Quique Dacosta first started working in 1989 (when he was 17) in a family restaurant called El Poblet that had opened in 1981. He stayed, eventually taking over the business in 1999, changing its name to his own in 2009. It is situated in the seaside town of Denia, just over a one-hour drive (47 miles) from Alicante and a similar distance (51 miles) from Valencia. The restaurant is situated a couple of miles outside the centre of Denia, not far from the coast but not in a particularly scenic setting.
In 2013 Michelin awarded the restaurant its third star, after granting an initial star in 2003 and the second one in the 2007 guide. Since October 2010 the restaurant has opened only in the high season (March – October). The self-taught Mr Dacosta is known for his modernist cuisine, with a focus on using ingredients from the local area. There were two tasting menus, one at €135 drawing on dishes over the years, and a contemporary menu at €165. I chose the former at the recommendation of the waiter.
There is a pleasant terrace where you choose your menu and begin with some nibbles. The wine list had 1,500 selections, hand-written in two large notebooks. As so often in Spain, the wine prices were a delight to anyone used to London markups, especially at the higher end of the range. Vina Tondonia 2002 Reserva was €35 for a wine that you can find on the high street for €25, Alion 2004 was €75 for a wine that costs €82 in a shop, with Vega Sicilia Unico 2000 at €260 for a wine that will set you back €305 to buy retail.
The first nibble was what appeared to be a rose, whose petals were actually apple slices dyed red. The trick was certainly well executed, but the apple itself had a slightly strange texture, presumably due to the process used to get it to this shape. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but in this case a rose made of apple, clever though it is, may not taste as sweet as an apple (14/20). There was also a bolero root and a sweet corn leaf, and another leaf with passion fruit. The fried leaves were pleasant enough, though passion fruit seemed an odd flavour at this stage of a meal (14/20).
What appears to be a bowl of black pebbles was next, just one of which actually contained liquid Parmesan inside a thin, crisp layer of cocoa butter. I cannot imagine this kind of thing catching on in the USA, with the potential for litigious diners to lose teeth if they carelessly bite into a real pebble. This possibility was accentuated by a “Lost in Translation” moment, the waiter emphasising that everything on the plate was edible. I bit only into the Parmesan pebble, which in fact was lovely, the liquid cheese rich and enjoyable (18/20). A vinegar tomato, some lichen and a peppery leaf followed, the tomato pleasant though not dazzling, the lichen crisp and inoffensive (at best 15/20).
The next stage of the meal involved cured elements, as you might find at a delicatessen. Bonito was not a patch on the versions I have eaten in Japan, mullet was very salty, and smoked octopus quite smoky and chewy. Again, eating in Japan has taught me that octopus, properly prepared, does not have to resemble a car tyre in texture (13/20 is probably kind for these). There was also some red onion with olive oil, which was harmless enough but did not have the sweetness of top quality onions such as Roscoff or Cevennes (13/20). A fig was reasonable (14/20) but the best element was an edible bag of mixed cereal, which in fact had plenty of flavour (15/20).
Bloody Mary meringue had a liquid centre and was enjoyable, accompanied by a stick of good quality celery (15/20). Two strips of tuna were of very high standard indeed, served on a leaf that was quite peppery in taste (17/20). A "dove egg nest" had a nest of pasta, the “egg” actually containing black truffle and butter. This was very pleasant and quite pretty to look at, the centre not too buttery (16/20).
A razor clam marinated in citrus was very good, of the non-chewy variety, and the dressing was refreshing (17/20). Beetroot ravioli had pleasant texture but the contents of the parcel, with its king crab, flying fish eggs and yoghurt, did not seem to me very harmonious, and was dominated by the beetroot (14/20). Apple "tart" with Campari was really a cold meringue, but the Campari flavour killed any other taste (13/20).
Better was Mediterranean tacos, the shell delicate, the filling of monkfish, beans and coriander leaf going well together and featuring excellent monkfish (17/20). Sweet cod on a crisp of cocoa was delicate but a bit too sweet to my taste (15/20). At this stage some very pleasant breadsticks appeared, the only bread element of the meal other than a brioche that appeared later.
The next dish "water of tomatoes" had a layer of tomato mayonnaise with dried tomato oil topped with tomato-flavoured ice. This worked well, mainly due to the excellent quality of the tomatoes, which had deep flavour (17/20).
Foie gras topped with rocket was served with brioche, the liver topped with a crisp layer flavoured with rum and Coca Cola. The foie gras itself was extremely good, smooth and having deep liver flavour, and the brioche was lovely, exceptionally delicate in texture (18/20).
"The haze" was a simple enough dish of peas, enoki mushrooms and pork, wreathed in mist from dry ice poured over the plate. The latter effect is hardly original but distracted from the surprisingly tasteless mushrooms, though the peas were very good (15/20). Red prawns were served cold in a red-coloured paper wrapping, with a hot broth of prawns to one side. I was not really taken with this, as the prawns just did not have the sweetness and quality of flavour that I had hoped for, which is surprising given the superb prawns that can be found in Spain (14/20).
Red mullet was served en papillotte and brushed with a sauce of its liver and sea urchin, with flat beans and a eucalyptus leaf. The fish was fine, the sauce pleasantly rich (16/20). A black rice risotto followed, with chanterelle mushrooms and black truffle, and this had lovely texture, the mushrooms of good quality (17/20).
For dessert, a "field of citrus" was a pretty dish with kumquat and mandarin, with a powder of citrus biscuit that had been frozen and the grated. This was very enjoyable, the fruit having good flavour, the powder adding a little texture contrast to the soft fruit (17/20).
A dessert titled "milk" had brioche dipped in cream and berries with a sabayon, cream of milk and was served within a container of milk skin and sugar that had been dried. There was also some fragrant vanilla used in the filling, and the overall effect tasted a lot better than it may sound (16/20).
Black forest was a little chocolate cake with a crisp coating and cherry ice cream inside, which was very pleasant, though not especially pretty to look at (16/20). The meal concluded with coffee and a wooden box containing a praline of cocoa with kirsch, cherry pearls and a cherry cream, which were all enjoyable if not dazzling (16/20).
Service was excellent throughout, friendly and efficient. The bill came to €253 (£212) per person with a bottle of lovely Alion 2004 and a glass of fizz. With a more modest selection of drinks the bill would be lower than this, perhaps £145 a head.
Regular readers of this website will be aware that I prefer classical cuisine to modernist. French general Pierre Bosquet said of the charge of the Light Brigade: "it is magnificent, but it is not war. It is madness." and I feel a similar way about much modernist cuisine: I can admire the skill involved, but I find it hard to love. In the hands of a genius like Sergio Hermann or Grant Achatz this kind of Harry Potter food, with its potions and lotions, can be superb, but there are very few chefs in the world that can pull this off. The food at Quique Dacosta was slightly reminiscent of El Bulli, though there the food ranged wildly from sublime to sickening and everything in between. Here there was nothing offensive on the plate, but the best dishes did not really hit the culinary heights either.