El Bulli Chef: Opening in London Is Like Remaking Star Wars
Albert Adria, who helped his brother Ferran make El Bulli into one of the world's greatest restaurants, is coming to London in February to spread a little culinary magic.
50 Days by Albert Adria, at the Cafe Royal, will be the chef's first such project outside Spain. He says he hopes to give diners a flavor of contemporary cooking, not a copy of El Bulli, which topped the World's 50 Best Restaurants a record five times before it closed in 2011. But he will draw inspiration from that restaurant, along with the five he currently owns in Barcelona.
Getting a table at any of those can be tricky, particularly Tickets, where menu options may include a mini airbag with Manchego cheese foam, and a "trip around the world" in 14 oysters. (Bookings at El Bulli were even harder to obtain: the usual figure quoted was two million applications each year for 8,000 places.)
50 Days by Albert Adria runs from Feb. 12. through April 9. Despite the £150 per head set charge, plus wine and service, most tickets quickly sold out (though Adria doesn't rule out a possible extension).
What Will Diners Get For Their Money?
The meal will start with snacks in the Cafe Royal's Oscar Wilde Bar and then move on to the Domino restaurant for a menu of about a dozen courses.
The bar snacks might include a version of the exploding olive served in El Bulli. (That was olive juice trapped in a film of gel.) For London, Adria is exploring the possibility of adapting it to the flavors of an English pub, with Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. He's also thinking about a canape of a smoked eel with jelly of its own skin. Even the time in the bar itself is inspired by the terrace where guests sat before their meal on the coast, north of Barcelona.
"The easiest thing would have been to make a mix of the restaurants in Barcelona, but I don’t want to make a menu that doesn’t make sense, where suddenly you find a ceviche [just] because I have a Peruvian restaurant, Pakta," Adria says.
"It's like the new Star Wars – people who go to see it have different expectations. Those who have seen the old movies are like the people who have been to El Bulli. And there's also a generation of new people that have only seen the latest movie."
"50 Days will be true to the past but it is not the same thing. For people who don't have that past connection, they will either like it or not. But we have to work with perceptions. My goal is to make as many people as possible happy."
"One thing I have come to realize is that more isn't necessarily better. At El Bulli it was different, but that was what they were selling there at that time. I don’t want to feel we are like a good movie that is 40 minutes too long." (The last time I dined at El Bulli, there were 48 courses.)
Adria says he needs to see how 50 Days is going before even considering a brief extension to the London run. Also, he is working on separate projects in Ibiza and in Barcelona, where he plans another restaurant, Enigma.
Interviewed at the Cafe Royal, where he is helping to create the restaurant's layout, perfect the tableware and develop the menu, Adria is smiling and at ease. Will his brother come to London to try 50 Days?
"Yes, he will come. He is curious. He is like a kid.
"He is very excited about what is going on, what we're doing. And he was very easily convinced about this project. Normally, he says, 'No, no, no, think it through.' But this one he was, 'OK, when am I coming?'"
- 50 Days by Albert Adria, Cafe Royal, 68 Regent Street, London W1B 4DY. Booking for food or cocktails: Call +44-20-7406-3344 or try online
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines