Where to Eat:
Favourite Costa Brava Restaurants
The charms of the ‘rugged coast’ (as the Costa Brava translates to) are many. For instance, winding your way through the best of the Empordà, Spain’s answer to Tuscany. Rugged volcanic landscapes, villages with pristinely preserved medieval architecture, the sublime Mediterranean coast of Girona province—it’s no wonder this land has been an inspiration for artists, and especially fertile for those working in the art of food.
Home to some of the world’s best chefs, the Costa Brava is a veritable constellation sprinkled with Michelin stars all around. With hundreds of years of agricultural and viticultural tradition in the region, it’s little wonder that when you come to eat in Catalonia, you will come to taste the many ways in which its traditional cuisine and ingredients are interpreted by these top chefs. Here are just a few of the excellent restaurants to consider on a night out.
Three Michelin Stars
Located in the medieval gem of Girona, you’ll find three of the Roca brothers taking care of business: head chef Joan, pastry chef Jordi, and sommelier Josep. With a trio of Michelin stars to match, here you’ll find a complex, cutting-edge (and necessarily creative) bent to the cuisine. It’s been ranked top in the world twice (on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list), and highly regarded for Jordi Roca’s desserts. Try a ‘classic’ menu of their greatest hits, or throw caution to the wind and discover something new from the kitchen.
One Michelin Star
Ambitious and young chef-sommelier duo, Albert Sastregener and Cristina Torrent, have made a mark with this one-Michelin-starred restaurant (awarded in 2009), housed in a former flour mill. The cuisine of the Emporda is represented here in the form of stews and traditional ingredients like cod, duck, and risotto; but with a creative and playful bent. There are over 400 wines on the list from Spain and other countries to complement the plates.
The long shadow of now-closed El Bulli (Ferran Adria’s temple of molecular gastronomy and experimentation) still casts a spell, as several of its ex-sous-chefs—Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, and Mateu Casañas—have joined forces once more to make culinary magic in the coastal town of Cadaques. More relaxed and convivial, with the concept of shared dishes (‘compartir’ means ‘to share’ in Spanish), expect modern and creative flavours in an unpretentious setting (a 18thC home). The restaurant occupies the first floor, and an art gallery and rented apartments are on the other floors.
At Els Brancs (‘the branches’), named for the islands sitting just off the coast of this scenic seaside restaurant, it might be hard to tear your eyes away from the view to fully appreciate the edible art in front of you.
But the stupendous setting combined with visually arresting plates, one might argue, is, in fact, the perfect sensory overload for uniquely plated Catalonian food. (As you can see, the sunsets are spectacular, too.)
Three-hundred-year-old magnolia trees lend their perfume and their name to Les Magnòlies, now in its 20th year of service. Go all out and choose the gastronomic menu, with twenty(!) courses featuring the best from the sea and the land, eat a la carte, or go for a more ‘restrained’ tasting menu. Dishes are plated with a modern sensibility while not going completely over the top (i.e. you can still recognize the food you are about to eat!)
A family-run restaurant, now owned and operated by the third generation of the Gascons-Lloveres family, Els Tinars is set in a renovated Catalan farmhouse, where there’s an option to dine outside amongst fragrant hanging wisteria vines. Partake in classic cuisine, including charcoal-grilled Galician beef, and enjoy the old-school table service, which includes waiters cooking, grilling, or carving meat, poultry, and fish in front of your very eyes. You will also find more than 500 wines on their list from Spain and around the world.
Massana has been around for over thirty years, but just earned its first Michelin star in 2007. Run by a husband-wife duo, Pere Massana and Ana Roger, there’s no need to ask—put trust in their taste, and enjoy the simplicity of excellent ingredients married with impeccable presentation. Case in point: original cocktails, varied textures (think tomato-infused jellies or crisp anchovy toasts), a smattering of seafood and a hint of Japanese and other Asian flavours on your plate.
Also Worth Checking Out
Dive into the flavours of contemporary Catalonia as the husband-wife restauranteurs, Elisabet Figuerola and Gerard Geli, along with head chef Damià Rafecas, sing the simple praises of the seasons.
Of particular note are the rice dishes, made with locally cultivated grains grown right in Pals. The restaurant has been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, offering good value and quality.
This one is a little odd, but I had to mention this truly local happening: one of the more charming folk festivals in the region is the calçotada festival, held in Valls around late January. Through the winter season, the delicious calçot (akin to a scallion or green onion) comes into season; it is celebrated all throughout Catalonia by locals who eagerly anticipate its return.
Be prepared to get messy when you eat them: the vegetable is blackened over a fire; eaters then peel away the charred outer skins to feast on the tender white portions, dipping them in romesco sauce as an accompaniment. (Bibs are a necessity, although they may not help entirely). The rest of this traditional feast is comprised of roasted lamb, sausage, and white beans. If you’re in town during the calçot season, it goes without saying that you must try this specialty.