her great service, which had elevated our experience.
We left the restaurant feeling very happy knowing our lunch at Sant Pau would go down as one of the greatest dining experience we have ever had.
Although we had dined at El Celler de Can Roca only days earlier, I can say that without a doubt Sant Pau compares equally favourable with ‘the best restaurant in the world.’ In fact, it makes me question the reliability of dining lists when a restaurant such as Sant Pau doesn’t even make the top 100.
If you are planning to stay in Barcelona, don’t hesitate to make a reservation at Sant Pau. From the train journey, to the location, to Carme’s traditional yet mind-blowing food, trust me, you will be awed by it!