Can Fabes

Saint Joan 6, San Celoni, Spain

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Editor's note: It was announced in mid July 2013 that Can Fabes would close permanently at the end of August 2013.

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 it did only 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 was 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 (18/20). Delicate bread sticks, one black olive and the other Parmesan, were also served (17/20). 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 (13/20). 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 14/20.

A ravioli of crab with ginger sorbet was better, though it was just some decent crab meat with some reasonable pasta and a sorbet (16/20). A little vegetable terrine served on a piece of salmon with a few broad beans was well made and had quite good vegetables (17/20). 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 (17/20). 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 (16/20). 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 15/20 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 (15/20). Three pleasant sorbets lightened the mood, a lemon, red fruit and mandarin sorbets, all with nice texture and good flavour (18/20). 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 (18/20). 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 (19/20).

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 18/20 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.

See other tabs for my notes from earlier, happier meals.



Further reviews: 01st Oct 2006 | 02nd Mar 2003 | 25th May 1999

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User comments

  • Nathan

    We visited here last Sept 2010 as a five yr anniversary trip around Europe. We did not know that on the very day of the reservation, it was a Catalonian holiday and everybody had cancelled reservations. We however made the trip still and was the only table there, we had everybody at our service, what a treat. I felt the food was admirably good for lunch and that the pork neck on a bread stick still gives me the chills. I also felt the deserts were a bit on the plain side. The wine we had was Santamaria's namesake merlot from Catalonia. I was impressed with the quality overall and even got to meet Santamaria on our way in. Now that he has passed, the trip to the restaurant will forever be memorable to my wife and I, especially since we got such a treat that day.

  • Andy T

    I must agree with the other reviewers comments and say the quality was not what I expected. Gritty razor clams, overcooked ssalted cod and ordinary desserts were the highlights and generally below 1 michelin star cooking. An unhelpful sommelier added to the experience after asking him for a dessert wine menu he replied "Its in Spanish" without offering to help. A bad experience and I wished I had gone to Joan Roca in Girona. The only explanation was Santi was not there that day (Saturday)but for £450 for two, not good.

  • Chris

    A gradual slide in quality from early highs is not confined to Michelin-starred places. Again and again I've noticed previously reliable restaurants in our own holiday town (L'Escala) happy to slip into mediocrity once they're in the guidebooks. It's even more noticeable when you are served the same dish on different visits, the first superb and the second consisting of the exact same ingredients but poorly executed. One example I always think of is a lovely fresh octopus salad I was served in a restaurant called La Gruta. I revisited the restaurant just one year later and was served partly-defrosted octopus and hugely oversalted salad. Amuse bouches were offered the first time and not the second, house bread disappeared, the list goes on. I'm sure it's not a phenomenon specific to Spain, but I have certainly noticed it there more than elsewhere.