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.