When an email turned up in my inbox a couple of weeks ago from El Sur announcing the start of their Gastronomic Mondays promotion - a rotating series of experimental set menus meant to pay homage to great culinary names and styles - I saw just one thing.
The word elBulli.
The name blinks out surrounded by mental flashbulbs every time I see it.
I made my peace (albeit grudgingly) with the fact that I would never be able to eat at the Ferran Adria original a while ago (well, mainly due to the fact that it no longer exists and also because I don't think I would be among the hallowed few able to pull the strings required to get a table if it did). Yet, every time I see a restaurant boasting elBulli creds on the team, it gets me inexplicably excited.
I was very pleased with my visit to Catalunya in Singapore a few years ago, so my ears pricked right up when I I learned we would have an ex-elBulli chef right around the corner here in Dubai at El Sur at The Westin Dubai.
Chef Juan-Carlos Gonzalez' opening menu for El Sur at a special pre-launch dinner late last year definitely looked and tasted like it wouldn't disappoint...
But I'm getting distracted. Back to my recent email on elBulli at El Sur...
Would I like to try a series of dishes paying tribute to the Spanish restaurant -actually let me scratch that - the restaurant above all restaurants?
Why yes, I would!
The idea of a menu inspired by what could be considered the most famously original restaurant in living memory seemed a fairly ambitious idea, so I was intrigued to see what would turn up on the evening.
The taster menu was a collection of tapas-for-two platters with a series of flavors and textures - including a number of "liquid" bites, an interesting use of jelly-fied substances (including one dish that featured what I could only describe as sushi jelly), creamy egg and potato-based concoctions, popping air bags stuffed with tasty fillings, and old Spanish favorites presented with a deconstructed twist.
I am a firm believer that part of the point of eating menus of this sort relies on the element of surprise, so I won't spoil the fun for all of you who intend trying out the menu for yourselves by describing each dish in detail.
What I will say is this:
Did the menu pique my interest on scanning through the dishes and deliver in terms of novelty and flavor? Yes.
Would it necessarily be considered a fair meal for the price it is being offered at? (The set menu is priced at AED285 per person, for six tapas starters and three "tribute" dishes).
Well... let's say you won't be going home stuffed to the gills, but that's hardly what you would expect with an experimental menu of this nature. Go with foodie friends who appreciate something different and expect to pay for it.
Would I be coming back to El Sur anytime soon?
Definitely. Any restaurant that focuses on regularly refreshing its menu is a winner in my book.
That said, anyone with a distinct dislike for fishy-tasting ingredients may wish to give this particular avatar of the Gastronomic Mondays menu a miss. And ending the meal on a very-strong tasting shellfish soup may not be the best game plan. Something sweet - or even vaguely dessert-like - at the end, no matter how deconstructed, would definitely be appreciated for the menu to stand as a whole.
Still, the elBulli-esque meal definitely got me intrigued. I will be keeping my eye out for the Gastronomic Mondays menus to come in the months ahead.
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