Can Fabes is in Sant Celoni, about 30 miles from Barcelona, a 45 minute drive or you can take the far from express train from the main Barcelona station to St Celoni. the train may not zip along but cost an absurdly cheap 3 Euros return fare; there is then a 15 minute walk at the other end from the little station, as the restaurant is at the opposite end of the sleepy town. The sadly un-scenic train journey takes about 50 minutes, with lots of stops). The town is so quiet that just a solitary early morning train bothers to go there on Saturdays.
The restaurant is attractively set out in a series of small sections radiating out from the kitchen. Bare brick walls, wooden floors and exposed wooden beams on the low ceiling contribute to a rustic, cosy atmosphere. The food is definitely Spanish rather than French (by contrast, the technically perfect 3 star places in Germany uniformly stick to classic French, as if afraid to explore their own cuisine).
The notes on the meal below are from my fourth visit to Fabes and, sad to say, each one has been less good than the previous visit. My first meal here in the late 1990s was so superb that it genuinely saddens me to see it slide backwards in this way. It pains me to say that this is clearly no longer a true 3 star restaurant (except for desserts). Chef Santa Santamaira, who was head chef during each of my visits here, tragically died in February 2011, but the restaurant continues on.
Each table has a white linen tablecloth and a wooden carving. The menu was appealing, with a variety of local traditional recipes, some with a more modern take. Starters were around EUR 50, main courses EUR 47 to EUR 75, while a tasting menu was a hefty EUR 185. The wine list was lengthy and spans the world, with good growers chosen from a wide range of countries. 1997 Vintage Tunina from Jermann was EUR 93, Rioja Alta 904 1994 was EUR 59, Alion 2004 a fair EUR 72, but the older Unico wines were heavily marked up e.g. a 1986 was EUR 858. Penfolds RWT Shiraz was EUR 183 for the 1999 vintage. It is interesting to compare these 2008 prices with those in 1999, where I drank a fine Unico 1981 for less than EUR 200.
Bread appeared as an attractive display of loaves, which are shown and then taken away to be sliced and served during the meal. Olive bread was perhaps the best, but country bread and bacon bread weer also very good (8/10). Delicate bread sticks, one black olive and the other Parmesan, were also served (7/10). A little dish with a terrine of foie gras was a rather sorry way to begin the meal,, the terrine far too buttery and with nowhere near enough foie gras flavour (3/10). A cocktail stick with layers of potato and bacon was pleasant, but a snail was distinctly chewy and a little gritty in texture, while octopus was only a bit better. A grainy but well flavoured foie gras pate was better. Overall these were barely 4/10.
A ravioli of crab with ginger sorbet was better, though it was just some decent crab meat with some reasonable pasta and a sorbet (6/10). A little vegetable terrine served on a piece of salmon with a few broad beans was well made and had quite good vegetables (7/10). A salad of langoustines had half a dozen high quality langoustines, nicely cooked and rather eccentrically served with a couple of slices of orange, some cous cous, broad beans and a few leaves. I didn't understand what the orange was doing on the plate but the shellfish were good (7/10). I also tried a little of a "ravioli" of prawns made without pasta, but instead consisted of a translucent layer of prawn, mushroom and onion. This must have been fiddly to plate up and it was lukewarm by the time it arrived, and to be honest was just not a very pleasant dish to either look at or taste, when a little real ravioli may have been fine.
A casserole of vegetables was brought to the table in its cooking pot and then plated. The asparagus, carrot, broad bean, peas, white asparagus and mange-tout were light and pleasant, though it was telling that the peas were better at the tapas bar Cal Pep that we had been to for lunch that day (6/10). I am all for simplicity, but then the produce has to be top notch, and this was merely good. Wild sea bass cooked a la plancha was, unforgivably, raw in the centre, a very basic technical error that should not happen in any professional kitchen, let alone a 3 star one. This was served with decent caramelised onion and a chicken coxcomb and chicken heart. The fish itself was a wild bass and the dish overall would have been perhaps 5/10 if I ignore the glaring problem that it was not cooked properly.
Suckling pig was served in two ways, with a huge slab of rib and also the belly, with nice crackling. This was offered with two huge langoustines which were, sadly, a little overcooked and so had become slightly chewy. There was also some pleasant slices of fried potato and a little broccoli. The portion size was absurdly large, and the pork itself good but, the crackling aside, no more than that (5/10). Three pleasant sorbets lightened the mood, a lemon, red fruit and mandarin sorbets, all with nice texture and good flavour (8/10). Rum Baba is a deceptively simple dish easy to mess up, but here the sponge was extremely moist and light, with a little rum poured over at the table (8/10). A chocolate soufflé was excellent, light and with plenty of rich flavour, served with ginger ice cream and a little spun sugar flavoured with ginger (9/10).
Coffee was good, with an array of nice petit-fours. A red fruit tart had good pastry, lemon macaroon was enjoyable, a salt caramel in filo pastry worked well and a toffee and cream concoction was a little rich, as well as a couple of good chocolates. Perhaps 8/10 for the petit fours.There were forty covers in the restaurant and seventeen chefs in all working this evening. Service was friendly and mostly capable, though topping up was not quite as smooth as one might expect. The bill was EUR 423 for two with one bottle of Alion and a glass of modest dessert wine.
Here are my notes from earlier, happier meals.
The food shows remarkably assured technique in harmony with the best of local ingredients. Sadly the bargain basement wine list has been updated for the modern world, though mark-ups are still very fair by London standards; the superb Alion is not on the list but is nonetheless available if you ask the wine waiter. Torres Mas La Plana is available in several vintages and is about twice retail price in London. I would have ranked the food here in the upper quartile of 3 star Michelin restaurants I have visited anywhere, though my most recent meal was not as good as earlier visits.
Highlights from one meal include a spectacular soup of langoustine served inside a hollowed-out sea urchin, some stunning salt cod and perhaps the best passion fruit soufflé I have ever eaten. In October 2006 I went for the “surprise” menu, which was as follows.
Razor clams with cauliflower
Langoustine with local mushrooms (oui de reze)
Lobster with a mild curry sauce
Sea bream with red wine sauce
A treat was to have a glass of 1851 Solera sherry, which is made rather like a Pedro Ximines sherry. The home-made breads are excellent here, and on the food front the highlights were a perfect langoustine and superb local mushrooms, which worked very well together. It was also impossible to fault the chocolate soufflé, while the lobster was also very tender. I wondered whether it was quite as good tonight though as on previous visits. Still well worth trying!
However the following was from 2nd March 2003.
Superb again. There were multiple amuse -bouches, including a spectacular one of a sea urchin hollowed out and halved, in which was a little broth of seafood – the spikes of the urchin were a very pretty way to display this. My starter of scallops was stunning, as was Stella’s main course salt cod. I perhaps ordered poorly with my main course pork dish, which was rather fatty, though no doubt exactly as it was supposed to be, and the sauce was excellent. The passion fruit soufflé and indeed the chocolate soufflé were as near perfect as I am likely to taste (10/10) while the tuiles with coffee were superb, displayed in a little tuile tray. The macaroons were as light as a cloud. Even the cheeses were very fine, a few French along with a number of local cheeses. The Vega Sicilia Unico is no longer a bargain, and we ordered Mas La Plana given that there was no Alion on the wine list, only to discover later in conversation with the sommelier that he actually had some Alion that he kept to one side: next time, order the Alion! Maybe not quite up there with Michel Guerard et al, but a fabulous meal.
The reason I originally raved about the place was this meal, on the 25th May 1999.
An amuse bouche of pea puree was remarkable and set the scene. Tuna was quite simply the best I have ever eaten to his date, seared on the outside, stunningly tender inside. I started with some lovely grilled langoustines, but the dish of the night was a simple starter of rice primavera, just spring vegetables (baby broad beans, amazingly fine asparagus, peas) cooked with some rice, which was one of the most remarkable things I have tasted, made with a chicken stock and just bursting with flavour (10/10). Stella’s sea bass was beautifully cooked.
Cheeses were in very fine condition, mostly Spanish with a few French. We both had different chocolate desserts - I had a conventional mousse (perfect) and Stella a stunningly intense Valrhona cake which was made with no flour. For wine we had the divine Vega Sicilia Unico 1981 which at about £150 was only a little more than retail. The sommelier was excellent and gave us tastes of various other glasses e.g. a rare Gewürztraminer Eiswein made under artificial conditions in Penedes, which was actually very good, and a fine Muscatel dessert wine.
It is a sad story of increasing prices and decreasing standards.