27 Feb 2016


San Sebastian, Spain

I went to Arzak in San Sebastian last year with my family to celebrate my father's birthday. During our weekend in the Basque country, we had lots of delicious and reasonably priced meals, but the reservation at Arzak was of course the event I was looking forward to the most. Located in an inconspicuous stone building, you wouldn't assume that this is a restaurant that has been part of The World's 50 Best Restaurants list continuously since 2003, and currently holds 3 Michelin stars. Once we entered, we were shown to a large round table, made more intimate with a large suspended hemisphere light above us. I will take you through the whole set menu, including photos of pretty much all of the dishes. We stuck to local beverages the whole evening, and started with a wonderfully dry cava that almost tasted like Manzanilla. After having a few sips, we were presented with a set of strange looking amuse-bouches, including black pudding served on top of a crumpled beer can, and a red prawn gyoza that was one of the most deliciously crispy things I've ever had.

The first starter I had, the Beetroot Blood Apple, was something that didn't sound that good when described on the menu, but which worked really well. It was a tiny dish, packed with sweet flavours of creamy foie gras. I was then presented with the Lobster Sea and Garden, which with its bright reds, greens and yellows, looked as good as it tasted. The final starter consisted of warm oysters served on top of a red salt stone, which was not my favourite. The accompanying seasonal vegetables were amazing, but I didn't love the texture and in-between temperature of the oysters.

We then moved onto the mains, and began with one of Arzak's most famous dishes, the Red Space Egg. This has been slow poached at 65°C, which creates an incredibly smooth texture, with a delightfully 80s yet original presentation, unlike anything else I've ever seen. The egg is somehow clad in the skin of a red pepper, surrounded by cereals and crispy pig trotters. A must-have at Arzak. Another standout dish for me was the Hake with Black Garlic. This was white fish at its best, with a diverse range of flavours and crunchiness in the garnish. The parsley stalks worked a treat with this dish. Other main dishes were the Monkfish with Rhubarb, and the melt-in-your-mouth Beef Cheek in Ink. The deer steak served with quinoa over a lotus leaf was absolutely a great dish, but with its Thai flavours it seemed out of place in the middle of a Spanish meal. Although some of the amuse-bouches were of Asian origins, it worked better, as they were kept together at the beginning of the meal. My sister was pregnant at the time, and the kitchen was very helpful in selecting alternative dishes for her. The braised oxtail she got instead of our rare steak looked so good I almost felt jealous of her dietary restrictions. 

When it came to the desserts, my favourite was The Big Truffle, a cocoa and sugar truffle that melts and opens up as chocolate is poured over it. The visually best presented dessert was the chocolate cube with a fluid core of mint, neroli and kiwi. This dish was a work of art. The selection of small chocolates at the end were a bit strange though. They were shaped as screws and bolts, served on a shiny metal plate, and just looked a bit like they were made by a child.

I usually feel a bit ashamed when I take photos in upscale restaurants, but the atmosphere was so chilled there that it was no problem. None of the guests were pretending that this was an everyday meal for them, so pictures (without flash) were taken a plenty. It also felt completely natural to pass dishes around the table to ensure that everyone got to taste everything. They made sure the birthday was marked properly, with an cake with a candle, which we were all too full to even touch. We were also given a tour of the kitchen. In general, the staff was friendly, and the chef, Elena Arzak Espina, made a point of coming over to each of the tables and speaking with the guests. It was an entertaining meal, where no two dishes were similar. There were so many different textures and presentations. Every single drop of sauce, even the ones that looked like water, held a huge amount of original and satisfying flavour. Dining at Arzak was a truly memorable experience.


London, UK

In an otherwise not very lively street, The Table in Southwark is always bustling with a queue outside around weekend brunch time. It is designed and developed by the architects next door, Allies & Morrison, and draws a creative crowd probably because of this fact. I went with a group of five people on a rainy Sunday, and we waited for about 10 minutes outside before being seated in the simple, bright space. The menu shows that the restaurant is committed to sustainable sourcing and to the use of quality, British ingredients. We started off with some delicious smoothies, and went on to order quite a lot of food. I had the Sweetcorn Fritters with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. This was an interesting and filling alternative to my usual order of Eggs Benedict. The tomato compote and spinach were quite bland additions to this dish, but the sweetcorn fritters made up for it. I received an unpleasant surprise when I broke through to the yolk of the second poached egg, as there was some strange brown stuff in there. This was quite off-putting, and I avoided eating the eggs after that. The highlight of the meal was the waffles. I tried both the delicious blueberry version, and the even better coconut, maple syrup and marshmallows. These aren't big enough to form a full meal (even though the price isn't far from the other main brunch dishes) but they are definitely a must to share or eat on the side.The staff was nice enough to gives us a portion of Eggs Royale wrapped as take-away for someone who didn't make it out of bed on time, a service that they do not usually provide. All in all The Table serves up a decent brunch, where you can tell that the ingredients are fresh, but some of the flavours are lacking a bit of punch. I apologise for going into detail about this; but the weird stuff inside the egg yolk was enough for me to not want to return to this restaurant, even though the waffles might be worth reconsidering for. 

English Breakfast Eggs

The Table Cafe on Urbanspoon


Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is not known as a city for culinary travellers, but there are some gems spread around town along the beautiful canals. One of those is the simply named 'Pancakes!' which I was advised serves some of the best pancakes in town. I headed over on a Saturday morning, and saw a long line of people. I decided I was too hungry to queue, and went to eat at a random restaurant nearby instead. The food there was quite disappointing, so the next day I showed up to Pancakes! again, determined to brave the queueing. Despite the fact that it is a tiny restaurant, the wait was short, so after around 10 minutes we were seated outside on a small table in the sun. The problem, however, was the time it took to get hold of our food. We finished our freshly squeezed juices while waiting, so to the people who were lining up next to us, it looked like we had finished our meal and were just sitting there. We were starting to get some annoyed looks when our pancakes finally arrived. I had ordered a banana-bacon combo, which was just perfect. The balance of sweet and savoury, along with the crisp yet smooth texture, made this a pancake I will never forget. My friend chose a full on savoury version of mushrooms, onions and bacon, which also made for a delicious brunch. The prices are reasonable, and the portion size good, so this place is definitely a recommendation for a weekend in Amsterdam. I am not giving Pancakes! the full score on the Hanger-Meter because of the wait, but otherwise it was great.