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Put simply, Costa Brava’s culinary scene is booming. Exquisite Catalan cuisine abounds on Spain’s rugged northeastern coast, with restaurants offering both traditional and contemporary interpretations of local fare. We explore some of the region’s finest cuisine, from Michelin-starred dining to Salvador Dalí’s favourite restaurant.
Nestled down an unassuming side street in a smart Art Nouveau house, the former family home of Catalan writer Josep Pla, Pa i Raïm is possibly one of the most beautiful restaurants in Palafrugell. True to its history, elegantly decorated dining rooms welcome guests while a beautiful winter garden and tree-shaded terrace offer further enchanting spaces in which to dine. Pa i Raïm’s seasonal cuisine is as delightful as its design, drawing on both traditional Empordà cuisine and modern flavours, with mouthwatering must-try dishes like Catalan cod with raisins and pine nuts, and roasted Iberian pork cheek with muscat, cinnamon and apple.
After living in Dublin for a number of years, Elisabet Figuerola and her partner Gerard Geli decided to move back to their native Empordà to open a restaurant focusing on a modern take on traditional Catalan cuisine – and in the summer of 2011, Vicus was born. Head chef Damià Rafecas cooks up creative dishes like rack of lamb with vanilla, cabbage and parmesan and fillet of venison with pumpkin tatin, but if there’s one must-try item on Vicus’ menu it’s the restaurant’s locally grown rice-based dishes like the arròs de botifarra negra i bolets de temporada (rice with black pudding and wild mushrooms).
Undoubtedly one of the most acclaimed restaurants on the Costa Brava, El Celler de Can Roca is not only a two-time winner of the number one spot in Restaurant magazine’s annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, it also boasts three Michelin stars. Run by the brothers Roca – head chef Joan, pastry chef Jordi and sommelier Josep – the restaurant serves contemporary Catalan cuisine based around multi-course tasting menus with inventive dishes that include oyster with anemone sauce, garlic sand, tender walnut, seaweeds and phytoplankton velouté. It would be a sin to leave without trying one of Jordi’s desserts (also voted the best in Restaurant magazine’s inaugural World’s Best Pastry Chef Award); his recipes include creative sweets like sourdough ice cream with cocoa pulp, dried lychee and Jerez vinegar meringue.
Located on the outskirts of Begur – recently named one of The Culture Trip’s most beautiful Costa Brava towns – Hostal Sa Rascassa is a boutique hotel nestled on the edges of a tranquil, secluded cove that boasts one of the most highly rated restaurants in the region. Fresh and simple is the focus, with an emphasis on traditional recipes and locally sourced ingredients – think seafood-centric dishes like grilled sardines, cod fishcakes and octopus stewed with onion and pepper – complemented by a fantastic wine list equally local in focus. As for the setting, guests can dine in Hostal Sa Rascassa’s rustic, candlelit dining room, or outside in a charming, tree-shaded courtyard.
Awarded a Michelin star in 2013, Els Brancs is the main restaurant of Roses’ Hotel Vistabella. Located on the hotel’s beautiful terrace overlooking the picturesque Bonifaci Beach below, it’s where local foodies head for romantic sunset dining and head chef Javier Cabrera’s creative, Catalan-inspired cuisine. Els Brancs’ à la carte menu features exquisite, innovative dishes like the emulsion of tender almonds starter with anchovies and gazpacho ‘snow,’ and the spicy sautéed langoustine main course with coconut tapioca, grapefruit and tamarind. Guests can opt for a 20-course ‘experience’ menu for a full tour of the restaurant’s avant-garde cuisine.
Though it’s slightly off the beaten track, El Trull d’en Francesc, nestled in the tiny village of Boadella i les Escaules, is certainly worth the trek. Located in a beautifully restored 17th-century oil mill, El Trull d’en Francesc welcomes guests with a rustic-chic dining room complete with cozy fireplace, while a gorgeous terrace ideal for al fresco summertime dining overlooks the neighbouring La Muga river. The restaurant takes full advantage of local produce and its location between the sea and mountains – choose from plates like rockfish pie with shellfish and cream-soup, or pig’s trotter in a penny bun mushroom sauce.
So-called for the 300-year-old magnolia trees that shade its picturesque garden, Les Magnòlies is a Michelin-starred Arbúcies restaurant located in a stunning 19th-century mansion boasting a chic dining room and enchanting outdoor dining. Argentinian chef Víctor Trochi crafts a constantly evolving menu brimming with creative, modern Mediterranean cuisine with standout dishes like cod with chorizo and beans, or venison with quinoa and Salicornia. Guests can choose to order from an à la carte menu, a 14-course market menu built around seasonal produce, or a 20-course gastronomic tasting menu.
A local Cadaqués dining landmark, Casa Anita first opened its doors way back in 1960 and in its 50-plus-year history has welcomed famous faces including Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner. Moreover, legend has it that the family-run establishment was once a favourite haunt of artist Salvador Dalí. It features a laid-back and informal style of dining where no written menu is offered. Instead, Casa Anita’s owner Juanito Marti recites a list of the chef’s available dishes to guests, often suggesting the best suited dishes based on their personal preferences, and guests are seated at communal tables designed to spark conversation between strangers.
Another must-try Girona dining destination, Restaurant Massana opened in 1986 and was awarded its first Michelin star in 2007. Headed by namesake chef Pere Massana, the restaurant’s culinary focus is a mix of the familiar and traditional fused with contemporary techniques and global flavours, along with a seasonally-based menu that has constantly evolved since it was first founded. Main courses include the likes of wild pigeon with beluga stew and tuna tataki with baba ghanoush, sesame and miso sauce. Chef Massana’s avant garde desserts are also more than worth sticking around for, with experimental offerings like yuzu cucumber with fresh mint aroma.