Ctra. Las Marinas, km. 3. Carrer Rascassa, 1. (Urb. elPoblet)
Tel.: +34 965 784 179
Overall rating: 9/10
Date of visits: July 2012; February 2013
Quique Dacosta is known as one of the most creative chefs of Spain at the moment, and after having been there I understand why. Although I’ve never been to El Bulli, I think Dacosta is trying to continue what they started. If I’m not mistaken, the menu only changes once per year as it’s quite elaborate.
He also runs two small restaurants in Valencia, Vulve Carolina and Mercatbar, which are both tapas and proper restaurant food. El Poblet in Valencia is a restaurant that serve some of the dishes from Quique Dacosta’s restaurant.
I’ve been to his restaurant twice, and we almost had the same meal both times. For this review, I have collected both meals into one review, and I will only note when we had a different dish the second time, or if there were any changes to the specific dish. The order of dishes had been changed around in a few instances at our second visit.
The restaurant itself is an older brick building with wooden beams across the ceiling, but the lounge area is clearly a new building. The latter is much more in line with the food being served than the former.
The food here is not something for everyone. People who prefer three courses with plates overflowing with rare beef, red wine sauce and potatoes would probably not like this restaurant. It is at heart molecular, but the concept is not to combine unusual ingredients or to shock, but rather to play a bit with the guest’s expectations and also to present ingredients that are either unexpected or that people generally are biased about – for instance hearts, livers, etc.
The style is basically very modern tapas. We had around 25 courses, many of them consisting of small one bite elements – hence the long review.
We started out by sitting outside where we were served the appetisers, the “first act”, while looking at the menu. There really wasn’t much choice, as there were only two menus: “Local universe: Menu of traditions, classics and history” (€138.24), which was a menu of classic dishes from the restaurant’s history, although some dishes were shared with the other menu, which we chose: “Mediterranean flavour: Menu of the brave” (€162). The appetisers were the same for both menus.
There’s also the option of a wine pairing for each menu at €70.20 for the classic menu and €91.80 for the brave menu. This restaurant is one of those that shows the price on the menu without VAT (IVA in Spanish), hence the uneven prices shown here.
At our second meal, the restaurant had received its third Michelin star, and the price had gone up to €148.50 for the classics menu, and €181.50 for the brave one.
A beer was €5.40, water €4,32 per serving, coffee and tea was €3.78 each.
The appetisers were quite diverse and came in two servings: A stick of fried and smoked cheese, marinated pancetta on top of a small very light and fluffy brioche, broth of oak barrel and rum (a drink), and “oak bark” (which I suspect was actually Jerusalem artichokes, but maybe it was really bark). Then a sea snail, a crisp with a star smeared pattern on it, a drink with a small plant from the ocean, small endive lettuce with orange zest, another plant from the ocean, and star shaped and seaweed shaped crisps.
I didn’t like the sea snail, but at least I liked it more than clams and oysters. It just wasn’t my thing. The rest was both tasty and very well done. I find endive/chicory to be one of the worst types of lettuce, as it’s so incredibly bitter. Here, there was barely any bitterness from neither the lettuce nor the orange zest. Indeed, very impressive and inventive appetisers (overall 7.5-8/10).
At our second meal, the appetisers were almost completely different. First, an edible rose, which I believe was thin apple slices with rose water, served with an apple gin and tonic drink. As usual in Southern Europe, the apple flavour was not great, but nevertheless a very pleasant start (7.5/10).
Then real leaves and constructed leaves (dubonnet, sweet corn, apple, chestnut) were served along with cep crisps that looked like branches. An edible stone (only two on the picture were edible) contained a parmesan cream with a bit of truffle oil. Again, a sea snail served in a sea shell, a leafy crisp (I believe Jerusalem artichokes) with mushrooms and herb cream, tomato with vinegar, the same sea plant as last time, crisps with tomato powder and dried vinegar and an oyster emulsion (which unfortunately couldn’t be swapped as neither of us likes oysters). Again, pleasant appetisers, although they were not quite as diverse this time (they were almost all crisps) (overall 7.5/10).
We had our proper meal inside, and the “second act” started out with a bang:
A small flat, red cylinder was named “Bloody Mary” and had a piece of celery next to it. Although I didn’t care much for the celery (though the harshness was definitely gone), the cylinder was a revelation. It was cold, and the outer layer was made from cocoa butter. Inside it was liquid, and the tomato flavour was really an explosion of flavour. Then at the end there was just a hint of heat from the Tabasco. I’ve never had such intense tomato flavour in my life. It didn’t taste like tomato juice, nor like tinned tomato paste. It really tasted like a real tomato (and the best tomato I’ve had my entire life). This is truly one of the best things I have ever eaten, and a dish I have been thinking back on again and again (10/10).
At our second visit we both believed the recipe had been changed, as there seemed to be more Tabasco in the dish, and the spice came in sooner.
Next to it was a piece of mackerel on a leaf. I don’t remember the name of the first leaf, but second time it was an oyster leaf with wasabi. They asked us to eat some of the leaf with the fish and then have the rest of the leaf afterwards. There was actually quite a change in flavour (7-7.5/10).
“Dove’s nest” was small egg shapes with crispy thin noodle-like nests. The centre was slightly smoked and with a touch of truffle (8/10).
An almond dish was both real almonds and almond cream with a bit of jelly and oil. Although light, it was also very pleasant and a great combination that didn’t overpower the almonds. This was one of my then-wife’s favourites in the meal (7.5-8/10).
The second time around this had been replaced two dishes: Pesto in a small crispy bag with a good combination of textures (8/10) as well as a flower with almonds and turron that had both a taste of real almonds as well as the synthetic almond extract (7.5/10).
On a tray was “strawberry and vinegar crepe”, which was curled-up crisps with strawberry and vinegar flavour with fresh strawberries on top. The strawberry flavour was slightly synthetic and candy-like, but still a very nice dish (7.5/10).
None of us liked “apple tart and Campari”. Like I have mentioned before, the apples from southern Europe are usually not very flavourful, which was also the case here. The tart itself, a crispy polystyrene-like thick disc that almost evaporated in your mouth, therefore barely had any flavour. The Campari on top was a bit less bitter than the Campari sphere I had at El Celler de Can Roca, but still… Apparently, I just don’t like Campari (4/10).
The second time, they removed the Campari for us and put on sliced apples instead. This made it slightly better, but I would have preferred something completely different.
Better was a small parcel with cuttlefish, lime, wasabi and white turnip. The amount of wasabi was perfectly balanced (7/10).
For the next dish we didn’t all have the same, as my wife at the time had asked for no pork. We all had “Spanish peppers”. It was actually watermelon. I don’t know what they did to it, but to me this was the stupidest dish in the menu – and luckily the only one in the menu that I would call stupid. Although at such the taste was okay, it seemed a little bit like they were just showing off a technique and trying to play with people’s minds. Fair enough, but it could have been done in a another way that produced better food (5/10).
The second time, this had been replaced by two dishes: 1: A soup of sea urchin. This was both the first and last time I had sea urchin. It was very similar to oyster for me (3/10). The second was razor clams with jelly. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t ask for something else as I don’t like clams (4/10).
My wife at the time had “turtleneck”, which was slices of avocado in a soup. I had a small taste, but not enough to score it. It was very nice, especially the soup.
Instead, the rest of us had pork cheeks and paprika as a foam served on a crisp. Very pleasant and a great combination of textures (7.5-8/10). The second time, we also had this dish but my wife at the time had chicken instead of pork.
For the next serving, our dishes were different again. We all had the cheeks or some other part of the head from hake covered in a pil pil sauce (a Basque dish). This was a first for all of us, and none of us really liked it. I find it difficult to score it as I have no idea if it was cooked properly (but I believe it was), but the flesh itself was very, very soft (in an unpleasant way), and the flavour didn’t do anything for me. Maybe it’s one of those things you have had to have grown up with to appreciate (a tentative 4/10).
The second time this had been replaced by a Mediterranean taco, which was prawns with green beans and herbs. Not the most interesting thing, and both herbs and beans lacked flavour (6.5/10).
On the side was a “Cuba Libre”, which was foie gras with coke jelly on top. The first time I quite enjoyed it even though it was very rich. The second time, I didn’t enjoy it so much (7/10).
As accompaniment to these two very soft servings we had “smoked bread” which I believe was with pork too, since my wife at the time had something completely different: “Haze”. A mist covered beans, mushrooms, peas, and sprigs. The second time we both had this dish instead of the oyster described below. My then-wife said it was better the first time. None of the ingredients here had particular good flavour, and the peas were the typical hard and bitter Spanish peas (the ones in Northern Europe are simply better). Just looking at the pictures from first and second visit, I could see that the peas the first time were smaller, and smaller peas are usually sweeter (6/10).
The “third act” started out with tomatoes in various textures: Light and fluffy white tomato snow on top and tomato cream underneath with sundried tomatoes and croutons. The dish had very deep tomato flavour (although not as deep as the Bloody Mary) and a great combination of textures. Yes, it was all about tomatoes, but the flavour was really top-notch (at least 8.5/10).
It was served with several grissini sticks. The one with pesto was by far the best. The one with white truffle had no flavour. Grissini is something I don’t really understand (they are always dry and flaky), and these ones didn’t do much for me either, and there were a bit too many of them here.
Coconut Margarita was a jelly with light sauce and shredded coconut on top as well as lime zest. What I remember best about this dish was the coconut. Often coconuts do more harm than good, but here the flavour was better and had greater depth than I have ever seen before. The rest of the dish was nothing special though and one of the weakest in the meal. This dish was left out in the second meal (6/10).
The margarita granite served on a bay leaf that we had straight afterwards was very refreshing and had none of the bitterness you often see in margaritas (7.5/10).
Horchata is a sweet Spanish drink made from tiger nuts. Here it was served as a soup without sugar and with small chocolate coated pieces of foie gras. My companions didn’t like this so much (maybe because they’ve had plenty of Horchatas previously). Second time they had removed the foie gras, which was an unfortunate choice if you ask me (7/10).
A red king prawn was simply served whole (with shell) wrapped in transparent red gift wrap with a soup made from prawn heads, chard and tomatoes on the side. A shellfish fanatic would probably have appreciated this more than me, but it was undoubtedly a prawn of very fine quality, although as such the dish as a whole wasn’t the most exciting for me. The tomato here didn’t have the same depth of flavour as the previous ones, which is understandable as it then didn’t overpower the prawn. The second time around we didn’t enjoy this as much. It was cold the second time. We believe it was warm the first time, although the waiter said it had also been cold (6 or 7/10).
A dish with eel was a bit strange to me. Soft and slimy eel skin was on top of a soup, and at the bottom of the soup was the eel flesh. I could have done without the slimy skin, but overall it was a nice dish with well-cooked eel. Second time I enjoyed it a bit less (6 or 7/10).
Before starting the meal, I had mentioned that I didn’t like oysters. The waiter said that the people who don’t like oysters usually loved the oyster dish here, so I decided to try it. Well, I didn’t like it. Actually none of us did, but the rest of the dish had very refreshing citrus flavours (but I’m not going to score it).
“Cow heart” was a bread-like sphere with a liquid centre with very intense beef flavour. On top were slices of an actual cows heart. When serving it, they told us it wasn’t a real cows heart, as they probably assumed we would be scared of eating it. Had I known it was this good I would have eaten it straight away even if they had told me it was ants or caterpillars. The second time, we had an almost identical dish called “Iberian explosion”, where the cows heart had been replaced by pork if I’m not mistaken, but the inside was the same, and it was just as good (9/10).
At our second meal, we had a rice dish with a thin layer of cod on top. We had to eat from end to the other, which revealed first smoke flavoured rice followed by lemon flavoured rice at the other end (7.5/10).
Our real main courses were pigeon served seven ways. First as a glass of stunning Jerusalem artichoke soup with finely cut pigeon at the bottom (if not 10/10 then at least 9/10).
On another plate was “pigeon liver”. First time, they said it wasn’t liver when they served it – the name only implied what it looked like. When we asked about it second time, they first said it was kidney, but then Dacosta himself said it was both intestines and regular meat. None of us particularly liked it, and like the fish cheeks it was quite soft in an unpleasant way (4/10).
A round crispy disc had sweet corn and a cream on top (7.5/10).
Pigeon breast was served very rare with a sauce with soy beans and quinoa. Three of us (me included) felt the meat was too rare, while the last one said it was perfect. Technically, this is the only dish I could fault, as the meat lacked some pepper, and there was actually some sinew on both mine and my then-wife’s slice. The meat itself didn’t have much flavour except for the slightly smoky flavour, but nevertheless a pleasant dish with better soy beans and quinoa than I thought possible (aren’t those two ingredients always boring?). Second time a waiter told us we could have it more cooked this time, so I asked for medium, and my wife at the time asked for well-done. Hers was almost well-done, while mine was too bloody. They replaced it when we mentioned it, but I was nevertheless a bit disappointed that this had to be done (7/10).
This is the first slice at our second visit:
The lack of flavour in the pigeon was aptly compensated by the pigeon consommé served in a glass on the side (if not 10/10 then at least 9/10).
Creamy rice was then served with pigeon foam and a bit of liquorice and orange. The two flavourings seemed to be only drops here and there, and to me this was not the most exciting dish (6/10).
Second time, the pigeon rice was served with beetroot foam and crunchy hazelnut flakes. Good swap (7.5/10).
The last pigeon dish was probably supposed to be the link between main course and dessert. It was mango chutney with fresh mango. The presentation was lovely, but it escaped me where the pigeon actually was. The mango itself was not the most flavourful, which is actually odd, because it’s actually quite easy to find really good mangos in Spain (even the ones imported from Brazil). Even the cheap supermarket Mercadona, who specialize in poor quality products, have mostly ripe and terribly flavourful mangos. The mango I had at Sant Pau was miles and miles beyond this one. Riper mango can’t be sliced like this, but should presentation go before flavour? (6-7/10).
The first dessert was a soup of blood orange with chunks of blood orange, a bit of rose water and crispy yoghurt on top. I assume it was dehydrated. Maybe not rocket science, but it was a very pleasant and quite refreshing dish. At times orange can be very bitter or even taste like puke, but here it was a pleasure. The rose water was quite possible the best balanced amount I’ve had so far. So often, restaurants simply put in too much, which makes it taste like soap. The second time, I was less impressed by this dish. We both agreed that the orange had less flavour than the first time, and that there was more rose water added (8/10 for the first time, 7/10 for the second).
The second dessert consisted of three elements:
A small crispy disc made from pumpkin that had been rolled around a creamy filling of sweet potatoes and dusted with icing sugar. Neither the pumpkin nor the potatoes were as flavourful as it could have been, but nevertheless nice and with great texture (7-7.5/10).
Another sphere, this time I believe it was made of squash, filled with liquid chocolate. The chocolate flavour was not as intense as it could have been (this concept worked better at Ca’ Sento), but still very nice (7.5/10).
A cocktail was called “Michael Jackson – Black or white”. There was really nothing revolutionary or exciting about this cocktail with a bit of Kahlua and cream on top, but I really enjoyed it, and the amount of Kahlua was simply perfectly balanced, so it just had a hint of coffee flavour. As I don’t really like coffee, this was perfect for me, but coffee aficionados might have preferred a more intense coffee flavour (8.5/10).
Second time we had three different desserts: “Citrus field”, which was butter cream covered in shortcrust pastry made with lemon and saffron and then blended to resemble sand. On top were various citrus elements. The butter cream was a bit fatty, but nonetheless a nice dessert (7.5/10, or 8/10 if I’m to be very kind).
Cinnamon sticks were chocolate sticks with cinnamon. Pleasant and visually very well made, but not the most thrilling thing (7/10).
Prunes soaked in port with a walnut inside were better (7.5/10).
We had our petit fours in the lounge outside. It was “the fifth act” called “the magic box”. A wooden box filled with chocolate pebbles was shown to us. They closed it again, said “hokus pokus”, shook it and then revealed the sweets that had magically appeared inside: A chocolate macaroon, a vanilla macaroon, a marshmallow dusted with cocoa powder, and, my favourite, a hazelnut truffle with very pure and deep, deep hazelnut flavour. On the side we had a small metallic tree with edible bags containing small discs of dark and white chocolate and passion fruit, as well as a paper-thin sheet of berries (overall 7.5-8/10, but more for the hazelnut truffle). The second time, the chocolate macaroon was gone, and the hazelnut truffle had unfortunately been replaced by banana foam dusted with cocoa powder.
There didn’t seem to have gone quite as much thought into the petit fours as the rest of the meal. Although the macaroons were nice, they seemed oddly plain compared to some of the wizardry that had taken place earlier.
The chef came out to speak to the guests both times.
As can be seen above, there were several things that I and we simply didn’t like or didn’t care much for. But the technique at display was very impressive, and there were many stunning highlights throughout the meal. Only a few times could I fault the technique (the pigeon breast) or the ingredients. Overall, the ingredients were top notch, and unlikely many other places in Spain the food here really had depth of flavour. I’ve been to so many restaurants in Spain where the food had no flavour whatsoever. No other place in Spain, be it a shop or a restaurant, have I had really good tomatoes. Not even at Sant Pau, which really had magnificent ingredients, did I have good tomatoes. The ones I had in Italy, both in restaurants and shops, were far superior.
If we disregard the macaroons and marshmallows, not a single dish in this meal was uninspired, and that’s quite an amazing feat considering this was a meal consisting of 20-25 servings with 40-45 small dishes. There was no “let’s just make a slab of beef with some braising sauce”.
I was also impressed by how well they mastered both restraint (as in the amount of e.g. truffle oil that was added to a dish) and going 100 % overboard (Bloody Mary, Cow’s heart, etc.).
The only thing that was a bit of nuisance about the meal was that at times they told us “this dish is so and so” because it looked like it, and then afterwards they didn’t tell us what it actually was (as it was supposed to be an adventure), but that’s really a minor detail.
At our second visit I was a bit less impressed than first time. Some of the new dishes didn’t do much for me, but the main problem was my own folly: I had gone there again too soon. Too many dishes were the same as last time. Part of the fun first time around was the surprises. Several dishes (Bloody Mary, dove’s nest, pork cheek, tomato in various textures, cow’s heart, the jerusalem artichoke soup, pigeon consommé, etc.) were definitely worth having again, but I had rushed through the menu too quickly when skimming it, while we were trying to replace things we didn’t like so much first time around. Therefore, we repeated too many dishes that were not bad but not amazing either. We should simply have chosen the other menu this time.
Admittedly, when I made this review I didn’t notice that there were actually many dishes that didn’t do much for me – which there will inevitably with this type of cooking and with such a long menu. I probably raved about the highlights in my mind, and then forgot about the lowpoints. That at least crossed my mind after having been to the restaurant for the second time.
Nevertheless, I will keep the score. If I go back another time, I will give a new separate score.
The wine the first time was a bit disappointing. I’m sure the sommelier was good, but the wines he recommended us didn’t impress us. We bought a white wine for €43.60 for a wine that I have later seen for €30 at retail. The white wine was a bit sour, though it must be said that only 2-3 times have I had a Spanish white wine that I truly liked. If this is what he had to choose from, it would be difficult to find something good. In five top restaurants in Italy I didn’t have a single plain white wine. Italian white wine simply seems far superior. But you almost never seen Italian wine in Spain – and what a pity.
The type of red wine we had was somewhat what we had asked for, but we didn’t particular care for that one either. We paid €38.88 for a wine that I later saw at retail for around €25, so I suppose the mark-up was reasonable (for both wines), but despite the retail price the red wine seemed like something you could find for £5-£10. We all agreed about that.
Second time we just asked for a glass of red wine each. The first one was not much to our liking. He just swapped it, and the second was exactly what we had hoped to find.
The service first time was great. They walked us to the toilet and held our chairs when we came back like I’ve seen in most three star restaurants (except for in Italy). Although they didn’t always succeed, they at least tried to put down two plates on the table at the same time. It doesn’t make the meal better, but it’s always nice to see this small detail carried out.
One of my companions had cut his knee shortly before we came. When one of the waiters saw this, he fetched him a bandage.
Our only tiny complaint was that our waitress didn’t seem very happy. It almost came to an argument between her and I when I asked if topinambur and Jerusalem artichokes are the same thing. Nevertheless, she was very attentive, and topping-up and removing plates went smoothly.
The pace of the meal was nothing short of perfect – both times. Not too much waiting nor rushing. And consider this when it’s 20-25 servings! Some restaurants can even get the pace right for 4-5 servings.
Second time our waiter was definitely happier, but I could nevertheless sense this was not his calling in life, and at the end of our meal he seemed tired. My impression was that several of the waiters didn’t fully enjoy being here, and several seemed young and inexperienced. As opposed to the first time, the restaurant was full this day, and the service seemed to suffer a bit from it. They held our chairs less this time, and didn’t walk us to the toilet.
Granted, we had been delayed when going here, and they have to go home too, but barely anybody was left at the end. We had asked for a dessert wine for the desserts, but the sommelier apparently forgot about that (I think he went home too). Although it was late in the day these things shouldn’t happen in a three star restaurant. Nevertheless, these things are small details, and all in all I was very happy with the service.
There was one exception to all this, though, and that was the French waiter. He was by far the most professional, experienced and talkative. I could easily tell that he enjoyed his job, and he paid great attention to the guests: When I was looking through the menu and we were discussing what dishes to replace, I had apparently said that I really enjoyed the Bloody Mary. So, after having eating the Bloody Mary this time, they came back and gave us two more Bloody Marys each. He was also the one who brought the bandage. He definitely belonged in a restaurant like this.
Quique Dacosta has been one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in Spain. The flavours, the inventiveness, the perfect cooking, the service – everything. Not to mention the amount of food for the price: Including snacks and petit fours we had 20-25 servings consisting of 40-45 small elements (depending on how you count it) for €162 the first time (€180 the second time). Actually, the amount of food was a bit too much I must say. We were basically rolling out of the restaurant.
At El Celler de Can Roca, which is where I’ve had the second longest meal in Spain, I had 20 courses including snacks and petit fours for €160. The food there was nowhere near as inventive, elaborate, amusing, balanced, well-cooked, intense in flavour or even as tasty as at Quique Dacosta, but the price was the same (the first time).