Arzak, San Sebastian

Everybody knows the risks of running a restaurant; keeping it financially viable, preventing it from closing within the first 3 years and so on and so forth. Every now and again, one chances upon restaurants that have been operational for long enough to be considered a part of history itself, and Arzak, in the modern worlds pilgrimage destination of San Sebastian has been with the same family since 1897! The chef, Juan Mari Arzak along with his daughter, Elena are the third and fourth generation chefs running the restaurant which in recent years has been lauded as being one of the best in the world. Number 8 to be precise.

The first thing that strikes you are the waiters. That’s because there are none. They’re all waitresses. The only male staff are the manager and the sommeliers whilst ladies float to and fro waiting on you table. Arzak operates through a35 chefs and 20 front of house chefs, serving about 50-55 covers and holds 3 Michelin stars – being the first restaurant in Spain to do so.

So, moving on to our tasting menu…

Ham & Tomato
Tuna and strawberry
Kabraroka

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The Ham & Tomato Smoke tasted much nicer than it looked – sort of a scotch egg with a tomato substituting for the egg and with a crunchy centre. The Tuna and Strawberry was a bit of a joke – very catering college and, frankly, ugly and boring. Kabraroka was basically fishy mash encased in kataifi – fish finger sandwich!

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Corn soup
Crispy rice

Corn soup with figs and black pudding tasted just like it should and I do like corn soup (but barely tepid) and the Yellow Crispy Rice with Mushroom was exactly that. Looked better than it tasted though.

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Cromlech
Seasonal Vegetables
Egg and Kataifi

Cromlech with onion, tea and coffee is a tuber, similar to potato that has been fried and puffed up and the stuffed inside with a tiny bit of foie gras. One would have been ample and again, looked more interesting than it tasted.

Seasonal vegetables were a welcome sight of many colours, and a gentle nudge in the direction of ‘5-a-day’. It consisted of mushrooms, onions, beans spring onions, tomato, chive shoots, and that most famous vegetable of all, confit tuna!

Dusted egg and kataifi. Eggs, eggs, eggs. An egg is an egg is an egg and I honestly believe that is has no place in a tasting menu unless you’re at Noma, or you can do something truly remarkable with it.

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Smoked tuna
Pigeon

The Cinnamon smoked Tuna was my favourite savoury course. This was actually really nice and came with a cinnamon sauce and a side of peach curd with seaweed, whilst my main of Pigeon with orange and corn, Leg confit was, more or less, a nice plate of food. Underwhelming is probably a better description, nice but lacking genius.

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Chocolate
Fractal
Pistachio stone

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At last, a dish that made me go yum, wow and giggle! Playing marbles with chocolate. The chocolate stones are delicate shells containing a divine chocolate liquid centre. The oregano sauce didn’t do anything for the dish unfortunately (probably because it didn’t taste of oregano!), but the marbles were yum!

The waiter put a dish of clear mead fluid on the table and dropped a few teaspoons of cochinelle which spread across the plate making the fractal, which was the sauce for mums lemon tart (style over substance – very pretty though with the fractal!)  whilst our second dessert was Pistachio stone with beetroot and what a nutty mouthful of pleasure this was!

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A nice little plate of nuts and bolts brought the meal to an uneventful end. What I did notice though, throughout was the lack of consistency: out of the three pieces we got for each canape, no two were the same size, the chives that were sprinkled on the seasonal vegetables weren’t uniformly cut and were also quite dry and the chocolate marbles had different shapes and sizes (that is, no uniformity on two plates of the same dish). I guess this is something that stands out to a chef – not making a fuss about it, just observing. Could this be the latest trend? A move towards non-identical food?

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The wines I have to say, were sensational!

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Overall experience: 7
Recommend you go: 7
Food: 7
Wine: 9
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