El Bulli chapter 4: the sweetest things

Relief, when it arrives at course 30, is in the form of a frozen pond.

Just when I thought I could physically consume no more I’m faced with a shimmery lake of weakly flavoured ice. It’s been caught in a thin meniscus across the mouth of a bowl. Over the pond raw sugar and a powder of mint and green tea get sprinkled.

Our frozen pond resonates against the back of your spoon like a snare drum, and cracks; to reveal a blissful cave of nothing.

It’s cool in every sense. It’s calming and considerate- both as a performance and a palette cleanser.

‘Look out’ says The Hungry One as I crack off every last bit and chase down the dustings of green tea. ‘She’s back’. Thank god the fears I wouldn’t finish were unfounded.

And so the joyful parade continues, and once again I’m an enthusiastic passenger.

Up next is a quick detour to The Hungry One’s Peter Pan happy place. A plate of perfect looking dark chocolate dipped cherries come with a kirsch foam. We’re to dip the cherries in the foam before eating them.

All the finger licking, fluffy foam and chocolate dipping does has a little twinge of Valentines day/ soft porn to it- not that this is stopping The Hungry One. The only thing that makes him pause is when the hard shell of the chocolate gives way to a torrent of liquefied cherry. Then his eyeballs bulge- with delight and surprise. I get to see his reaction before I’ve had a chance to taste. It’s a little like listening to the gleeful shrieks of someone ahead of you on a waterslide- you’re not sure of exactly what’s coming, but golly you’re gagging to follow.

But if we were having fun with the cherries, nothing prepared us for the hilarity up next.

Out comes a dinosaur egg to share.

The top of the egg is smacked off and we all bog in, cracking off shards of what turns out to be curved coconut semifreddo.

With it comes a shaker of curry powder. Coconut and curry- a great combination- but not one that you’d be expecting in dessert.

But then you’re not going to be predicting a frozen dinosaur egg, either. This is the kind of magic that no one could even dream up. It’s hilarious. It’s beautiful. It’s fascinating both to look at and to eat and we all just keep going back for more and more.

The fun continues with a bracelet of anise flavoured crackling, that’s housing freeze dried pineapple. You have to pick it up and eat it like a baguette. When you bite into it it dances about like ‘Snap, Crackle and Pop’ have come for a party on your tongue.

On our menus Ferran refers to this dish as ‘puff pastry of pineapple’. The construction is slightly reminiscent of a mille fuille- but I have absolutely no idea in the world the sheets were made of. What I do know is I got bingo for picking aniseed. I also know that the combination of aniseed with pineapple is a skirt twirling thrill of sweet and slightly savoury all at once. One for the notebook.

At course 34, I’m skipping along again. This could also be because I’m staring down at a Christmas tale of a dish so pretty that if it was to morph to human form, it would be Diane Kruger.

It’s a yogurt snowflake nestled ontop of ices that are blushing in the shades of a streaked sunset. The flavours traverse from tomato, to beetroot, to watermelon and peach, with another dash of anise. The yogurt adds a tartness and the ices keep it prancing along.

The Hungry One can keep his chocolate and cherries. Yogurt, anise and peach are three of my favorite flavours. The Hungry One knows this.

He’s busted me eating raw fennel from the fridge like an apple. Peaches make me swoon and sheep yogurt is on my breakfast every morning.

The Hungry One and I share a little moment across the table and cheers our good fortunes with another sip of the 2007 moscatel from Malaga that was recommended to us.

While we’re not needing the booze, the slight lick of sweet wine has a beautiful way of gilding all of this together. It’s now 12.30 am and the evening is starting to feel like the end of a wedding; that silly bit when you’re twirling around and around- emotionally exhausted, but not wanting anything to slip away just yet.

Course 35 and the last of the official offerings is a platter of ice, topped with shellfish. It’s a cute little joke. When we crack them open we find lychee jelly (bingo again for The Hungry One, who hit his stride late in the game) and aniseed ice cream.

The aniseed ice cream is like the flavour baby of 10 000 black jelly beans. Next to them are candied citrus segments, with the volume turned up on the citrus.

Eating them is like being dunked in a lemon slushee; it’s cool and arresting- not something you need to repeat- but something you’re secretly glad you did so you can tell the story.

We think the ride may be slowing down.

It’s time for coffee and tea; where a herbal infusion sees a whole garden brought to the table. Then a box of ‘morphings’ arrives just for us- which is like letting The Hungry One and The Chef loose in Willy Wonka’s factory.

The white chocolate dipped freeze dried raspberries are my favourite, closely followed by the mint leaves fossilised in dark chocolate. The chicken feet style red candies entertain The Art Critic.

Meanwhile the boys are trapped in a mutual moment. The clouds of white chocolate and passionfruit aero sponge have rendered them completely mute. Hands are clapped to their foreheads. Eyes are rolling. Sounds are coming out that shouldn’t be made in public.

It feels a little wrong to be watching both of them in such obvious states of rapture.

And so- this is what sums it all up.

You can try and break it down to numbers;

27 hours in planes and cars to get there.
350 euro to pay for the privilege.
Five and a half hours of consuming 35 courses, plus ‘petit fours’.
And a meal at the restaurant ranked number 1 in the world.

You can write out each course.

You can take each photo.

You can debate if it’s food, or if it’s art.

You can try and understand the genius at work.

But what it really comes down to is one gesture and the matching emotion of being confounded; and knowing that in life; sometimes you just have to let go.

In every sense.

And then the twinkling hope that one day you’ll get the chance to go back.

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  1. Wow-I want to read about the other courses now! What an amazing experience!

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