Cadaqués and Roses, on the Catalan coast north of Barcelona, are just 15km apart, but each has a very different share of the Mediterranean. In the smaller bays around Cadaqués, many little boats seek a safe haven, while in Roses the broader bay lures larger sailboats – and professional fishermen.
In the centre of Roses, Rafas and Cal Campaner are beacons for those who either like their fresh fish grilled or, like me, are addicted to anchovies. (On this last trip, I started eating them laid out on thin slices of bread soaked in tomatoes – pan con tomat – for breakfast.) The surrounding waters also provide a local delicacy: gambas de Roses.
These bright red prawns are about six inches long and I first enjoyed them on the terrace of the Almadraba Park Hotel, now run with precision and relaxed charm by Jordi Subirós, whose grandfather designed the building that, despite being 42 years old, shows not the slightest sign that its Mad Men patina may be fading.
We had already ordered quite enough tapas for lunch, when I saw a tray of these prawns being taken to the table next to ours. I felt at once that this was a dish neither I, nor my friends, should miss out on.
And indeed, it was a treat for all the senses. The prawns arrived covered in sea salt and we waited impatiently for them to cool before ripping the heads off, peeling the shell and enjoying everything that emanated from them: their intoxicating aroma; the sweetness of the meat; the juices that flowed; and, best of all, licking our salt-encrusted fingers clean.
This dish, I learnt from Subirós, is a combination of the freshness of the prawns allied to the least intrusive cooking technique. Once covered in sea salt, the prawns are laid out in a dish and cooked for four minutes at 180C. And that is just about the time we took to do them justice.
The more obvious charms of Cadaqués’ narrow streets and inlets, as well as its proximity to the fascinating former home of Salvador Dalí, have made the more northerly of these two ports popular with tourists, particularly during the summer. But until now it has been devoid of any really fascinating restaurants. This changed in early May with the opening of Compartir in an association that would have delighted the town’s extraordinary artist.
The restaurant is located in the town centre, in what was a rather run-down hotel that belongs to Senor Vehi, an art dealer who specialises in Dalí works. Vehi realised that the ground floor space was underperforming, and has now handed it over, on friendly commercial terms, to a trio of Spain’s most exciting chefs – Oriol Castro, Mateu Casañas and Eduard Xatruch – while still running the four apartments above.
These three chefs honed their skills over the past decade with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli and while they are still involved in the transformation of Adrià’s restaurant into a culinary foundation (scheduled to open in 2014), they are also transforming their knowledge into producing a much simpler, and far less expensive affair than the 24-course extravaganzas served at their alma mater.
The menu takes its cue from the restaurant’s name: compartir means to share and here the emphasis is on dividing dishes between friends. In practice, I have always found this works best with first courses and desserts rather than the main courses, although this may be because we all become proprietorial at this stage of the meal.
Certainly, our three first courses were stunning. Fillets of marinated sardines with slices of orange and green olives; whipped gorgonzola cheese that covered strips of endive and hid nuggets of walnuts and passion fruit; and, best of all for an anchovy lover, more of these little piscatorial gems, here covered in grated black truffle and pearls of olive oil caviar. Our main courses were good: half a lobster; a “shabu shabu” of salmon with asparagus; and a whole, small sea bass with mushrooms and seaweed.
There is an excellent wine list, in Spanish, Catalan, French and English, compiled by Ferran Centelles, the former sommelier at El Bulli, who is now preparing for sale via Sotheby’s the 10,000 bottles the restaurant had when it closed.
But the real charm of Compartir is that it is more than the sum of its parts. Sitting outside under the stars, eating and drinking well, listening to the squawking seagulls above and hoping that the meal will never come to an end.
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Sant Sebastian 56, Roses, +34 972 254003
Mossen Carles Feliu 32, Roses, +34 972 256954,
Almadraba Park Hotel
Avinguda DÍaz Pacheco, Roses, +34 972 256590, www.almadrabapark.com
C/Unio 14, Cadaqués, +34 972 258482, www.compartircadaques.com