Katie, Kirsten and I have spent the past year saving £5 notes, so that we could visit a Michelin Star restaurant. As luck would have it, we found ourselves in the West of France a couple of weeks ago, so it would have been rude not to take a trip down to San Sebastian. San Sebastian has a well-earned reputation for being one of the best destinations in the world for food, so this was the perfect opportunity to use our savings. After some research we chose Arzak, a 3-Star Michelin restaurant, with a history dating back to 1897. Keeping it in the family, Juan Mari Arzak took over the business and participated in creating the ‘New Basque Cuisine’. Eventually his daughter, Elena came on board and she has followed in her father’s footsteps by becoming an award-winning chef. Arzak earned its first Michelin Star in the early 70’s and by the end of the 80’s it had received 3, which it has managed to retain. So, it’s safe to say we had pretty high expectations!
On arrival we were greeted from our taxi and whisked inside to be promptly seated, this was all flawless. We received our menus, but we already knew that we would be choosing the tasting menu. The initial service of ordering the tasting menu and having the sommelier chat to us about wine was a bit slow, but we were there for a relaxed meal, so that didn’t bother us. Once the food started coming, the timings were perfect; we weren’t rushed or waiting too long before the next course was laid in front of us. The sommelier also did an excellent job choosing our wine; we received a bottle of Quintaluna, a Spanish white wine, which is fruity and not dissimilar to a Sauvignon Blanc. When we were ordering we had the choice between monk fish or seabass, and pigeon or lamb, for 2 of the courses. Kirsten and I chose the opposite of one another, so that we were able to try both.
First up, we were presented with canapes of citrus and mussel spheres, a gilda interpretation and crab, to name a few. These were a fun start because they were inventively put together, with the crab biscuits served in nets and the ‘gilda’ moulded into a pepper shape.
These were swiftly followed by horse mackerel, which had been aged in txakoli and koji. Txakoli is a local wine, that we had been enjoying throughout the trip, so it was nice to see it as part of the menu, and the mackerel was lovely and light, yet flavoursome. The mackerel was followed by the most amazing prawn I’ve ever tasted. It was deliciously juicy and grilled to perfection with a fantastic amount of taste.
Egg with corn and a tomato candy was next and, for me, this was the best dish of the night. The egg itself had a sliver of yellow pepper over the yolk and was beautifully cooked; the flavour and texture just blew me away. What I thought wouldn’t be a very exciting dish, had my mouth jumping for joy with the wonderful soft yolk and the crunch of the corn.
Now it was time for the fish courses. I started with the seabass, which was confit and served with crispy nori and sweet potato. Then Kirsten and I switched, and I tried the roasted monkfish with pistachio shavings. Seabass is much lighter than monkfish, and this one was very refreshing on the palate. The monkfish was much meatier, and I felt it had more flavour. As a stand alone dish I probably would have preferred the monkfish, but the seabass worked excellently as part of the tasting menu because of its lightness.
It was time for the meat next, and we were asked if we would like to switch to red wine. We decided to have a glass of red each and the sommelier chose a smooth 2009 Figuero Vinas Viejas. I received the pigeon first, which isn’t something that I’ve had many times, but to me, it tastes similar to duck. This dish was accompanied by blue potato, parsnip and orange. I’m not a big lamb eater, but it was cooked beautifully and simply gorgeous to eat. What I enjoyed most about both of these dishes was how much the meat stood out. What was going on around the pigeon and lamb wasn’t heavy or distracting, so it didn’t take away from the focus and taste of the meat.
Then the many desserts started! Firstly, we were given a guava frost with lemon ice cream. This was an excellent palate cleanser after the savoury food and prepared us for the sweet dishes we were about to receive. Next, was a Balearic tonic with hibiscus ice cream, which was served on a beetroot crumble. Again, this was nice and light, so it eased us in to the desserts, but slightly heavier (because of the beetroot crumble) than the guava frost.
Now it was time for lots of chocolate! We were introduced slowly, with a chocolate cube, which had a fruity, mint core. Then it was cacao debris – shavings of cacao. smoked chocolate and vanilla (my personal favourite) and finally, a large cocoa truffle with a creamy chocolate filling.
The desserts were served sharing style, a few dishes at a time, to give us a chance to try each one, but also stopped us from going in to sugar overload. They were all delicious, but I’m more of a chocolate than a fruity dessert person, so a large plate of shaved chocolate was right up my street!
I ended the meal with a peppermint tea and we received a plate of sweet treats to accompany our teas. There was a range of chocolate frogs made with caramel, avocado and turmeric, as well as dark chocolates and cinnamon sticks. I was intrigued by the chocolate frogs and ended up loving them! The turmeric was the one that I thought I would like the least, but it was actually my favourite. By this point I was very full, but I made sure to taste every incredible bite Arzak presented me with.
I can honestly say I’ve never had a more delicious meal in my life. The food was outstanding, and every course of the tasting menu complimented the next so well. Having dined at a 1 Star Michelin restaurant previously, I did have high hopes, but Arzak definitely met them. The only area that could have improved slightly, would be the food/wine service. I think this could have been slicker for a 3 Star Michelin restaurant; there were a couple of hiccups when explaining the food and some wine spilled. This wasn’t a big deal for us, but I expected more for one of the World’s Best Restaurants.
We had a fantastic evening and the staff were brilliant, especially the floor manager, and I would definitely recommend Arzak to anyone looking for a superb dining experience. Elena even comes out to speak to guests!
Atmosphere – 5
Food – 5
Price – 4.5
Service – 5
Total – 19.5/20