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Home » Culinary Travel

Rafa’s in Roses: Authentic Seafood Hidden in the Costa Brava


People arrive at Rafa’s restaurant in Roses for different reasons. Some foodies can’t get in to El Bullí, just up the road, so they come here instead. Some gourmands come here because it’s reputed to be Ferrán Adriá’s favourite dining spot. Some people come here because it’s possibly the purest seafood restaurant in the Mediterranean – and, it has to be said, the difficulty of locating Rafa’s means that some people don’t arrive at all.

But our story was a little different. We’d happened upon a TV show where some American chef was accompanying Gwyneth Paltrow on a tour of Spain and its wonderful cuisine. Just as we tuned in Ms. Paltrow was declining some jamón ibérico, which seemed to ruin the whole point of undertaking a foodie tour of Spain.

In spite of this setback, we stayed with the show long enough to see the TV crew reach Rafa’s and, once there, the sight of the proprietor firing up his planxa soon had me reaching for the phone and booking a table in broken Catalan.

Rafa doesn’t keep regular hours. If he can’t get his hands on the best, freshest seafood then he won’t open. And 56 Sant Sebastià Street wasn’t the easiest to find either. About two streets back from the sea at Roses, in an area dominated by ‘touristy’ establishments, the modest front door, which unsurprisingly didn’t bear Rafa’s name, opened up to five tables and a refrigerated display of shimmering seafood.

Once inside however, the simplicity and purity of the offering became clear. Whatever Rafa had identified as the ‘best’ was laid out as if to be purchased and taken home. The waitress explained what was on offer, we chose and the items were then prepared, grilled with sea salt and olive oil and presented without further accoutrements. Nothing more. Not even the traditional seafood accompaniment of all i julivert (garlic and parsley), which is a Catalan seafood fundamental in my book. No side orders, no vegetables, only bread and a good choice of wine – and yet what was presented was the antithesis of plainness and by no means spartan either.

A portion of tellerines (baby clams) arrived first, quickly followed by two giant gambes and some xipirons (baby squid). The four of us tucked in, stealing from each other’s plates before our excited conversation was replaced by an orderly silence as we waited to see what would come next.

We’d opted for the rap (monkfish), bruixa (witch sole) and peix de Sant Pere (John Dory), the first and last of which were expertly opened up to allow an even grilling, the John Dory possibly being one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. There are no standard portions since one of Rafa’s monkfish might have sated the appetite of two or three of us.

In fact, I recall we agreed on that point as the dish was presented, only for the four of us to spend the next few minutes engaging in a childish series of diversionary tactics aimed at increasing our own portions (hey kids, can you read the serial number on the refrigerated counter from here?). Next time, it would have to be dos raps.

Having spent an active morning visiting Peratallada and pounding the streets of Roses, the afternoon was naturally slightly more sedentary in nature. In fact, I don’t think any of us moved for several hours, even in spite of a cheeky cigaló. And yet this wasn’t down to the weight of the meal, but the sense of serenity that descended upon one happy little English family.

El Bullí (which I’ve never been lucky enough to visit) is often described as a ‘once in a lifetime experience’. Rafa’s certainly couldn’t be described that way.

Why? Because we went back a week later and did it all again.

Bon profit!

Editor’s Note: EatCatalunya is pleased to welcome Mark Bradley to the EatCatalunya family. Mark is a talented UK writer and consultant, as well as an aficionado of Catalan cuisine and a new contributor to the site. We are very happy to have him with us…Benvingut Mark!

Mark Bradley is a contributor to EatCatalunya. Author of UK customer service travelogue Inconvenience Stores, Mark’s a writer and consultant working in European football, tourism and leisure. He learned to speak Catalan working in the kitchen of a Girona family restaurant in 1983 and, ever since then, his drugs of choice have been pa amb tomàquet (El Rossinyol, Manlleu), calamars a la romana (Can Roca, Girona) and truita de patates (Hotel Aiguaclara, Begur). Song of the Soul, Mark’s biography of north east musician Martin Stephenson was published by Ardra Press in 2009. You can make contact at mark@bradleyprojects.com.

Images by Jennifer Woodard from the EatCatalunya Group on Flickr.

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