Cadaqués: September 2022
Whereas the trio of Disfrutar – Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas – has already achieved global success and is on the brink of becoming the best restaurant in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ranking in 2024, it is interesting to visit their first venture solo in Cadaqués. The project, initially intended as a learning experience on how to run a business, has also stepped into new creative territories, following the paths outlined by Ferrán Adrià in his book El Sabor del Mediterráneo in a more casual version.
|Table of contents
|1. The motivation for Compartir
|2. The concept
|3. Compartir after Disfrutar
|4. Tasting menu
The motivation for Compartir
For the trio of head chefs from elBulli, the idea of collaborating on a project had been a consideration for some time. With the closure of elBulli in 2011, their ambition to open their own establishment gained traction. Although they were seasoned in avant-garde cuisine, managing their own business was uncharted territory for them. This venture offered them that opportunity. Initially, their plan was to manage this new project alongside their ongoing commitments at elBullifoundation, where they were involved in documenting and cataloguing elBulli’s work from its last few years.
Choosing Cadaqués was strategic, as it was close to Cala Montjoi, the original site of elBulli. Their choice for the restaurant was an 18th-century building that previously accommodated an Italian restaurant with a large terrace ideal for summer and a few hotel rooms.
They inaugurated Compartir in April 2012, setting out with modest aspirations. Its ambiance and décor were designed to mirror the picturesque allure of Cadaqués, yet it retained a relaxed and casual air. The original menu featured straightforward Mediterranean fare. Oriol, Mateu and Eduard intended for the restaurant to operate on its own once opened, freeing them to devote their attention to elBullifoundation. Keeping simplicity as a guiding principle, they developed a menu that was unpretentious, with a focus on shared servings at the table, mirroring the warmth of dining at home. This sharing concept is reflected in the restaurant’s name, Compartir, meaning ‘to share’ in Spanish.
They soon realised, however, that the restaurant would demand almost their full attention. The initial menu was straightforward yet contemporary, featuring intelligent combinations of flavours and an exclusively à la carte format. Its signature dishes included oysters, a variety of seasonal seafood, and traditional Catalan rices, elements that have remained a staple. As the restaurant evolved with the owners’ constant presence, the menu increasingly reflected their personal tastes and interests. Over time, a tasting menu was also introduced. The dishes progressively became more intricate, adopting techniques from their haute cuisine background, including spherifications, foams, airs, and trompe-l’oeils.
The wine list has seen considerable improvement since 2012. It began with a strong focus on Empordà wines under the advice of Ferrán Centelles, former sommelier of elBulli and now a critic at Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages. Today, it boasts a broad and diverse range, predominantly showcasing Catalan wines such as Enric Soler’s excellent Xarel·lo.
Compartir after Disfrutar
As time passed, their ambition to open a creativity-driven project became irresistible. Having gained some invaluable entrepreneurial experience while managing Compartir, they felt ready for a new venture. Consequently, in 2014, they launched Disfrutar in Barcelona. With Compartir finally running independently, the trio was able to pivot their focus entirely to Disfrutar, which would become their flagship restaurant.
Nil Dulcet, who would become Disfrutar’s head chef, began his career with the group in Cadaqués. In 2022, he brought his journey full circle by opening a new Compartir in Barcelona. Nowadays Mateu Casañas, native from the nearby town of Roses, regularly oversees the kitchen in Cadaqués alongside head chef Marc Llach. Meanwhile, Eduard and Oriol are primarily based in Barcelona. Despite these changes, the cuisine in Cadaqués has remained faithful to its original concept since 2015.
The tasting menu
Although the à la carte offering was tempting, especially the idea of combining a few appetisers with a larger rice serving for sharing, we opted for the tasting menu to enjoy as many dishes as possible. Seeing Mateu directing the kitchen that day, it seemed like a promising choice. The tasting menu consists of ten courses plus three desserts, all for 80 euros. On top of this, we added a couple of oysters to our order.
While perusing the menu, we were welcomed by a complimentary aperitif. This consisted of a pa amb tomàquet reinterpreted as an air bread with tomato dust alongside a cocktail of green apple and celery fortified with gin. The cocktail is topped with a thick lime foam that made us think of elBulli.
The first of the two additional oysters was served in its natural shell, topped with a layer of apple granita alongside a reduction of raisin juice and grappa. This oyster was notably saline in flavour and had a robust, meaty texture. The inclusion of the granita introduced a refreshing aspect, while the raisin juice reduction added a subtle sweetness.
On the other hand, the second oyster with eucalyptus, mustard, apple and cassis with oil changed the typical eating experience of an oyster for a more playful one. The oyster liquor, prepared in a Marc Meneau-inspired style, is gellified and adheres to the oyster meat. This allows the combined elaboration to be placed on an eucalyptus leaf for serving. When eating it, customers must place the leaf in their mouth, extracting the essential oils in the process and adding a special fragrant dimension to the experience. A brunoise of apples and pickled mustard seeds, which provided some acidity, completed the garnish. Rather than being discarded, the empty oyster shell serves as a container for a cassis sauce with drops of eucalyptus oil. This combination of the sweetness and tartness of the fresh juice is a perfect chaser to counter the salinity of the oyster. The drops of oil make the fragrance of the eucalyptus last much longer in the palate, prolonging the sensory experience initiated by the leaf.
The first starter was a salad of tomato, mozzarella, black olive and oregano. Whereas the tomatoes were simply cut into halves, the mozzarella was presented as a mimetic1 in the form of a creamy foam and a spherification. Similarly, black olives, probably from Aragón, were served as spherifications. Despite the age of this technique, co-developed by Oriol and Albert Adrià in 2003, it worked very well in this context. In the case of the mozzarella, it mimicked what could be a burrata very accurately. Technically, the spheres were perfect, with thin and delicate alginate shells encasing flavourful sauces that authentically captured the essence of the original ingredients with depth. Classic Italian sauces and garnishes such as basil, balsamic vinegar reduction, and an oregano-based pesto-like sauce were used to unify the dish. Italian flavours have been a constant in elBulli, Disfrutar, as well as Albert’s restaurants, allowing them to introduce new techniques while keeping the flavours familiar. The dish was completed with a few croutons for added crunch. A solitary hazelnut was hidden within the mozzarella foam, though its purpose was not clear.
We carried forward with a classic from Compartir, the Red tuna cannelloni with Mediterranean flavours. For us this is an exemplary way of applying the creative principles outlined in El Sabor del Mediterráneo by Ferrán Adrià in 1993. The result is a visually striking way of presenting and layering many of the flavours of Spain’s Mediterranean coast in a single dish. Unique in its construction, the cannelloni is made solely of tuna, where thin slices of tuna substitute traditional pasta to encase a filling of tuna tartar. The plate is artistically adorned with sauces made from almonds, green olives, and basil oil, along with capers, tomato pulp, black olive purée, and Caviaroli, arranged in an organic fashion with a very elBulli aesthetic.
Our next course was Pickled mackerel with cauliflower, ceps and codium seaweed. The quality of the mackerel was exceptional, with a firm texture and a deep oily flavour. It had been marinated and then served raw with a cauliflower couscous and a cep gelée, both with chives, a brunoise of ceps, dots of pine honey infused with black garlic and a garnish of codium seaweed, a type of algae similar to samphire in texture and taste. Despite the many components, the overall composition aimed to layer savoury notes and present the mackerel in various lights. The cep gelée acted as a lubricant, the honey rounded off the dish’s saline edges and the couscous softened up all these intense flavours.
This was followed by some Anchovies and almond “mató”. One could see this as an upscale version of a payés2 lunch in late summer. The excellent anchovies from L’Escala had a tender bite and firm texture. These were paired with an array of both traditional and modern accompaniments. Traditional elements include fig quarters, lardo, toasted bread, and pine honey. More contemporary additions such as truffle oil and a modernist trompe-l’œil of mató cheese made with almonds, add a more modern flair. The almond mató, replacing what would have been a traditional Catalan cheese akin to ricotta, felt like a smooth crème fraîche made with almond milk. Together, these ingredients softened the saltiness of the anchovies, achieving a beautifully balanced result.
In contrast, the “Vitello Tonnato”, roast beef carpaccio with tuna cream was somewhat underwhelming. After having had Trippa’s or Niko Romito’s vitello tonnato, it is hard to find other variations exciting. This one was correct and very acceptable, but not much more than that. Perhaps the use of roast beef, drier than the original vitello arrosto, was not the best idea since it loses some of the tenderness and delicateness of the meat. On the other hand, the tuna emulsion was canonically dense like mayonnaise and surprisingly not in the same line of Trippa’s espuma lightness. However, it did follow the same idea of intensifying the veal flavour with a drizzle of veal glace. Compartir’s twist came from adding coriander microgreens, pickled cucumber, dices of lemon and Angel’s Hair chilli to add more acidity and brightness.
The next serving was razor clams with black truffle béarnaise. We often avoid razor clams because they can become chewy or gummy if not cooked properly. Yet, the version prepared by Compartir was extraordinary, equal in quality to that of Dos Pebrots. At the height of their season, these clams were unusually large and meaty and, cooked slowly at a low temperature, they achieved a tender, silky texture. Presented in their shells, they were generously napéed with a black truffle béarnaise sauce. This sauce, infused with truffle, perfectly complemented the clams’ salinity and enhanced their umami without being too dominant. Surprisingly, a portion of each clam was topped with cherry sauce and mint, which added a refreshing twist to the dish.
The first hot dish presented was a Line-caught squid, tomato and potatoes with pimentón. The line-caught squid (calamar de potera) was beautifully grilled, offering a soft texture and a profound, unadulterated flavour. Notably, the calamares de potera are not usually gutted, which intensified their savoury taste. Those savoury notes complemented well their bed of spicy potatoes that had been sautéed in olive oil and paprika, infusing them with the bold aroma of the spice. The addition of ripe late summer tomatoes and a light parsley air added a necessary freshness to the dish, with fried parsley as a distinctive Spanish seaside garnish.
Oriol Castro has been working with interpretations of carbonara since early in his career at elBulli. Certainly, the version from Disfrutar is more famous, but Compartir also has a slightly simpler one – Egg carbonara with mushrooms. The egg took centre stage here, sous vide at 62°C and accompanied by sautéed St. George mushrooms (excellent produce again) and a flavourful carbonara foam. This foam delivered the guanciale, parmigiano and black pepper that we all look for in this dish. Most of the dish’s charm lay in the interplay of the egg’s lush, runny texture and the foam’s delicate warmth. Similar to the earlier mozzarella foam containing hazelnut, dices of Parmigiano Reggiano hidden within the foam provided heterogeneity and a sudden explosion of umami. Truffle oil and additional shavings of parmigiano added the final touch to the dish.
In late September, the plentiful supply of line-caught squid was evident as we were served our third squid dish. This version paid homage to the classic Catalan and elBulli theme of surf and turf, with Charcoal grilled squid stuffed with chicken and mushrooms. The squid, prepared over charcoal, was filled with a savoury blend of mushrooms, ink, and chicken seasoned in the traditional pollo al ast style. The tentacles were repurposed in a tempura and dotted with mustard. To finish, a chicken glace and some chives.
Finally, taking inspiration from Mexico, the meat course was an Iberian pork tenderloin “Pibil”, a slightly less exciting serving. Although the preparation was technically sound, with an excellent cuisson and perfect corn spherifications, the dish lacked the vibrant Mexican flavours typical of cochinita pibil. This issue is not unique to Compartir, but rather a problem in the less multicultural countries of Europe, with scarcer and less diverse immigrant communities. Here, the interpretations of foreign cuisines often lack the cultural depth and nuances of the original recipes. Aside from the cultural differences, this frequently stems from a lack of understanding of how to effectively use spices and create authentic spice blends, leading to bland dishes that bastardise the authentic flavours of these cultures.
Transitioning to the dessert courses, first came a banana with yogurt and cocoa cookie, a variation on the classic banana split, served in a Warhol-style banana bowl. At its base there was a coffee and chocolate cookie topped with banana sorbet, a light yogurt foam, lime jelly and mint. This version deviated from the classic dessert by offering richer flavours, thanks to the earthy depth of the cookie and the refreshing elements of mint and lime. It skilfully balanced sweet, acidic, and savoury notes while maintaining a certain lightness. While the traditional banana split is often seen as a simple, crowd-pleasing dessert, this reinterpretation was more appealing than usual.
The last course of the menu was another creative trompe-l’oeil, mató and honey with figs, a playful twist on the traditional Catalan dessert mató i mel with figs. Ingeniously, this dessert did not contain actual mató cheese. Instead, it featured an almond sorbet skillfully shaped into a block resembling mató and wrapped in the typical wax paper used for mató cheese. The illusion was further heightened during service, when it was unwrapped and drizzled with pine tree honey, mimicking the traditional presentation. Alongside this fake almond cheese, there was a study of figs in different textures: fresh, coulis and sorbet. The figs were at their seasonal best, exceptionally sweet, with a rich, almost jammy texture.
Concluding the meal, we were served a couple of petits fours – liquid bonbons of chocolate, and cassis ice cream. The cassis sorbet stood out, striking a delightful balance between sweetness and acidity. Its intensity reminded us of our beloved Berthillon in Paris. In parallel, the bonbons were designed to be eaten in one bite, bursting with a liquid white chocolate ganache core.