Spanish eatery hopes world best restaurant award boosts tourism

MADRID Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:26pm EDT

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MADRID (Reuters) - An avante-garde restaurant run by three brothers in north-east Spain hopes that being crowned the world's best restaurant will boost food tourism in recession-bound Spain.

El Celler de Can Roca in Girona scooped the prestigious prize from Britain's Restaurant magazine on Monday, making Spain's coastal region north of Barcelona the top place in the world to eat once again.

The restaurant ended Danish experimental eatery Noma's three-year run in the No. 1 slot. Noma took the title from Catalan chef Ferran Adria's El Bulli, which is 30 miles from El Celler, and held the crown for four years.

El Celler, which the Roca brothers opened in 1986 and boasts three Michelin stars, favors Catalan ingredients such as fresh seafood and playful presentation, serving caramelized olives on bonsai trees to diners.

Dishes at the avant-garde restaurant include desserts based on perfume ingredients, including Calvin Klein's Eternity, ice cream that tastes like smoke from Cuban cigars, and "Dublin Bay prawns with curry smoke".

"The prize means we can strengthen our brand and in terms of promoting our country it's extremely important," sommelier Josep Roca told radio station Cadena Ser on Tuesday.

"We have to take advantage of this to show off our country, philosophy, way of being, living, eating and in some way use it to our advantage in terms of tourism."

Josep and his brothers Joan and Jordi run the restaurant after learning the trade at their parents' Can Roca restaurant, also in Girona.

Joan, who spent one season under Adria at the now closed El Bulli, is head chef, while Jordi takes care of desserts.

The eatery, which has been ranked among the world's top five restaurants for the last five years, offers two tasting menus featuring over 20 dishes for 135 euros ($180) and 165 euros.

"The Roca brothers have managed to reach an extraordinary level based on dialogue, between the sweet, the savory and wine, in a way no other restaurant in the world has managed," said Adria, who cried when the award was announced on Monday.

Two restaurants in Spain's northern Basque Country, Mugaritz and Arzak, came in at No. 4 and No. 8 on the list, making Spain the world's top ranking gastronomic destination with three of the top 10 slots.

Elena Arzak, named the best chef in the world two years ago, told Reuters she also thought the rankings could help lift Spain's depressed economy.

Tourism is one of the only bright spots in Spain's economy, which has shrunk for seven consecutive quarters with record unemployment of 27 percent.

"Getting on the list has a major international impact because it encourages food tourism and generates excitement among people who like fine dining," Arzak said.

"People come from all over the world ... recently we've been seeing lots of visitors from Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and Canada. It's like you get to travel all over the world without leaving the restaurant, just talking to the people who come in."

(Writing by Clare Kane, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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