"What happens is this," said our waiter. "I will give you a date to call the restaurant to try and book a table. You must call on this day because it will be the only day in six months when we answer the phone. You will give me some dates that you would like to come to the restaurant to eat. I will then tell you we're busy, and I'll take your fax number. Then, maybe, some time during the next six months, I will call you to let you know you have been successful. Or maybe not..."
Now, ordinarily this would have been a pretty disheartening speech, but as we were already in the restaurant, as we had just finished our meal, all 30 courses of it, then I suppose it was a little churlish of us to expect to be able to eat twice at the best restaurant in the world.
El Bulli is one of those rare things - a restaurant that totally lives up to expectations. Though its thunder has recently been stolen by Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck (a restaurant that, as Heston freely admits, couldn't have existed without El Bulli), it remains the most influential restaurant in the world. This is the home of molecular gastronomy, invented and presided over by Ferran Adria, the chef's chef.
This year, over half a million people will try and get places, although only 8,000 will be successful. Some say it can take six months to get a table at The Ivy. Well, there are people who have been trying to get into El Bulli for six years.
It's between Barcelona and Perpignan, deep in Catalonia, so is the epitome of the destination restaurant; after our 90-minute drive we were expecting something redemptive, which is exactly what we got. Plumping for the menu de degustacio (€165 a head), we were treated to a four-hour meal of nearly three dozen courses, every one of which was an extraordinary experience. We had seafood waffles, melon caviar, spherical mussels with potato soup and bacon oil ravioli, zucchini risotto with curry and peanut capsules, an anchovy and cardamom brioche, hibiscus and eucalyptus and cassis "paper", and a green olive that was anything but (being an olive-coloured meniscus injected with olive juice).
One dish looked as though it may have been designed by Kandinsky, another could easily have been imagined by Julian Schnabel, and it's something of a mystery why Damien Hirst hasn't been asked to collaborate in some way. This is not melodramatic food, not food that you feel has been wrestled to the ground. This is food that has been created through equation: if El Bulli were a rock group, it would be Kraftwerk.
When we left we were given our own individual menu, our own litany of gastronomic excess. It is dated, too, just in case you might be tempted, over the coming years, to forget you went there.
Which is possible, obviously. But unlikely.
Dylan Jones is the editor of GQReuse content