El Bulli chapter 2: the experience begins

It starts with a cocktail on the terrace.

You would be hard pressed to conjure a more magical location to commence a journey to the food equivalent of Never Never land.

At 8.30 pm the Costa Brava sun is surprisingly soothing- by now its stick and sting have slipped away.

On the terrace the white washed arched windows frame the view, creating a blank frame. The sounds of the waves and smell of salt off the bay are helping to keep us grounded. And then the kookery starts.

The first cocktails come in a pot plant of ice, decorated like a Christmas tree and accompanied with a firm instruction.

‘Mojito, and capihrana’s. To suck please, not to eat.’

They’re the shape of washing line pegs. They’re encrusted with sugar, rolled in mint and impregnated with a back thumping tug of booze that’s an alarm bell for your senses. If you’re not careful and don’t start sucking quickly they dribble down your chin.

I thank the heavens I chose to wear navy blue, not white.

Then there are ‘snacks’.

Out come two bowls of classic Catalan aperitif accompaniments; green olives and peanuts.

Except they’re both mucked up reproductions of themselves.

The candied exterior of the peanuts crack and liquidised peanut beats a hasty retreat from their casing- in The Hungry One’s case, it’s straight down to his jacket pocket.

The olives explode like bath beads from the late 1980’s; the ones which wilted to release fragrant centres of oil. Here the entire casing dissolves in your mouth unleashing a tide of brine that makes you pucker and wince.

By now we’ve all got some form of stain on us. The waitstaff laugh at our mess. It’s a little like a Yeats poem- things are starting to fall apart- the centre cannot hold.

And so it goes on. There are parmesan wafers which taste exactly like aged cheese, but are flexible like putty and slippery like prophylactics.

There are sweet dotted sesame paste discs, which have a texture somewhat between the inside of a pavlova and new carpet. They instantly dissolve, leaving your mouth dry, with a lingering legacy of the taste of toasted seeds.

There’s a gin fiz of a cocktail that’s finished at the table.

A martini glass is a happy home for a shot or two of chilled boozy citrus. This is topped by a cap of comfortingly warm gin flavoured marshmallow. All together it’s an illicit lemon meringue pie of a drink. To me it’s the cocktail of the century.

There are shards of vanilla flecked wafer, which still shatter so profoundly after languishing in the Spanish humidity that we’re agog at the magic in their making.

Then there’s a cherry with Japanese umbeoshi paste which tastes suspiciously like children’s panadol.

By 8.45 pm we’re taken inside for a quick tour of the kitchen and an introduction to the man himself. We nod and smile and giggle like fans before a pop idol. Ferran is polite and serene and in photos he crosses his arms like a confident magician.

Then it’s to the table. It’s a slightly strange room with a touch of an eccentric Uncle’s place about it.

The art collection is eclectic at best, the tiles terracotta, the beams exposed, the ceilings low. There are photos of ‘el bulli’- the bull (dog) around and the chairs are softened with plush velvet cushions.

There’s a table of eight beer swilling bankers behind us and to the left a couple dressed in Indian wedding finery, wielding a Nikon lens bigger than a bazooka.

There are no footstools for handbags, nor any inane frippery on the table. To start with, there’s not even cutlery.

If we were feeling remorse at moving away from the sounds of the sea, a bottle of pink cava and the arrival of the ‘coconut sponge’ assuages all.

While there’s not a complete ‘bingo’ moment- we don’t have to lick the paper directly, the only way to eat this is to optimistically chase it with your mouth, like you’re snapping after bath bubbles. It tastes profoundly coconut. For someone who’s never been to an Ibiza foam party, the texture escorts me to childhood bath fun-times, with the smell taking a detour to beach holidays in tropical climes. Chasing after the texture and the memories I’m laughing so hard that my eyes start to water.

But then, there’s every chance I could just be an enormous geek, and be facing a dish of food that’s made me cry.

If this is what the rest is going to be like, there are only three words.

Bring it on.

Read Chapter one about the anticipation here http://www.eatori.com/2009/08/el-bulli-chapter-1-anticipation.html

Read Chapter three here http://eat-tori.blogspot.com/2009/08/el-bulli-chapter-3-main-event.html

Read Chapter four here http://eat-tori.blogspot.com/2009/08/el-bulli-chapter-4-sweetest-things.html

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