Category Archives: San Sebastian, Spain

Amazing Arzak

We had an amazing meal at Arzak when we were in San Sebastian this year.  There were just so many things that were so right about the experience.  The phenomenal food only represents one part of the experience.   The service is spot on, the decor is lovely and inviting, the ambiance is lively and calming and you don’t have to spend big bucks on the amazing wine that they have.   Elena Arzak actually comes out to great each table personally for a chat and she was so lovely.  I was really impressed that she remembered so much about her trip to Melbourne a few months ago.

I am definitely going back the next time I’m in the region!

Started with a few small bites for the table…

Fish of the day with “patxaran” and purple corn – full of taste and textures

Scarlet prawn with krill – this is perhaps the greatest dish I have ever tasted

Lobster – so much drama on a plate, and so pretty to look at

Egg with corn

Fish according to the sea – there’s a choice of which fish you’d pick.  Honestly don’t remember what we chose but I do remember it being amazing!

Sailors lamb

Orange pigeon

Summer frost

Square moon

Petit fours –  how pretty!

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Dining at the #3 Restaurant in the World: Mugaritz, San Sebastian

We were in San Sebastian in September 2012 and paid a visit to the #3 restaurant in the worldMugaritz .  The restaurant is a short drive out of San Sebastian, and as the party got into the cabs and headed up the hills, were heady with anticipation.   The scenery around the restaurant is breathtaking – rolling hills, lush greenery and fresh oaky air.  From the outside, the restaurant looks like a homely cottage but once you get inside, it’s bare minimalist modern furniture (but still very woody looking).

We were greeted by the wait staff and whisked away to a tour of the facilities and kitchen.   They showed us the working kitchen and gave us the spiel about the creative labs where they invent dishes.  We were then presented with macaroons that had a secret ingredient – blood!   If they didn’t tell me there was blood in there, I still would have picked it.   It had that metallic taste but was strangely sweet.

Chef holding macaron that has blood infused

First dish up was described as “edible stones” which was basically roasted potatoes covered in some sort of edible ash.   It tasted like an extreme potato (which works for me as I love potatoes!).

Edible stones

“Fishbones” with nuances of lemon, garlic and cayenne pepper” was an interesting dish – dried fish and bones which were crispy and salty.   We were served a mouthful but I could have had bowls of this stuff.  Would have worked wonders with beer.

"Fishbones" with nuances of lemon, garlic and cayenne pepper

The “flax and wheat “Kraft” paper with marine accents” was interesting – it really did taste like a sweetened sea.   Texturally interesting as well with the brittle paper.

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Carrots and their smeared flowers” was as described – delicious perfectly cooked carrots with a carrot sauce.  Also pretty as a picture.

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The “tomato and sweet garlic” rocked my world… the tomato was sweet and light and the black garlic was crunchy.  Both worked wonderfully with each other.
Tomato and sweet garlic... cremed legumes

The “tagliatelle of concentrated milk lightly soaked in a silky juice of roasted squash and tomato” really tested my taste buds.  It was really subtle but the textures was the surprising element.   The wrap was sticky and the tagliatelle was crispy and there was a creamy sweet sauce with it.
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The next dish that came out was the “cremed legumes”.  It involved us (the diners) pounding on sesame and other dried spices in a mortar and then adding a crunchy vegetable to it (turnips?) and a creamy brown sauce which was savory and piquant.  It was lots of fun grinding the spices up and making the tinkling sounds that vibrated through the restaurant!

green cheek peas in a gelatinous stew with resinous perfumegreen cheek peas in a gelatinous stew with resinous perfume

Interesting... mixed grainsInteresting... mixed grains

Following that fun dish, we had “portion of home-made cheese, cured in it’s own rind, mushroom and fleshy leaves “ which was like a mystery whilst we ate it because we had no idea what the cheese was made of!   Tofu?  Chocolate?  Plastic?   It tasted good, like an unwashed cheese but without the strong salty rind odours.

Portion of home-made cheese, cured in it's own rind, mushroom and fleshy leaves

Finally, a dish that was as described!  “Hazelnut and beans stew ” was a nice humble subtle dish.

Hazelnut and beans stew

Green cheek peas in a gelatinous stew with resinous perfume”… resinous perfume eh?  I was too afraid to ask how they made a resinous perfume…  so I didn’t and just ate my dish.  It was tasted good – good sturdy peas in a sauce that was like a hearty beef broth.

Green cheek peas in gelatinous stew with resinous perfume

The “coastal fish with crunchy trimmings of aged sourdough and aged sweet pickled onion” was sensational!  Perfectly cooked white fish with crunchy and tasty bread scattered on it.  Yum!

Coastal fish with crunchy trimmings of aged sourdough and aged sweet pickled onion

Roasted loin of hake with clashing grains of aged marapone, cauliflower and fresh almonds “ is one of those dishes that makes you think “wow”.  Very similar to the “marron, lychee, turnip, macadamia, celery” dish from my dinner at Loam.  It’s a nice piece of well cooked fish sitting under a sprinkling of shaved veges, nuts and grains which is a dry and crunchy in texture.  The texture and taste of the shavings brings the moist sweetness of the fish out.   Beautiful!

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When I saw “crispy sweetbread with house-made capers, bitter leaves and artisan praline” on the menu, I was a bit afraid.  I’m not normally one for sweetbreads.  But, I suppose if I was to have it, it would be at one of the best restaurants in the world (how could they not make it taste good?!).   It was delicious.  Tasty seasoning, texturally it was crispy outside and firm inside (so much more bearable for me) and in a small portion!

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The “crunchy terrine of iberian pig tails with a bunch of bitter leaves and Txakoli sediments” was totally unexpected (in a good way!).  The pig tails were made into a terrine and then finely cut and either baked or fried till crispy.  Tasted fantastic!

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The “toasted milk and butter with cheese shavings and frozen pear cream” was divine!  It was light, tasted beautiful and had great textures.  So, so good!

The “small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream” was good – sour and tangy ice cream on a sweet crispy wafer.

Small bite of milky wafer with lemon ice cream

I have no point of reference for a ““traditional” almond fairy cake” but was very sweet and lovely.  It was cold, almost like a ice cream.

"traditional" almond fairy cake

The next and final dessert, “candies of frankincense, the perfume of eucalyptus barks” was not the usual dessert.  For one, it looked like a pot of burnt incense.    And it smelt like bark and candy.  And we had to eat the sticks, which looked a bit scary, but tasted like musk sticks.  Interesting to say the least.

Candies of frankincense, the perfume of eucalyptus barks

Lastly, we were given scented hand towels (no, they are not edible!).  Nice way to wrap up the afternoon.

Scented handtowelScented handtowelScented handtowelScented handtowel

In summary, I really enjoyed the experience but I think some things were over complicated.  We were on holidays so I’m not sure if we fully appreciated the cerebral and intellectual aspects to the meal.  It’s a beautiful restaurant that serves beautiful food, but it’s got big competition in the little tapas/pintxos places in San Sebastian itself (some of which was extraordinary).   And I think we have food in Australia that equals or betters this (e.g.: Loam and Royal Mail).

San Sebastian…. Greatest Hits!

Was in San Sebastian, Spain in September and had the greatest culinary adventures whilst walking the streets of the old town (Parte Vieja).  Every corner unveiled another narrow street with more pintxos (tapas) bars to visit.   This is my homage to the best little street out there (Calle 31 De Agosto), with the three places that we had to go back for over and over again.     Warning: google maps may fail you.  Another warning:  these places keep ridiculous hours.

First up is the cool and modern Fuegro Negro.  It’s pintxos with a twist here.  Modernised version of small food.  Twas so good!  The top thing to try here is definitely the “Mackobe with Txips” – a miniburger served in a tomato bun along with banana chips.  Insanely good.

Other dishes of note: “Pickled Pork with Frozen Mole” and the “Foie Snack“.  The surprise element of the frozen mole melting in your mouth with a piece of porky goodness is a winner.  The foie snack is for those that love foie gras – big serve of foie gras which has been caramalised on top, with lots of bread.

Next up, Bar Martinez.  A more traditional kind of place with no seats, a huge bar with lots of pintxos up on display, and grumpy old men behind the counter.   There are two things that you must have here.  First are the chicken skewers.  It’s not up on show, so you have to ask for it.   Marinated tasty chicken on a stick grilled to golden perfection.

The croquettes here may have been the yummies in the whole of Spain.   There are a few different varieties – cheese, chorizo, jamon, salted cod – and they are all excellent.  There is a fair amount of variety here for other pintxos, so go nuts!


This place has the greatest seared steak ever: Gandarias.  Again, it’s not on the menu, and the dudes in the shop don’t speak English… but you’ll get there.  It’s so good.  We had it 3x in 2 days.  It’s topped with grilled capsicum and sea salt.  Yum!  The tapas here are a bit more uppity then Bar Martinez (as can be seen from the pics below).

So that’s it.  All in one street, with plenty of other places around the corner.  There’s a nice little beach around the corner, so between the food and sunshine, it’s fantastic in San Sebastian!