In most guides to top end cuisine in San Sebastian you’re faced with the decision of the “holy trinity” restaurants you’re going to visit. This includes Arzak, Mugaritz, and the ever-classic Akelarre. To me, this was an easy decision – do all three! In two days! Yikes!
Our adventure kicked off with Akelarre, which has been a staple of San Sebastian for over 30 years. Chef Pedro Subijana is revered in these parts and is considered one of the patron saints of the new Spanish cuisine. The restaurant also holds three Michelin stars and has been in and out of the top 100 in the world for a number of years. I was told by Chef Heinz Beck before I came that the three restaurants and experiences would be very different and this certainly held true.
Akelarre is located in the hills just outside of San Sebastian, about fifteen minutes in a cab. It’s a beautiful drive and you get to see some pretty views on the way. But nothing can prepare you for the view once you enter the showcase of a dining room. We were lucky enough to have the best seat in the house, up against the glass with a full view of the sunset (this was about 9pm in August). Just stunning.
In retrospect, this was definitely had the most formal feel to it of the three we visited here but we still enjoyed the unique experience. Your choice is one of three tasting menus, one of which contains their classics and the other two being new creations. The good thing is that each guest can choose from different menus so the Gourmet Female and I decided to split the decision and each try one of the new tasting menus. You can do a la carte here but seriously, why in the world would you?
We started with what we considered the most playful and “cool” dish of the trip. It was a zen garden of different playful items – an oyster leaf, a caramelised mussel, covered chickpeas, etc. The most clever aspect was the prawn “sand”. Delightlful!
I chose the Bekarki menu. The Gourmet Female started her dish with tableside roasted prawns.
My first main was, “Xangurro in Essence, its Coral Blini and ‘Gurullos’. This was essentially a large crab claw on a Blini with
Next up was, “Green Broth Infusion, Red Prawn and Smoked Monkfish”. As I mentioned with La Pergola, this is another dish that appears to be one that could be straightforward to recreate when viewed. But when tasted it’s a completely different matter. That green broth infusion is one of the most complex I’ve tasted yet it still allowed the prawn to stand out on its own.
This is where things started to go crazy for me. Firstly, I have had foie gras before but it has always been mixed with something else and delivered in small quantities. This was two whole pieces of foie with “Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper”. Now I guess they have to use the quotes when the words they use are not actually what’s used but it was a giveaway to me that something was up. Still, I was horrified when the waitress brought me two beautiful pieces of foie, only to drop two small bowls of “salt and pepper” on them. But I quickly realised that they were something altogether different. I couldn’t decide what the “salt” was made of but I’m pretty sure there was a cocoa element to the “pepper”. Black-out good.
As I have mentioned in other posts, salt cod (or bacalao) is a key part of Basque culinary culture. Akelarre didn’t drift too far away from those roots in, “Desalted” Cod Box with Shavings”.
I think the prettiest dish of the night was “Roasted Pigeon with a Touch of Mole and Cocoa”. Having gone through Mexico a number of times I can appreciate how mole and cocoa can work with poultry. But the presentation here is world class.
The “cool” factor for me on the night was, “Mile and Grape, Cheese and Wine in Parallel Evolution”. Effectively, this is a dish that combines grapes and cheese as they move through age and maturity. The cheeses get more rich and heavy while the grapes slowly become sultanas. Brilliant!
We finished up with, “Orange ‘Tocino de Cielo’ Sheet with Fruits Leaves”. In this creation the chef has created an edible and “scratchable” plate of orange with chocolate fruit leaves on top. A great combination of citrus and chocolate to finish the meal.
Not the greatest shot of us with chef Pedro Subijana but I think the light above his head is fitting! BTW, chef was kind enough to come in the next morning and sign his cook book for me so that I could take a copy home.
In the end, we loved our trip to Akelarre. The views were spectacular and the food was inspiring. This is a new Spanish food institution and chef if respected with reverence by all those who have come after. We did enjoy Mugaritz and Arzak more, but for different reasons. In the end, it was a meal we will cherish forever.