Arzak (Seeing Stars)

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Alto de Miracruz 21, 20015 Donostia/San Sebastián

Now this is what I call hitting my mid-20s on the ground running. Here I have found myself in San Sebastián in the Basque region for a spectacular meal at one of the world's top restaurants. The real challenge was deciding where to go, in an area where there are more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere...what pressure! Having decided that Mugaritz (#3 in the world after Noma & El Celler de Can Roca - umm, who?!) was a bit too far afield, I was quite chuffed to be heading to Arzak regardless! 

"Do you deliver?": Father, daughter team Juan Mari and Elena Arzak at the front of their baby, a rather unassuming location a short drive from downtown San Sebastián Source: The Guardian

Arzak has held 3 Michelin stars since 1989 which is quite unbelievable. It has also received a tonne of accolades including No 8 on San Pellegrino's List of Top 50 restaurants (2012). It's a bit of a family affair where Juan Mari Arzak is at the helm and his daughter Elena Arzak executive head chef. Continuing a tradition of gastronomic excellence (the restaurant has been owned by the Arzak family for over a century), Elena was named Veuve Cliquot Best Female Chef of 2012. Totally psyched - bring it on!

The dining room was surprisingly modern and cosy. With only 10 tables on the main floor, there was also a private dining room upstairs if you're so inclined. They had undergone a recent renovation, including the decorative touch of imprinting cutlery into the concrete walls Source: VIP Gourmet

At risk of photo bombing you all (you have no idea...), I've condensed the marathon meal (the only kind of marathon I'll ever be involved in mind you) into a neat pictorial summary:

Feeling peckish: (clockwise from top left) Kabrarroka pudding with kataifi, Gooseberry with coconut, Chorizo with tonic & Sunflower seeds with arraitxiki. We had gotten away with a touch of drama - the pouring dry ice effect never gets old. The Kabrarroka contained a delicious fish mousee and the slithers of mango served with a chorizo paste (or should I say chor-ee-tho?) were served atop a squashed drink can

Hemp, mustard and lobster and tapioca salad: sauteed lobster with crispy hemp bread and mustard vinaigrette. This was definitely one of my favourites (even so early on) what with it's beautiful plating, Japanese styling. The drops of egg yolk were a beautiful accompaniment to the lobster. This dish spoke volumes.

It would seem that we were in good company. On the table next to us was an American man dining solo. I had strong suspicions that he was a food critic by the way he would ask lots of questions and look ponderously with each mouthful. He was happy as larry, what with his matched wines and course after course of unimaginable goodness/greatness (I'll note that he ordered almost exactly the same as me). He snapped a few cheeky photos on his iPhone as a little memento. And no DSLR in sight! 

Gooseberry, spelt and monkfish: roasted monkfish garnished with gooseberry and spelt served with dried gooseberry wrapped in Iberian bacon confit. Another artwork of a dish (this would be a recurring theme, no prizes for that one) with its delicacy of taste and flavour. The gooseberries wrapped in bacon added a salty-sweet punch

Fish steak with potatoes (left) and Sole, sea and mountain (right): seabass marinated in gin with different flavoured potato paper-thin wafers. Sole and tongue combined with cubes of dehydrated wine and sheep's milk. I'm just imagining the work alone. It's frightening

As if things weren't chaotic enough during service, Juan Mari and Elena do their 'rounds' of the restaurant to greet everyone and check everything is perfect (no need but okay). They kept a very calm front but I am sure it was all systems go behind the scenes. Mother dearest did the embarrassing thing of insisting we take a photo together - a nice keepsake I suppose!

Longan, deer and roe deer: two different cuts with different flavours and textures accompanies by fired grapes and longan. The idea was to put the meat that was resting in its juices onto the larger plate, that looked like an art canvas. A fruit traditionally found in Asia, the longan was a rather exotic flavour which added another dimension with its sweetness. The venison was an absolute triumph. Cooked rare so as not to spoil the top quality meat, it was so perfect I took an age to savour every mouthful. AI YA.

Eating at Arzak was an entirely different experience from anywhere I've eaten before. At times I found it difficult to wrap my head around some of the flavours, things I hadn't tried before. New is good though. I think I can handle it ;) It was an almost surreal feeling, I was thinking "I am eating at a 3-starred Michelin restaurant on the other side of the world". I felt like there was some kind of aura around the place, maybe it's just me being food-crazy (as usual).

Duck with soy (left) and beef with vegetable screens (right): it's almost sacrilege to disassemble these dishes. The duck was roasted mallard with several types of soy, the beef - grilled rib eye with caramelised vegetable glasses and couscous

Roots, fruits and seeds (left) and black apple (right). The green centrepiece was a thin layer of parsley flavoured white chocolate containing dark chocolate emulsified with kuzu and lime (what a mouthful). Served with frangelico and aperol spheres - molecular gastronomy strikes again! Oozy, chocolatey, delicious - the metallic rice crispies were a crunchy textural touch. The black apples were sautéed with truffle and apricot. Each dessert was served with a different sorbet, my raspberry one was lurv-ely.

Money matters - it may come as a rude shock that this meal costed less than some of the degustation's we get back at home. Mind you, if Michelin ever made it Down Under I'm sure we're plenty worthy of stars. Challenge accepted. Meanwhile, it seems like a good enough reason to set up camp here in Europe and 'schlep' between top restaurants haha. Food critic is officially my Plan B. Granted, we had four 'half' courses and not the full tasting menu. But it's all about quality, not quantity - particularly as we were there for lunch service! Talk about gorging.

Golden footprint with ladybird (left) and Petit-Fours (right): we were a bit flummoxed when on of the wait staff placed what looked like a mouse pad onto the table. The ladybirds of pepper and liquorice were filled with yoghurt and olive oil 'crystal' (no idea there, folks). As we weren't full enough, the chocolates came as all sorts: nuts, nails, keys, star anise. Of course I had to try each of them...delcioso. 

Anthony Bourdain came for a meal at Arzak on his food-travel show, No Reservations. Bourdain himself said that he would happily eat at Arzak as his last meal, "The love at the table is real. I was very, very happy to be there". I completely echo his sentiments. Certainly worth the 23 hours flight time (yeesh)! I was absolutely spoilt rotten on my birthday. There's no other way of putting it. 

Here's a little clip from No Reservations, Spain :)

<3 <3 Happy V Day <3 <3 
& thanks for reading! xGourmand


  1. sooo delicious looking.. yummy. I would love to try one of his meals




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