About an hour train ride from the Catalonia capital is a tiny coastal village called Sant Pol de Mar. It has one train stop, one hotel and one three Michelin star restaurant known as Sant Pau.
We initially had our eyes set on El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, but apparently three months advance notice is not enough for the three Michelin star restaurant ranked number two in the world. Semi-pissed, S went on the hunt for other three Michelin-starred restaurants in Catalonia and the only other one is Sant Pau.
Earlier in the day we had the most difficult time finding the hotel, but amazingly, finding the restaurant was a very easy feat. All the houses and apartments in Sant Pol de Mar have a white exterior except Sant Pau, which was in a not so subtly coloured blue and yellow building. Little did we know at the time that the exterior visual of the restaurant was our introduction into the world of chef and owner Carme Ruscalleda.
Chef Ruscalleda is brilliant and we are extremely surprised we don’t hear more of her. Her play on colours was the best we have seen. Her dishes are like art, her canvas is the plate and her materials are the ingredients. Even the interior design of the actual restaurant is as vivid and playful as the dishes she creates and guests immediately notice this once they enter.
If we thought the food and the restaurant looked good, the food tasted even better. Our pictures really do not give it justice. The Summer 2012 tasting menu at Sant Pau focused on local Catalonian ingredients with sporadic infusions of Asian flavours and techniques. Since Chef Carme has a two Michelin star Sant Pau restaurant in Tokyo, it’s is nice to see that touch of Asia in her menu. For example, the crawfish dish pictured below definitely smelled like there was some dim sum action going on in there.
One thing Sant Pau does differently from other restaurants is they bring the dishes’ key ingredients out and explain it to the diners. It gives diners a chance to learn a little more about the food they are eating. A couple of the ingredients are pictured below such as the black garlic (left) used in the squid 2012 dish and the cleaver wrasse (right). The cleaver wrasse is a very interesting fish. It is native to the Mediterranean and a hermaphrodite – born a female and sometime during its life transforms to a male. They let me touch it too which was a wicked experience, but since they already removed its scales, touching it felt like pure slime. Yum!!!
Desserts are always the highlight of the meal for me and Sant Pau has one of my favourite desserts. They call it a tender almond kiss and is composed of sea water flavoured ice cream with olive oil and almonds. It was salty exactly like the sea, but it had the subtle sweetness of a dessert. Amazing!
Sometime during dinner Chef Carme popped out of nowhere and greeted all the diners. We really enjoy it when the chef comes out to meet the diners and this was no exception.
The piece de resistance in Sant Pau is their beautiful patio. Guests are given the option to enjoy their petite fours from the patio and relax a little bit. Eating our chocolate, listening to folk music and the waves from the Mediterranean behind us while watching both the dining room and kitchen at work…we could get used to that. One minor detail I did not notice until I saw our pictures was that all the tables in the patio were in the shape of a giant leaf, and the two-tiered platter they brought our petite fours in were in the shape of leaves as well (details! details! details!).
Being rejected from El Celler de Can Roca turned out great for us. Not only did we experience a great town but a great restaurant as well. They say that the devil is in the details and the details are where Sant Pau shines. There are so many little details that we didn’t notice or think too much of while eating there, but looking back, is truly amazing and are things we really appreciate. Sant Pau is truly a hidden gem.
To view pictures of our meal in its entirety, click through the photo set below. If you are using a mobile device, please click here for compatibility.
Thanks for reading,
C & S