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The Heart of the Costa Brava

A long-awaited and very much anticipated journey back to Spain led me to the origin of my culinary curiosities…

Situated in Platja dÁro, the heart of the Costa Brava, is a veranda overlooking the Mediterranean where the essences of luxury, relaxation, pleasure and the art of gastronomy blend together in perfect harmony.

Dinner began gracefully as we sipped on a chilled Kir Royale, a champagne-based aperitif with a dash of blackcurrant cream liqueur (crème de cassis), complete with a juicy fresh strawberry.

Our sommelier for the evening was Columbian born, Jaime Abel. His knowledge of wine was superb and the only hiccup was the need for a translator as he didn’t speak much English!

Jaime’s suggestion for our first wine of the evening was a Bodegas Tomas Cusiné 2011 from one of Spain’s most exciting wineries. In Spain’s Costers de Segre, Tomas Cuisiné has worked for years with the family’s iconic estate - Castell de Remei, an estate very much responsible for driving international interest in Catalan wines over the last 20 years. However, Tomas left the family business in 2002 to set up his own winery where he now crafts incredibly unique wines by using a selection of grape varietals and the blending of fruit picked earlier with riper, fruitier berries harvested later in the year. His attention to detail is remarkable and he is certainly renowned as being one of the most skilled blenders of wine. The bottle we enjoyed was one of only 10 000 bottles produced.

The view over the Mediterranean from our little enclave was simply inspiring, with the only downfall being the calls from a rather enthusiastic peacock in the distance – something similar to the combination of an industrial buzzer and the bray of a donkey! The amuse bouche was a traditional, but delectable hummus served with homemade breadsticks compliments of the Chef de cuisine Chef Enzic Herche.

Jaime’s suggestion for our first wine of the evening was a Bodegas Tomas Cusiné 2011 from one of Spain’s most exciting wineries. In Spain’s Costers de Segre, Tomas Cuisiné has worked for years with the family’s iconic estate - Castell de Remei, an estate very much responsible for driving international interest in Catalan wines over the last 20 years. However, Tomas left the family business in 2002 to set up his own winery where he now crafts incredibly unique wines by using a selection of grape varietals and the blending of fruit picked earlier with riper, fruitier berries harvested later in the year. His attention to detail is remarkable and he is certainly renowned as being one of the most skilled blenders of wine. The bottle we enjoyed was one of only 10 000 bottles produced.

The view over the Mediterranean from our little enclave was simply inspiring, with the only downfall being the calls from a rather enthusiastic peacock in the distance – something similar to the combination of an industrial buzzer and the bray of a donkey! The amuse bouche was a traditional, but delectable hummus served with homemade breadsticks compliments of the Chef de cuisine Chef Enzic Herche.

Thereafter we tucked into an entrée of terrine of foie gras micuit with apple and a small salad of celery. Foie gras micuit is fresh liver, which is cooked for your meal, and has not been preserved in any way. The ‘mi-cuit’ (meaning half cooked), refers to the foie gras being cooked rather than raw, but not boiled in a container for two hours, as with most preserved versions. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend you give it a go – it does not have that familiar livery flavour or texture, but is instead rather delicate! The small salad of celery cut through the richness of the terrine and left a very pleasant, lingering flavour. A great combination!

Our second entrée was a fresh tuna Carpaccio with olive tapenade and pistou. If I must be honest, this dish left me cold. The pine nuts saved the day as the olive tapenade was very strong and almost overpowered the flavour of the tuna entirely. Both entrée portions were huge and in no way the expected portions of a highly suggested, “Michelin star recommended” restaurant. You certainly would not go hungry here!

 

Our second wine of the evening was a Gneis03 – 2003 Marcia Sera, a wine of origin. The name ‘Gneis’ specifies that the grapes from which this wine is produced are fed by ground that is eminently granite, a composition similar to the gneis (a rock that is essentially quartz, feldspar and mica). The wine has a very intense cherry colour with aromas evoking memories of compotes, and concentrated, intense notes of toast and minerals. It is meaty, with dry tannins of new wood and ripe fruit and plum compote. Very Mediterranean…and very sophisticated.

 

image110Scallops are, hands down, one of my favourite things to eat with their tender, slightly sweet flesh. So, naturally I opted for the grilled scallops with asparagus, bacon and almonds…a superb combination of flavours with a slight hint of mint to round off the taste sensation. Undoubtedly, some of the best scallops I have ever tasted!

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My partner had the rack of lamb roasted with onions, honey, olive, orange and fresh mint. Whilst a feast on paper, this dish was a little disappointing as the meat was overcooked, (not a good start when you prefer your meat medium rare) and the citrus taste of the orange was rather overwhelming instead of being complimentary to the dish as a whole. This being said, although the meat was overcooked, it was very tender.

After our mains, our sommelier decided to le Sebrage a bottle of champagne especially for us. The only difference in his technique of opening a bottle of champagne was that he did not use a sword, but instead, a crystal wine glass to behead the bottle. I am not sure whether this technique still falls under the traditional classification of Sebrage as we would normally use a sabre (a type of backsword that usually has a curved, single-edged blade and a rather large hand guard) rather than a crystal glass. Nonetheless, this was far more impressive! The bottle of Codorniu Pinot Noir Cava* was definitely worth the wait and completely contrasting in taste to its counterpart, our sparkling, in South Africa.

* The Catalan word “cava” means "cave", or "cellar". Caves were used in the early days of “cava” production for the preservation or aging of wine. Catalan winemakers officially adopted the term in 1970 to distinguish their product from French champagne.

For dessert we relished in a panna cotta filled with raspberries and an apple pie with mascarpone ice cream. The panna cotta is the original Italian dessert made from simmering cream, milk and sugar. After many years this treat has evolved into what is now a gelatin dessert, flavoured with vanilla and topped with fruit or spices, and served chilled. I believe this should have been called “sex on a plate”…need I say more!

The petit fours, a small confectionery that is served at the end of the meal was on the house - decadent and eccentric...even the French would have been proud of my sweet tooth on this occasion!

image113All in all, an exceptional evening with Jaime Abel, our sommelier, being the highlight of our dining experience….and of course, my scallops, in at a close second. You will most certainly not go hungry at the Cartas Restaurant Hotel Cala Del Pi as all the portions are definitely worth their weight in gold, unfortunately just not quite as elegant or sophisticated as Michelin might require!

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Definitely worth a visit though if you are traveling through the Costa Brava!

The hotel is 5-star with exceptional staff and a hands-on hotel director, Fco. Javier Colocho, and the view from the restaurant veranda…well…you decide.