From the outside, Massana is discrete: wood and glass frontage with the shades pulled down. Unless you know there's a restaurant behind the clean but innocuous exterior, you would just walk on by assuming its a graphic design studio. Inside, it's reasonably modest in scale, eight or so well spaced tables, but clearly in the Michelin spirit with pressed white cloths, waiters in smart black uniforms and challenging artwork on the walls. With our taxi driver telling us the previous day that Can Roca is outside the budget of most locals, Massana is we guess the best 'other restaurant' in town: it takes the role quite seriously.
The menu looks impressive views through the description of what's on offer but we're immediately presented with a dilemma: the tasting menu consists of six finger type snacks and eight tasting plates followed by petit fours and coffee. The food sounds fantastic, so what's the dilemma? Well, we've been to plenty of one starred restaurants that were, quite frankly, not that good. What if this is one of them and then we have to eat eight plates of not so good food? Set against that, the menu is priced at around €68 and with paired wines taking the per person cost to just €100. We're cautious but we've got little to do in the afternoon (the alternative is walking around Girona which seems a little too close to exercise) and since we're on a gastronomic mini-break, it seems that we really should sample everything the restaurant has to offer (and pray that we've discovered the next El Bulli). In fact, the restaurant has significant aspirations we're sure and nearest Michelin starred neighbours El Bulli and Can Roca have clearly left their imprint on Massana's offering.
One thing that we immediately notice is that the chef, Pere Massana is in the dining room chatting to a couple of guests; we assume their regulars/friends. With the restaurant at 2pm still only three tables full, we're not overly surprised that on his way back to the kitchen he decides to stop by our table and say hello, it's good business to do so. With both our Spanish and his English sketchy, it's a short exchange but a nice and friendly touch. We are surprised however when it is Chef Massana himself who comes over a second time to take our food order. In fact, through the afternoon, Massana must have spent around 60% of his time on the restaurant floor rather than the kitchen and during the course of the meal, visited our table no less than four times. We can see how this might work as a strategy to make diners feel special but we wonder if he's really got staff of sufficient talent and training in the kitchen who can turn out food at the desired quality without the full time oversight of the chef.
However, this is a restaurant that wants at lest two stars, that's clear from the menu, the food style and the ambitions laid bare on the website. They will though almost certainly fall short of the second star if they don't push harder to achieve their goal. The service needs to be a little sharper, obvious mistakes need to be corrected (big bones in fish) but more than anything else, while the menu is in the style of a two star restaurant, the quality threshold has not yet been passed. This is where Chef Massana must show he's up to the job. With the liquid chocolate fritters, a good dessert we said but not a great dessert; Massana needs to keep toiling to thin up the fritter walls so that when its in the mouth, it's as if the wall isn't even there and then, it becomes a dessert that will leave diners agog with wonder. That's true across the whole menu, that's the challenge.
From our one visit there, we can't say whether Chef Massana has the talent or not to deliver on this and if he does, it of course marks him out as a very special chef indeed, we're not saying it's easy. However, from what we observed, if he continues to spend more time in the dining room than the kitchen, the achievement of the goal will almost certainly be elusive because subordinates, no matter how talented, will never do it for him.
Bottom line: worth visiting, great value, a solid one star.
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