Creative, 25 course tasting menu only option utilising surrounding gardens and advanced techniques for all cooking with some mixed results
A highly anticipated visit to a world-renowned 2 Michelin starred restaurant, 2o minutes drive out of San Sebastian. This restaurant has, for many years, been an beacon of modern cooking. The 25 course, no choice, tasting menu only worked out at £233 per person including pre-drinks and good wine which is quite steep, but not as steep as it can be in other cities in Europe (notably Paris). Sadly, the overriding post-meal thought for this meal is that whilst there were some good moments, the dishes simply didn’t produce the happiness I was hoping for, considering the fanfare that was made for each one. I understood the emphasis on stretching the boundaries of savoury and sweet which is definitely done in an innovative way here, but if it doesn’t produce wonderful flavours and feelings as a result, then it is somewhat expended effort for all the pomp. I’m glad to have experienced it to see for myself, but based on this meal, I would rather hit the likes of Akelarre or Arzak for a return.
The Executive chef (Andoni Luis Aduriz) was away on our visit but his spiritual connection with his dishes and surrounding garden that he exudes was evidently incumbent in the head chef on the night (Miguel Cano). In the kitchen was what can only be described as an Army of chefs, all in exactly the same uniform, chefs hats included and there was no doubt that every service was given a ferocious amount of seriousness in the kitchen for the proceedings – all fine so far. The grounds are also impressive and the dining room a little too spacious to feel truly homely, but evidently smart.
There is collection bank of approximately 100 dishes that the restaurant uses to create each menu and draw upon for allergies and variations needed. As each menu that they roll out is in the region of 25 courses (that change weekly), there are a number of aspects to cover. To make a little easier to follow as there are so many, the best thing to do is lay out each course here, one by one and provide brief thoughts on each where things stood out:
- Course 1 – Tuna belly with vinaigrette from Biscay Bay (gorgeous oil and succulence but I thought a bit more vinaigrette was needed).
- Course 2 – Lobster roe with Tiger Milk, with vinegar, citrus coriander to make green to ceviche base (lovely pop of the roe combined with a herbal kick).
- Course 3 – Black tea kompucha from Japan with fermented cream and strawberry (huge sweetness with massive savoury tones at the same time with a mix of fat and crunch – mainly original than immensely enjoyable).
- Course 4 – Purée potato fermented with Parmigiano cheese (a strong kick of vinegar but nicely balanced cheese and nice to have the chewy texture as well).
- Course 5 – Caesar mushroom in season (very orangey flavour with pine nut cream that was mid range happiness).
- Course 6 – Vermouth (Italian drink) Kumquat, orange and olive – (nice idea but way too sour, marginal sweet notes and bitter flavours making it average).
- Course 7 – Luxury potato fried in duck fat with duck broth on top served on a warmed stone (pleasant, but even I question how this could be show cased on its own as a crisp, deep as the broth was when comparing to other innovative menus).
- Course 8 – Nitro poached cream with garden herbs and mini carrots (good theatre, good textures but overall too much sour cream as the overriding flavour which overpowered any herbs, which were supposed to be the key to the dish).
- Course 9 – Pork tripe with spiced butter (pleasing, but again frequently seen as an additive to main dishes and was not stand out).
- Course 10 – Veal tendon (crisp) with mushroom and veal lard (clever as a dish representing cows walking on mushrooms and a pleasant, crispy finish).
- Course 11 – Minestrone soup with Vegetable seeds from Bay of minestrone soup (ultimately clear broth with pungent, bitter and floral notes from the seeds; the carrot, onion & garlic, giving a good level of interest). The hot spoons provided to the table was very good attention to detail.
- Course 12 – Sugar & pine nut milk & ice (strong use of textures but not hugely wonderful flavours (watery, sweet milk with crunchy crystallised parts, nothing more).
- Course 13 – Veal with milk and eggs (beautifully matched with eggs that were not too salty either).
- Course 14 – Wagyu beef with wagyu tartare from Japan (sticky, but simply beyond tender, with lovely wagyu tongue with additional layer of fat).
- Course 15 – Creme brûlée sweetcorn with prawn crisp with head juices underneath (frankly, I did not enjoy this as the eggy sweet brûlée was a poor match for the deep, crustacean flavour).
- Course 16 – Lettuce with espelette pepper (red) and chorizo gel (a very mixed bag of a dish and the lettuce was also delivered separately / at the wrong time).
- Course 17 – Tuna with wild rabbit sauce (the tuna here really did not taste of tuna but more of steak and I was confused how this was a good match with a game-flavoured sauce).
- Course 18 – Unleavened bread, bread crumbs with garlic roe and garlic soup plus edible flowers in garlic sauce (very pleasant and light with well balanced garlic flavours).
- Course 19 – Caesar Mushroom fried with tempura beef jus (sadly this was only just ok in its return).
- Course 20 – Tartare of red mullet dressed with egg yolk (beautifully presented and textured, but with just not enough on the plate and on the palate to be truly happy).
- Course 21 – Marshmallow made with beef broth served with caramelised beef broth jus (this was frankly outstanding with a superb combination of soft marshmallow and a beautifully deep and sweet broth for the combination.
- Course 22 – Tigernut ice cream with rice (wonderful, sweet milk ice cream with malt-like flavour but the rice was extremely hard and not a pleasure as a result; I understand this was deliberate to push the boundary of texture, but was over the top in this way and unenjoyable as a result).
- Course 23 – Spanish cheeses with focaccia bread (the focaccia was extremely dry which is not my preference for focaccia bread and the single piece of cheese was pleasurable).
- Course 24 – Concentrated smoked hen with sherry (a sauce to lick off the plate which was fun to do, but I can think of numerous other sauces that have been considerably more pleasurable at many other restaurants, starred or not).
- Course 25 – layers of different, concentrations of chocolate (a very fun way of presenting the chocolates within different layers of a wood-work construction akin to Russian dolls; the different chocolates of progressing levels of cocoa, most of which were very smooth and well done.
The service throughout this meal was A-grade and the staff were more than willing to explain any number of aspects that were asked about (also a very welcome absence of the table being pestered for feedback on too many occasions). That said, there were a was an order that missed and in spite of a dietary requirement being emailed in advance and confirmed on arrival, this was missed at one stage and the pace was too fast at the beginning (too many interruptions) which was surprising for such a fabled venue.
I completely acknowledge how much effort and preparation went in to this meal (along with accompanying technical skill) and the ambition to use the sense of touch, stretch textural and core flavour conventions. But for me, when all was said and done, this only created medium levels of happiness and in many cases was simply too ambitious.
Food Grade: 78%