ARZAK: MY FIRST THREE (MICHELIN) STARS..
On my recent Europe trip, I visited San Sebastian, a little coastal town north of Spain near the French border, nestled in the Basque country region, famed for its food. Glorious food. There was a reason I chose to cut my time in Barcelona short (well, I had been to Barcelona before), and that is to eat my way around San Sebastian.
Whilst the food in San Sebastian is generally FANTASTIC (more posts about that coming later) and my lunch usually spanned from 12-4pm, then a few hours of lying down to rest my stomach before dinner began at 7pm and usually lasted until 11pm, I had the fortune to go to my very first Micheline starred restaurant. A three michelin star restaurant in fact. I went to Arzak, one of the oldest and first restaurants in San Sebastian to be awarded michelin stars, and boy did it live up to its reputation and so, so much more.
Usually you need to make a reservation 2-3 months in advance, which of course I didn’t as it was a semi-splurge of the moment trip. I was staying in this gorgeous top floor apartment with an ocean view from my bedroom, a place I found from my trusted Airbnb website (great alternative accommodation when hostel is no longer fun, and hotels are too expensive). Pilar, the lady who owns the place is lovely and of course, is very much into food, just like the rest of San Sebastian inhabitants. After exchanging food talks for a while, this is how the conversation turned for the better (for me):
Pilar: Well if you love food this much, you really should visit one of the three michelin star restaurants here. Arzak is very, very nice. Not cheap though, but totally worth it.
Me: (sad face) I would have loved to go but I couldn’t make the reservation in time. I am gutted but oh well, there is always next time, I hope.
Pilar: Oh! do you want to go to Arzak? We know the restaurant well, my sister has worked there for 25 years, I can make a call for you, if you want?
Me: (Silent, heart skipped a beat) ….*nod head*
(Pilar is making the call..)
Pilar: They can fit you in tomorrow at 2pm for lunch, do you want me to book you in?
Me: (quilvering with joy) yes!!!!! Yayyyyyy!
And as they say, the rest is history. Here is my account of the extravagant, delectable 7 courses (with 5 aperitif to start with) degustation menu.
POISON OF CHOICE: Torello Brut Nature Gran Reserva CAVA
Cava is a national Spanish drink before the REAL drinks begin. Usually consumed first thing after you sit down. People order a glass of cava while deciding what to drink. It’s a refreshing light sparkling wine. A Champagne of Spain if you will. This particular one is house-brewed and its crisp and light texture is a perfect starter drink.
1st aperitif: Fish pudding wrapped in kataifi
A smooth fish puree wrapped in kataifi, which is crispy angel hair like noodles. Salty, crunchy = a perfect first morsel.
2nd aperitif: Chorizo with tonic
So far, so good..
3rd aperitif: Red Cod Fish
A piece of beetroot cured cod on crispy filo pastry base, with an egg/cream based white sauce in the middle, and a little sprinkle of black sesame seeds on top. Delicious!
4th aperitif: White Tuna and marinated strawberry
5th aperitif: Bitter raspberry
Cold bitter raspberry gazpacho/soup in a bottle sitting on ice, corked with a piece of jamon wrapped melon. This little spicy palate cleanser is a perfect way to end the Aperitif and prep for the main courses to come.
Main Degustation Courses
1st course: Beetroot Blood Apple
Paper thin slices of apple, injected with beetroot resulting in a beautiful gradient of purplish pink hue, delicately blanket around soft, rich morsel of foie gras encrusted with pistachio and almond. Orchid flowers, leek and pimento sauce, and crispy potato “mother of pearl” shard complete the dish.
Accompanying wine: QUINTALUNA 2012 (very much like a drier and fruitier sauvignon blanc)
2nd course: Lobster “Sea and Garden”
Grilled succulent lobster tail with crispy battered tumeric flowers, sitting on tomato water and sesame seed. Fried edible leaves (of some sort) which tasted like pepper and mushroom. All sitting on top of a glass plate, with a screen underneath displaying crashing waves, complete with the sound. Talk about the whole experience. Oh and a side of roasted thin zucchini pieces dusted with paprika accompanied the dish. Interesting interpretation and the lobster was one of the juiciest I have eaten in my life!
Accompanying wine: ALLENDE RIOJA 2010 (Tempranillo Blanco grape, californian style sweet chardonnay)
3rd course: Ovo-Lacto
A perfectly – 62 degree – poached egg in panko crumb, with a crispy milk and oregano shard leaning onto it. Two pale trails of crumbed sacha inchi, a kind of cross between almond and peanut, grown in the Inca region in South America, lead the way down to a bright creamy gorgonzola sphere sitting on a lactic leave, accompanied with a thin wedge of Diazabal cheese, a pungent sheep’s milk cheese locally made in the Basque country.
The whole plate is dusted with Baobab powder, a new(ish) superfood taking the culinary world by the storm. Baobab is a fruit grown in the sub-sahara terrain, inside contains dry powder which is claimed to have three times more anti-oxidant than blueberries, and six times more potassium than a banana. This particular one came from Madagascar.
This dish is rich, yet comforting to eat. Creamy but well balanced by the crispy milk shard. Wonderful creation and totally lived up to its three michelin stars.
4th course: Monk Fish Green Witch
This is probably my favourite dish of all. Not only the dish itself was superb, the theoretical aspect of it was pretty awesome! So as I was just sitting waiting for this course, sipping my wine (I went back to the very first wine again, the Quintaluna), there came a plate with a giant green puffy dome.
Yes, I know. Whaaat? I thought this was a monk fish course..?
Yep, cracking the dome with spoons…still cracking. She made a decent size hole…
Then, like magic, she lifted the dome off and place it on another plate. Underneath the dome revealed…
A piece of crispy green dome fell perfectly onto a piece of monk fish underneath. And I meant, PERFECTLY. Wow, I would have tipped her right there and then had she not walked away first.
A succulent piece of Monk fish pan-roasted in a mild stock of parsley and its own gelatine, served with confit garlic (so, so sweet and tasty). The green dome is deep fried rice paper infused with seafood and came with freshly cracked black pepper on top (where it would fall onto the fish below). The fish was so well cooked, juicy, and the sauce is mild but wholesome, a perfect sauce to let the fish shine. A 10/10 dish for me.
Look at how juicy the fish is!!
5th course: Pigeon and Terpenes
This is probably my close second favourite course. Beautifully cooked, rare/medium-rare pigeon breast with citrus and pine infused jus. The jus was actually being infused ‘a la minute’ with citrus zest and pine using a tea infusion ball. The colourful trail nesting beside the pigeon breast is made up of paper thin pickle ginger, shaved black garlic, young mint leaves, chives, and a mixture of lime and orange segments and zests. The alternation of these intense flavour herbs go brilliantly with the gamey pigeon breast.
An accompanying small side dish of confit pigeon legs, confit watermelon, and crispy caramelised mint leaf. Delicious!
Accompanying wine: D Lois R Rioja Tempranillo
6th course: first dessert – Super Truffle
You have got to hand it to them..two dessert courses? A little extravagant? Yes. Was I complaining? No. No I was not.
This first dessert course is a show stopper. The photos don’t do it justice. When it was brought out, I couldn’t figure it out what it was. It looked kind of like a wonky ball dusted with cocoa powder. Something white colour peaking underneath. It was also sitting on a thin firmly pressed base, which I later learned was made of chocolate, carob, and butter. Carob is an eastern Mediterranean tree in the pea family, sometimes used to substitute chocolate. Or better yet, along side each other!
A waitress then came over with a jug of warm sauce, made with orange, carob, and cointreau. She started pouring tge sauce onto this mysterious cocoa dusted ball, starting around the base, and finished with a big dollop on top.
And then right before my eyes, the top rapidly melted and sank, unveiling the treasure inside. Crunchy cocoa dusted bread cubes peering out, underneath was ultra smooth and rich chocolate and carob mousse. The outer layer turned out to be made entirely out of soft, pillowy candy floss! Partly melted wherever the sauce touched, and the rest melted in my mouth. It has a hint of buttered popcorn taste and smell to it too, which was delicious!
Chewy candy floss, smooth rich chocolate mousse, crunchy cocoa bread, buttery dark chocolate base, and boozy warm sauce, coupled with salted carob ice cream on the side. This is a clear winning dessert.
p.s. I was chocolate out by about half way. I finished it though..
7th course: second dessert – Golden footprint and Ladybird
By the 7th course, I was officially stuffed! I was praying for this dessert to be something lighter and refreshing to counterbalance the last course, which of course turned out to be just that. It’s a complicated plate with lots of elements, so bear with me.
The overall look is certainly a good representation of its name. Two ladybirds, a gold ‘footprint’, dots of crème anglaise, and a side of banana & passionfruit ice cream.
Okay, let’s get into the little details. Starting with the ‘golden footprint’, which is a crispy sheet made of black sesame and almond, with gold stamps pressed on it to mimic the footprint. Underneath the golden footprint lay a piece of caramelised mango (as a base), topped with a trio of vanilla bean dusted caramelised fruit (kiwifruit, strawberry, and white melon), held together with jelly made from melon jus and champagne. Yup, trust the three michelin star restaurant to crank it up several notches from the normal fruit jelly.
Now onto the ladybirds. They are made with smooth yoghurt based mouse inside, black liquorice jelly as eyes, and are sitting on a pile of olive oil sugar crystals. Soft and creamy with sugar crunch. Delicioso!
Yep. I’m officially stuffed.
After all this food and desserts, I needed something to help me digest, so I ordered an espresso. Little did I know, an order of espresso here comes with a tray of house made chocolate! Oh man, more chocolate? But you see, these are not the normal, usual flavour chocolate. We are, after all, at Arzak, they couldn’t finish this incredible degustation lunch with a ‘normal’ tray of chocolate, could they? So here they are:
From the top left (clockwise)
– White bean and white chocolate cream balls, encrusted with red tea and plum crumbly crystals.
– Bolts: made with white chocolate and dark chocolate
– Nuts: made with white chocolate and aubergine
– Keys: black chocolate dusted with silver powder
– Coca Cola jelly cups filled with popping candy foam
– Star anise: made with white chocolate and dark chocolate
Yes, I had a four hour lunch. Yes, I rolled myself home.