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Massana in Girona, Catalunya - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 92.
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It's a holiday. It's the Costa Brava. Lloret de Mar, Blanes, L'Estartit. The annual anaesthesia of twelve days of clubbing, drinking, sunshine and other pleasures which I will not deal with in detail. Girona Costa Brava Airport is where you land before you are whisked off by bus to the beaches and the dreary tower flats that double as hotels. A certain carrier seemingly charges little but still earns a lot.

Obviously Girona is more than its airport. In fact it is a lovely town with some 100,000 inhabitants, a charming old town centre and more than 2,000 years of history. I very much enjoyed the Cathedral, the old fortifications, the Collegiate Church of Sant Feliu, Independence Square and the houses hanging over the river Onyar. Would these attractions alone have lured me to Girona? Sadly, the answer is probably in the negative. I came here to have lunch at a certain restaurant that I have written about before.

I needed a place to eat at on the night before. The Michelin guide spoke highly of a restaurant called Massana; it is awarded a Michelin star. Was it only an amuse bouche before the real thing on the next day? Quite the opposite. As I found out during my meal, Massana is a household name in the Catalunya dining scene for a reason.

Massana restaurant in Girona is run by husband and wife team Pere Massana and Ana Roger. The restaurant has held a Michelin star since 2007. Massana is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Saturday (no dinner on Tuesday). The restaurant offers a 9-course Gourmet tasting menu for €82.50, an a la carte menu and a special "seasonal dishes" menu. I had dinner at Massana with my husband on Wednesday 25 October 2012 and we both had the 9-course Gourmet tasting menu. Accompanying wines were served for a very reasonable € 36 a head.

With our aperitifs we were served 7 tapas:

Transluscent 'Bloody Mary' - a refreshing celery cocktail served with some melon at the bottom of the glass.

 Bonbon with a creamy tuna filling covered in a fresh tomato jelly, topped with some mayonnaise and served with a tomato crumble that had lovely intense tomato flavours.

Shandy (beer mixed with lemon) granita bonbon with confit lemon jam - lovely fresh flavours from the bonbon and nice stickiness from the lemon jam.

Fantastic crisp 'Pa de Coca' (Spanish toasted bread) soufflé covered with finely chopped fresh tomatoes and slivers of Iberico ham and sprinkled with some olive oil. Simply brilliant.

Fresh anchovy fillet with thin crispy toast, strawberry and allspice jelly. Wonderful combination of sweet, spicy and salty flavours.

Baghrir (Moroccan pancake) topped with a juicy king prawn, soft leeks and a beautiful thin veil of pork fat.

Bunyol (fritter) with an absolutely divine liquid cep filling which had an amazing depth of flavour.

The first course of the tasting menu was: Mixed seafood, seaweed (Irish moss), yuzu mayonnaise. Delicious fresh seafood (prawn, mussel, clam, octopus) served on ice with lightly pickled and very flavoursome seaweed and terrific, well-balanced yuzu mayonnaise which had a wonderful foamy consistency and beautifully enhanced all the seafood flavours.

Second course: Marinated sardines, tomato tartare, lime and basil ice cream. Beautifully presented marinated sardines served on some fresh tomato tartare with a hint of basil. The sardines were covered with a sheet of soaked rice paper. Lovely freshness from the lime and basil ice cream which helped cut through the fattiness of the sardines. A sensational dish with well-balanced flavours and top-quality ingredients. The sardines were absolutely amazing, sashimi-grade.

On to the third course. Yoghurt foie gras, moscato jelly, puffed rice, coffee crunch. A delicious smooth and airy yoghurt and foie gras crème which had a wonderful sharp finish. Great texture from the puffed rice and coffee crunch, the latter providing a touch of warmth. A delightful dish with a wonderful balance between the richness of the yoghurt foie gras and the freshness of the moscato jelly and the right amount of acidity. Great presentation too.

Fourth course. Razor clams, cauliflower, lime. Beautiful plump and tender razor clams, accompanied by a light and smooth cauliflower puree which had fantastic, subtle, charred flavours. Lovely freshness and zing from the lime caviar. A dish that amazes by its very simplicity and by the outstanding quality of the razor clams  - the best in recent memory.

Next up was the fifth course: Tuna 'Tataki', tomato, potato curry, soy. Superb, lightly seared, juicy tuna served with tomato jam, a green asparagus tip, a potato curry foam and a soy sauce reduction. Wonderfully sweet tomato jam with the perfect touch of acidity, lovely warmth and creaminess from the potato curry foam and a rich yet elegant soy reduction. A creative and very inspired dish with multi-dimensional flavours that were incredibly satisfying.

Sixth course. Rabbit shoulder, apple, rosemary, enoki mushrooms. A glistening shoulder of rabbit that was lacquered with rich concentrated rabbit jus. The fall-off-the-bone rabbit meat was moist and tender. Also on the plate were these delicious pieces of apple, lightly flavoured with rosemary, which provided the perfect touch of freshness, a sweet tang followed by the bitter-sweet rosemary. A wonderful dish with beautifully balanced flavours. The rosemary apple really complimented the rabbit.

Seventh course. Iberico pork jowl, seville orange, salad. Fantastic, gelatinous pork jowl that was rich and sticky, accompanied by some crackling, a light mixed salad with a citrus dressing and some lovely refreshing, orange jelly cubes. Both the citrus dressing and the seville orange helped to cut through the richness of the pork jowl, but ultimately failed to balance the dish. But only a curmudgeon could fault a dish with such really exciting flavours for being a tad rich.

Eight course. Apple, marshmallow, bay leaf. A beautifully made 'apple': apple marshmallow filling covered with a layer of thin apple jelly. With the apple came this delicious light apple soup and a wonderful, creamy, bay leaf ice cream. A wonderful, comforting dessert with terrific, concentrated apple flavours, the right amount of sweetness and acidity and well-judged use of cinnamon and bay leaf. Simplicity and complexity combined in one dish.

Last and ninth course. Chocolate: fritter, ice cream, mouse, crumble, aerated. A fritter with a delicious liquid chocolate filling, well-made airy chocolate mousse and fantastic fresh and creamy chocolate ice cream. An excellent and very satisfying chocolate dessert with fantastic textures and flavour intensities.

Massana served us an excellent 9-course tasting menu. In his cooking, Pere Massana uses first-class ingredients and he cleverly integrates modern techniques into his classically based dishes. "Local and seasonal" is not a fad here but a way of life. The kitchen turns out sophisticated dishes which also retain this delightful simplicity. This is inspired food, cooked by a chef who clearly understands taste very well and who strikes a perfect balance between authenticity and creativity. The result are attractive dishes that have fantastic, well-balanced flavours. The modern, lovely dining room is well-appointed. Service is great - enthusiastic, competent and relaxed. This is as good a one Michelin star restaurant as I have been to. And did I already mention pricing was very keen?

Posted 20-11-2012


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