Mugaritz, San Sebastian

There are many places, both manmade and natural, that one journeys to, often wondering where the long and narrow road was led and if we’d ever get there, and then suddenly, you turn a corner and the only sound that rushes through your ears is the sound of your heart beating, the sound of wonder and awe escaping from your lips as you simply cannot believe the sight before you. The fact that we had arrived at one of the worlds best restaurants (#3 this year) was momentarily forgotten as we just gazed out at the hills, and the gem of a cottage with its dreamy  gardens that was to take centre stage for the next few hours.

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And it was at that moment that poetry arrived,
softly enveloping the Basque countryside,
an idyllic haven opening  before us
And it was there that we left the world behind.

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Nothing about Mugaritz clashes against its natural surroundings, and if you’re a lover of hills and mountains as I am, you know the feeling you get when you’re amongst misty trees and country quiet, well, Mugaritz invokes just that feeling of well-being. I could have had a hamburger and gone away happy, but no, Andoni Luis Aduriz and his team had other plans even though we were a table with dietary requirements and requests that would have made any other chef want to throw us in the stock pot.

 150 minutes to rebel or 150 minutes to submit? Thus begins Mugaritz’s technomotive (technology and emotion) culinary experience.

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Foccacia
Beer and olives
Stones

Grilled pueraria focaccia dotted with tomato – crisp to high heavens and just nice with our aperitif.

Next came toasted legume beer which is exactly that. Tasted of all the ingredients that go in beer, but toasty and it was warm – stunning – a hot, non alcoholic beer tasting of roast malt, wheat, barley (reminded me of toasted brown rice tea which is just beautiful!). Olives, beans and thyme was olives stuffed with beans – really surprising to eat in a very pleasant way (‘wow’ was my first reaction!)

Matching wine: Albarino, 2010, Rias Baixas, Pazo Senorans, Spain

Edible stones – they look like stones don’t they? Try dipping them in garlic mayo and delicately taking a bite to discover it’s a potato inside. Made me giggle! Taste-wise, as a potato tastes, but the playful element, hats off. The soil is edible too – breadcrumbs and squid ink.

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Crystal
Crackers
Tempura

Starch and sugar crystal, praline, mini cucumber much much more delicate and subtle than it sounds – not sweet, not sticky, nothing but a light clean playful nibble.

Sauce crackers with pumpkin: like a prawn cracker, but once in your mouth it melts and tastes like a herby, meaty stew.

Chive flowers in tempura: handed to you in a mini napkin by the very friendly staff.

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Bloody mary
Mozzarella
Fig

Bloody mary tomato soup: half a roast tomato, three vials (vodka, perrins & Tabasco, olive oil). You lift the flap of the tomato and mix your own bloody mary and eat it!

Matching wine: L’Equilibrista, 2010, Catalunya, Can dez Mas, Spain

Homemade mozzarella , whey emulsion infused with smoked black tea. Nice mozzarella, little bland for me.

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At this time we were whisked off to the kitchen to meet the head chef (Chef Aduriz was off today as his baby was ill) who explained to us the philosophy of Mugaritz and that as the meal should be to our own personal enjoyment, any dish we didn’t quite like, would be happily replaced. This to me is an incredibly wonderful approach and one that I whole heartedly endorse – you cannot please every single person especially when they are all having about 20 plates of food! (on a full night with 50 covers, that’s 1000 plates of food!) To be humble and realise that and give the customer another option without begrudging them is amazing. We were also told that the restaurant had to close for 4 months this year as it was destroyed by a fire and an entirely new kitchen had to be installed.

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Back in the dining room, we were next given Fig cooked in clay and the scent of tonka beans – light, tasty, different. I was told the clay was edible, but I shouldn’t – so naturally, I did and while it doesn’t taste bad, it’s disgusting to chew (heavy thick chalk coating your mouth isn’t pleasant even for the health benefits it imparts!)

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Cat & Tongue
Pork noodles
Kuzu artichoke

With the next dish, we were told it had onions, garlic and a secret ingredient which we had to guess. Such a lovely dish – crunchy, airy, garlicky, sweet onion and that elusive last bit….It wasn’t till the end of the dish that I stumbled upon the flavour of beef. 1 Point. I thought it was cheek. It wasn’t. I then guessed tongue – spot on, full marks! It’s beef tongue that has been braised and then each strand of meat is teased off the tongue with pincers and dehydrated to give you Sshhh.. Cat’s got your tongue

Matching wine: Naiades 2007, Rueda, Naia Vina Sala, Spain

My pork noodles with “arraitxiki” extract and toasted rice was light (a bit too light in flavour for me, but I realised this fitted into the whole meal only at the end), with the noodles themselves made from pork. My parents had Cured cheese in its own rind, mushrooms and coastal herbs. Yummy piece of cheese – except it wasn’t cheese! It was milk that had been cooked with linseeds, then the skin taken off and set in moulds and then painted with edible clay to give it the look of cheese. Absolutely ingenious and magical. And very very tasty!

Artichoke and sweet bread ragout, creamy kuzu bread. Delicious ragout and heavenly bread – made from kuzu which is an oriental starch derived from a tuber of the same name, often used medicinally to soothe stomach problems. Here it was made into a bread with a little milk which just melted in your mouth and inspite of the enormous piece, dissolved into nothing and we couldn’t tell we’d had a chunk of bread!

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Hake
Coastal Fish
Beef

Portion of hake and milky reduction of stewed turnip sprouts, citric cream, salt grains: light, simple, a step out of the clouds and back on earth as was the next course of Textures of coastal fish.

Beef, grilled steak emulsion did not want to be chewed for love or money and I sent it back requesting something else as my jaws hurt.

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Osso Bucco
Pig tails

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The manager came back with Osso bucco. It was beef tendon that had been cooked for 5 days. No meat anywhere, just soft gelatinous cartilage and one that most people would be horrified to eat. I have to say, this was one of the best things I’ve eaten – I love cartilage in any shape and this was out of this world. Wow.

Matching wine: Alonso del Yerro, 2008, Ribeira del Duero, Alonso del Yerro, Spain

Unfortunately it overshadowed the Iberian pig tails, crispy sweet millet leaves which was yummy, but I was still dreamy after the tendon.

Matching wine: Altos de Losada 2007, Bierzo, Losada, Spain

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Sugar biscuit
Parfait
Flowers and Nails

Dessert time! Sweet grain biscuit with anise came as a dome which the waiters broke in front of us. Simplest thing in the world – sugar biscuit, coated with the lightest fennel ice cream – palate cleansing too!

A crisp of flax seeds and whisky parfait was the nicest ice cream sandwich ever! So incredibly light, but so satisfying and with the added nutrition benefits from linseeds!

And finally, Nails and Flowers: tiny ice cream cone with meringue and chocolate nails and edible ‘plastic’ cones. Even the gravel that was in the box was edible – chocolate seeds, sesame, dry fruit, poppy. (something similar is served during the winters in Punjab, North West India, so exponential points and happiness for nostalgia!)

Matching wine: MR 09, Malaga, Cia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez, Spain

And thus it was over, 150 minutes of a surreal journey. Whilst there were several mistakes with putting the right plates in front of the right person, it never really came across that the staff weren’t bothered – we just had a lot of menu requests and dietary requirements that made for the confusion. The staff are some of the most genuinely happy , proud (but not vain) and excited front of house I have ever encountered – Noma being the only other place to have staff that are happy and genuinely excited about what they do and especially the manager, Jose who is a wealth of knowledge about the food and just a pleasure to talk to, never once making you feel as though you were being looked down on which is, I’m afraid, the biggest disappointment in many restaurants of such high calibre.

Personally, it doesn’t really matter whether Mugaritz has 2 stars or 3 stars. It has such a unique identity, such a gentle yet powerful magic that it is really, well and truly, one of the best restaurants in the world. And they don’t change your napkin every time you go the restroom (thank you so very much for not doing that!)

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Overall experience: 10
Food: 10
Recommend you go: 10
Wine: 10
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