Carrer Nou 10
08395 Sant Pol De Mar
Tel.: +34 937 600 662
Fax: +34 937 600 960
Overall rating: 9/10
Date of visits: May 2012, January 2013
Sant Pau is run by chef Carme Ruscalleda along with her sommelier. The restaurant has held three stars in the Michelin guide since 2006. Even though the small restaurant only has nine tables, it’s still somewhat easy to book a table.
The restaurant itself looks very classic, but I mean this in a purely good way. It reflected the food quite well: Fairly simple, elegant and tasteful.
The kitchen is located underneath the dining room:
The restaurant has a la carte dishes but recommends their tasting menu, which is what I went for both times. This was priced at €144. White wine was €7 per glass, reds €9 per glass. Water was €5 for a large bottle, €4 for a small (I had one of each).
First a starter broth:
After this, the first real dish was four small dishes, a micro menu they call it. A marinated piece of quail (my favourite), deep fried courgette flower, a piece of shiso, and a modern margarita cocktail (overall 8/10).
CD “Sea and land” was an exercise in near perfection! It looked a little bit like a CD and was absolutely beautiful and absolutely wonderful. My only tiny little complaint is that the whole tomato barely had any flavour, but the grated tomato on there was great. The prawns were wonderful, and the puree of olives and slightly spicy carrots, made to look like those vegetables, were perfectly rounded, the olive not being overly salty at all. I was amazed at how pleasant the olive purees were here compared to the overly salty olive ice cream at El Celler de Can Roca just the day before. The CD itself was a brown layer on top of a layer of basil pesto, which was a perfect match. I’ve often been thinking about this dish since then. As the tomato was not up to the standard of the rest of the dish, I suppose I should give a lesser score, but nevertheless, I feel this score is justifiable (10/10).
Tomato soup with sardines two ways. In general, I’m not keen on sardines, as they are always extremely salty. Not here. Just like with the olives, they had managed to reduce the amount of salt drastically, making it so much more pleasant to eat. I’ve always found cucumber to be terribly uninteresting, but these cucumber rolls were surprisingly tasty, and the entire dish was wonderfully refreshing. The only “but” was the cherries, which lacked flavour (9/10).
Crayfish with asparagus, peas and herbs had the best crayfish tails I’ve ever had. Often, they are dry and dull. Here they were succulent and flavourful. The greens and the sauce were a great match (8.5/10).
Sepia with two-coloured potatoes. Although this was not my favourite dish of the night, they definitely knew how to make a fish soup/sauce. Perfectly balanced and not overly fishy (unlike at El Celler de Can Roca) (7.5/10).
John Dory served with tomatoes two ways had a somewhat dry fish. The marinated fresh tomatoes on that dish had a good marinade, but not so flavourful tomatoes. The tomato “stick” on there was, however, nothing short of wonderful (overall 7/10).
Pork was served with green beans in tempura. I’ve never had pork this rare before. When pork (or beef) is very rare it’s usually chewy, but this was incredibly tender. I would have liked a bit more of the green sauce, but that’s all (8/10).
The cheese serving was a cows cheese with apples several ways. Apples from southern Europe or Brazil (Golden Delicious, Gala, etc.) simply don’t have much flavour, and the cheese drowned out any apple flavour. When the waitress at Sant Pau asked, I recommended them some Danish apples (scientists say Denmark and Norway have the best climate in the world for growing apples), and I think they simply had never tried Scandinavian apples (6/10).
A palate cleanser was a sorbet with liqueur, but I must admit that I don’t remember much about this.
I had ordered two extra desserts (€12 supplement). The first one was a transparent cube with miso and berries (and maybe also apples). It looked astonishing, but lacked flavour. The berries in there were very nice, but that was more or less it (5/10 for flavour, 9-10/10 for presentation).
A dessert of a “sheet” of coconut covered passion fruit, spectacular and incredibly sweet mango that was nothing short of perfect + a bit of cayenne pepper. In the corner was a crunchy round biscuit. The cayenne gave a really nice touch, and the amount was absolutely perfect (9/10).
The other extra dessert was with white chocolate and yoghurt. The yoghurt ice cream and foam was magically floating at the top (although by eating it, I discovered what the trick was), and that layer was more interesting than the layer with rice beneath, but it was nevertheless a really nice dessert. The crystallised olive oil on the top was a pleasant addition (8/10).
“Golf” was a golf ball laid above a piece of soil, complete with worms and grass, served on a plate with a picture of a piece of soil and grass. It was actually a ball of white chocolate filled with strawberry ice cream and rosemary ice cream above a chocolate sponge cake pierced by crispy cake slivers, topped by pistachio cream. Very inventive, amusing and good flavours. The cake also had nice, intense flavour (which chocolate desserts always should have). My only problem was that the chocolate of the golf ball was simply too thick, so when I finally cracked it I smashed the entire lower half of it, sending the ice cream flying. Unfortunately, the ice cream was completely melted inside, but nevertheless had really nice flavour. So, thinner chocolate and shorter defrosting time next time (Grade for flavours only: 8-8.5/10).
Then came the petit fours. The only ones that I didn’t find that interesting were the rum financier, which lacked flavour, and the marzipan with coffee, as I don’t like coffee. The rest were great, my favourite being the raspberry crumble, the jelly with wild strawberries and parsley, or the cherry popsicle. Amusingly, it was served in a train carriage (overall 8 or 8.5/10).
Everything was done quickly, efficiently and friendly. They asked about my opinion after each dish, and they seemed genuinely interested. When I said “except for the tomato, this was a stunning dish”, they asked “so what was wrong with the tomato?”. When they asked “what did you think?”, and I said “that was wonderful, and the mango was simply perfect”, they continued: “What did you think of the amount of cayenne pepper?”. I think there’s a clear correlation between them asking for the guest’s opinion about everything and the high level of cooking. At El Celler de Can Roca they stopped asking after I mentioned a dish lacked flavour for the first time. The entire meal at Sant Pau (14 dishes + petit fours) took me slightly less than three hours whereas the dinner at El Celler de Can Roca (six small appetizers, 11 dishes + petit fours) took four and a half hours.
Chef Carme Ruscalleda also came out to speak to all the guests, and what a pleasant person to talk to.
It’s definitely an expensive place at €146 for a 12 course menu (+ €12 for the two extra desserts I ordered) + wine and water.
It’s difficult to say if the food was so much better than at some one-star restaurants I’ve been to, but almost everything was top quality and the service flawless + you don’t get 12 courses in restaurants where you pay €50-€70 + wine. At Sant Pau, the cooking was very uniform and consistently of the highest level (only exception was the fish). Every single dish was beautifully presented, and the produce was almost always of the highest quality (only exceptions were the apples and tomatoes). The produce at Sant Pau is definitely some of the best I’ve seen in any restaurant in Spain.
A few things were just a tiny bit too salty, but otherwise the seasoning was indeed very precise. Running the risk of sounding prejudiced, I know from experience that in Spain this is a feat in itself. The kitchen here definitely paid great attention to detail.
What made Sant Pau so great was not just the mostly perfect cooking and the first class ingredients, but also that it was a good mix of traditional food and experiments. Unlike many other places in Spain, they were not afraid of incorporating elements that were not Spanish (for instance the pesto or the shiso).
Another thing I liked, was that when I was leaving they gave me a book, in English even, about the chef with recipes and so on that she had signed with a personal greeting.
I was thoroughly impressed at Sant Pau: The flavours, the produce, the technical skills, the inventiveness, the service, the pace of the meal, the presentation – everything about Sant Pau said three Michelin stars to me!
The price for a tasting menu had gone slightly up on my second visit to €149, simply due to the rise in Spanish VAT from 8 % to 10 %. The price for wine and water remained the same.
The menu was completely different this time, although it was possible to have the two additional desserts that I had at my first visit.
First, we started with a starter broth again, although this was different than last time.
Then, like last time, four small appetisers followed. I think this has become a concept on this restaurant.
This time it was liquid spheres on small pieces of toast, “ocean and mountain” flat cake, a pork croquette (with mushrooms if I’m not mistaken), and a skewer with minced lamb, romesco sauce and calcot, which is a type of onion similar to spring onion typical from Catalonia.
The liquid spheres didn’t have much taste, but was nevertheless a nice combination texture wise with the bread. The flat cake was probably my favourite followed by the croquette. As my wife at the time didn’t eat pork she had a cube of breaded emmentaler instead. I can honestly say that this emmentaler probably was the best emmentaler I’ve ever had (overall 8-8.5/10).
Next dish was peas with a bit of leeks and a bit of pork (for me). To me, the peas were cooked a bit too much, but they were perfect for my then-wife as she prefers them a bit mushy. I’ve had nice peas in Spain before, but usually they are bitter and far from as good as the ones in Northern Europe. These were lovely, but I nevertheless felt there wasn’t quite the magic as in e.g. the peas with green tea I had at Noma (8/10).
Lobster was served with various greens and a light pistachio sauce, which disappeared a bit in this combination. Usually, I don’t like bitter things but these bitter leaves (as well as some less bitter ones) was a great combination. It was very refreshing to have lobster in a restaurant and actually be able to taste it’s lobster. This lobster and the one I had at Le Calandre in Italy have been the best I’ve ever had so far (9/10).
Raviolis with pork and grated truffle on top had a chestnut soup poured on top. To me, the soup practically didn’t have any flavour at all, but the raviolis were nothing short of magnificent. The waitress explained that there had been problems with truffles all over Europe this season, so these particular truffles were cultivated rather than wild. Both of us felt the truffles here were redundant, as they had no flavour. I have yet to have truffles (except for truffle oil) that had more than mildly pleasant flavour (whereas the odour is sometimes very compelling). My wife at the time had raviolis with spinach instead and she didn’t like them so much. I tried one and they were definitely not in the same league as the pork ones. Nevertheless, the pork raviolis made this dish very memorable (overall 8.5/10).
“Prawn tails on sailor’s toast” came with a story: When fishermen had been handling fish and shellfish all morning and sat down and ate a toast for lunch, their fingers would be so fishy that the toast ended up tasting like fish and shellfish. So, Sant Pau had cooked prawns and then fried a piece of bread in the juices from the prawn heads to emulate this “dish”. A deep fried piece of parsley decorated the dish. Usually, I’m not keen on dishes that taste very much like the sea (oysters, clams, sea urchins, etc.), but here the result was very pleasant. The salt water flavour didn’t bother me at all. Due to the frying, the bread was intentionally crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, which was a great feature (8-8.5/10).
Monkfish rolled in a spice mix was served with a similar aubergine, saffron sauce, marinated onions, and a terrine of probably liver. I don’t really know what to think of this dish. The onions were really nice and just acidic enough to still be pleasant. On one hand I felt that the fish was perfectly cooked, on the other I felt it was dry. The aubergine was pleasant rather than extraordinary, and there were some small pieces of some undefined substance that mostly tasted like raw dough.
The main courses were back in gear. I had deer loin served with a small bread stick with what I believe was apricots and dates, as well as a braising sauce. The deer was cooked less than what I usually prefer, but was nevertheless terribly pleasant. The waiter told me that it had been very difficult to find a good seller for deer, and I have actually never seen it for sale anywhere in Valencia (where I live). Close to my hometown in Denmark there’s a restaurant in a forest, where they breed deer just outside the door (you can see them from the vindow) and then cook them (it’s their specialty). We held our wedding dinner there, and the deer at Sant Pau was far better than in this restaurant. Of course, Sant Pau is a three star place, but still… (8.5/10).
The other main course was duck with wild celery and swiss chard with a braising sauce. Despite the almost identical sauce, this dish was a bit more refreshing than the other main course, but nevertheless I just liked the other one a bit better(8/10).
Cheese was a firm goat cheese called Payoyo in three different combinations with dates and sunflower seeds. The waiter told us that in the past they had served different cheeses in one cheese serving, but when they started doing it this way, the customers liked this better. I probably would have preferred the other way.
I usually skip cheese servings as it simply doesn’t do much for me to just have cheese, but this dish was definitely better than the cheese serving last time – better cheese, better combinations (7/10).
A pre-dessert was the spirit calisaya with a passion fruit sorbet. They advised us to dissolve the sorbet into the liquid, which helped quite a lot, as I really didn’t like the spirit on its own (7/10).
The first dessert was a bit of an oddity, and more interesting than good: Avocado, tequila, coriander and lime with a few biscuits and a bit of tomato at the bottom. As usual with Spanish tomatoes, the tomato wasn’t very flavourful, and this combination seemed a bit too odd for me. This was the first day they served this, and the waiter told us that if people didn’t like it they would discontinue it. We spoke to a couple sitting next to us afterwards, and they didn’t like it much either, and I see that they have now removed it from the menu. I honestly don’t know what score to give this
The next dessert was a bit better. A chocolate and banana fondant was served with an ice cream (banana, if I’m not mistaken), coated berries and nuts, and chocolate and caramel paper. Unfortunately, the paper tasted a bit burnt, the fondant being better, with the berries and nuts as the strongest element here. Nevertheless, this dish seemed to lack a bit of inspiration except for the berries and nuts (7/10).
Petit fours were again served in a train carriage, which I believe has also become a stable feature here: Orange dark chocolate truffle, white chocolate and puffed rice, white chocolate and puffed rice, rum financier, raspberry crumble, mini Sarah Bernhardt, limoncello jelly, and coconut bisquit with liquorice and sherbet sticks and puff pastry stick with angel hair and pine nuts. I also had the two sticks, the jelly, and the rum financier first time at this restaurant (the rest were different), and the financier was definitely better this time. Again, very nice petit fours (8-8.5/10).
The bill came to €335 for two, meaning €167 per person. I found out later that this was less than expected. My wife at the time wasn’t feeling well, so when they brought her an already poured glass of red wine she declined. They left it there and said I could drink it. They didn’t charge us for it though. She also had a coke for free, and they didn’t charge us for the dessert wine I had either. Maybe this was simply an oversight by the restaurant.
Although they still kept a very high standard, at my second visit I was a tiny bit less impressed with the food than first time around. I contribute this more to luck than to a decline in cooking capabilities. What I mean is simply that I happened to like the first menu better than the second one. I have a very sweet tooth, and at my first visit it was very refreshing to have desserts that stayed at the same level as the rest of the meal, which rarely happens in Spain. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case at my second visit, which in part was due to the experiment with the tequila and avocado dessert. At my second visit, there weren’t quite so many dishes that stood out as the first time either, and there were two dishes that I didn’t know what to think of either.
Nevertheless, I still feel it’s justified to keep the same score – especially when you take the other aspects into consideration – the perfect service (again), the perfect pace of the meal (again), the very nice chef Carme Ruscalleda who came out to speak to all the guests (again), and the very beautiful restaurant (again).
To me, Sant Pau has been one of the few three star restaurants that I have been to so far that has been worth its three stars.