I like Girona for a day trip. It’s far enough away that the air smells different, and the trees change but not so much that my seatbelt starts to pinch on the way over. In the old town, there are hills to get the heart thumping and cobbled pedestrian streets. A river runs through it, with a picturesque bridge to cross back and forth. Old colourful buildings lean over towards the water. I hear more Catalan than in Barcelona, that and the mixed tongues of the tourists, who love Girona as much as I do.
Girona is synonymous with the Roca brothers for me. A little further out of town, impossible to get a reservation at and expensive. A good way into the pandemic, the Roca brothers opened Normal restaurant in the city’s centre—two dining rooms on either side of a hallway clad in wine bottles.
As the name implies, it’s a casual place. Or, the Roca brothers’ impression of casual. There is no eating here without a reservation, which I don’t have. I roll the dice out into the Universe, put my name down on the waiting list and wait across the street at La Simfonia, sipping wine and nibbling cheese. The Universe is amenable, and soon I am sitting in the brighter of the dining rooms, with a view onto the kitchen with my sister.
Typical Catalan dishes populate the menu, albeit served on better crockery, like the fried eggplant with honey. A plate of mackerel escabeche comes with dollops of green oil floating like miniature lilypads and perfectly tiny apple dice. The duck is served in an orange Le Creuset pot garnished with fresh figs. The best part of that dish is the sauce. And we ask for extra bread to mop up all that deliciousness. The server is only too happy to oblige. She totally gets it.
And while the food at Normal is better than good. It’s the package that appeals to me most. Eating in a restaurant conceived of by the likes of the Roca brothers is a delight because everything has been thought of and worked out. The staff are properly trained, there when you want them and scarce when you don’t. The aforementioned plates are beautiful even without the food. The garnishes are on the nose and never get recycled onto another dish (a time-saving kitchen habit I can’t abide). It all just works- a little like the reassuring thunk on the door of an expensive car. Perfectly conceived and doing exactly what it said it was going to do.