Voted the World’s Best Restaurant five times in the San Pellegrino Awards, El Bulli is based in Girona, Spain. The Guardian newspaper reports that it seats fifty diners, although each seat is in demand 400 times over (The Guardian). Its current owner Ferran Adrià is seen as a groundbreaking chef and has been described by critics as a “genuis”.
Despite its success, there have been murmurings in the press of the kitchen’s closure after it was reported that the restaurant was not making money. Here is a look at the prestigious ElBulli restaurant in Spain.
The History of ElBulli, Spain
ElBulli’s website is open about its beginnings. In 1961 a German doctor and his wife bought the land where ElBulli now stands and started inviting people for barbeques. Shortly after, planning permission was given for a mini-golf installation and in 1963 a bar was added. In 1964 the first official restaurant was opened. The restaurant enjoyed some success throughout the decades but was propelled into the world’s consciousness by Ferran Adrià, who bough it in 1990. By 2002 it had achieved its first San Pellegrino award, giving it worldwide notoriety. It was knocked off the top spot the following year but regained it in 2006 and held onto it until 2010, when it was awarded to Denmark’s Noma.
El Bulli’s worldwide recognition during this period gave it huge publicity, which was fuelled by the publication of a number of books. One of these, Un Dia en ElBulli was published in 2007 which presents twenty-four hours in the life of the restaurant in 300 pages. In the same year, Adrià was awarded an honorary degree by the Faculty of Chemistry in the University of Barcelona. He achieved another in 2008, this time from the University of Aberdeen. Although ElBulli is no longer classed as the World’s Best Restaurant, it does stands firmly today in the top five of the San Pellegrino list.
Food Served at El Bulli
Ferran Adrià belongs to the experimental world of cooking, an area in which British chef Heston Blumenthal has also enjoyed huge success. Preparing food becomes a real chemistry and these chefs look for ways to satisfy our hungry appetites other than through taste alone. The ElBulli website states that taste is not the only sense that can be stimulated through food. Smell and sight can be stimulated as well as touch. Many dishes are taken to the table and “finished” there by serving staff or by the customers themselves – for example the diner pours a sauce themselves over the dish from a small jug and gets involved in the total experience. Raviolo/Mozzarella Chewing Gum is one Willy Wonka-esque suggestion that has appeared on the menu, as well as Samphire Salad with Razor Shells and Menthol Air.
In an article published in The Guardian (If the World’s Greatest Chef Cooked for a Living, He’d Starve), John Carlin analyses Ferran Adrià’s art of deconstruction. Adrià takes food apart to its bare essentials so that a simple omelette becomes a plate of potato foam, onion pureé and egg with a sabayon. ElBulli’s website states that it believes “all products have the same gastronomic value, regardless of price”.
Price may be however one thing to consider when eating at ElBulli, should you be lucky enough to secure a seat. Diners don’t expect to eat at the World’s Best Restaurant for pennies. An average meal with wine will set you back around €250 (The Guardian), although the wine list is another subject entirely. The 154-page wine list at ElBulli lists red, white and sparkling wines which vary widely in price. A bottle of 1996 Bollinger is listed at €428, whereas a bottle of 1989 Le Montrachet will set you back €3,745. It is easy to baulk at these prices. But the diner has to remember that their €250 is buying them a piece of history – the work of a “genius” and an eating sensation that is designed to push the boundaries of taste and stimulate our other senses. In this respect, the concept and food at ElBulli somehow transcends the subject of price.
The Future of ElBulli
Despite whisperings of its closure, Ferran Adrià still has plans for ElBulli. The website presents the idea that the restaurant will become an “Academy” for 20-25 aspiring chefs to train in, beginning in 2014. He insists that the restaurant will remain open during this time and despite the gossip there seem to be no real plans for its closure.
Demand is as high as ever, with the restaurant open only six months of the year (April-September) and the whole season is usually fully booked on the first day of opening. Along with its notoriety and worldwide fame, Ferran Adrià has placed the restaurant and himself on the map, achieving worldwide recognition for his services to food. Despite the whisperings, El Bulli seems to be still going strong.