Leaving more than two million palates disappointed and knowing that they will never get to eat there, El Bulli, the best restaurant in the world, closed its doors last night. A select 45 extra-special guests savoured the last ever servings of raspberry hare risotto and parmesan frozen air with muesli.
The diners – friends, family and some of the best-known chefs from around the globe – were treated to a 50-course meal, a champagne party, and a swim in the Costa Brava bay just metres away from the three Michelin-starred Spanish eatery.
Ferran Adria, the "godfather" of molecular gastronomy, shocked the culinary world when he announced last year that he was to close his beachside restaurant, acclaimed as the best in the world five times and boasting Catherine Zeta-Jones, Gordon Ramsay and the American writer Jay McInerney among its fans.
Mr Adria and his 70 chefs have come up with more than 1,200 dishes over the past 24 years and delighted customers with experimental cuisine, ranging from "tobacco-flavoured foam" to "reconstituted olives". The acclaimed restaurant will be transformed into a "gastronomic think-tank" by 2014 which will focus on stretching the boundaries of food.
The El Bulli Foundation plans to grant between 20 and 25 scholarships a year for chefs to spend 12 months working with the restaurant's core staff on new creations. On his final day, Mr Adria said: "I feel like the happiest man in the world. El Bulli is not closing. It's just transforming."
El Bulli's head waiter, Pol Perello, 54, has worked at the restaurant for 12 years. Yesterday, as he worked alongside 26 chefs to prepare the final meal, which included a starter of candyfloss sugar with berry sauce, he told The Independent on Sunday he "could not wait" to get on with the next step in his career.
"After tonight, we will all have six months' holiday and then we will come back and start work at the foundation. It is sad, but we are all excited because we are going to be doing something very new and interesting."
Since its creation, El Bulli's popularity has swelled, with more than a million people going through a lottery to gain a place at one of the tables. But with only one sitting a day, and closing for six months every winter, only 8,000 people were selected each year to wallow in the indulgence of a £240 50-dish set meal. As a result, according to Mr Adria, his restaurant has operated at a loss for the past decade.
The top three recognised chefs in the world, René Redzepi, Joan Roca and Andoni Luis Aduriz were among those who dined at El Bulli yesterday. Mr Roca, an apprentice in the restaurant in 1989, said El Bulli "taught me a different outlook on life", and helped him to find "freedom, nonconformity and risk" in the kitchen.