The name Arzak certainly strikes up a sense of awe and wonderment in the world of gastronomy. The patron chef, Juan Mari Arzak, is a culinary legend who spearheaded the new Basque cuisine along with Pedro Subijana of Akelarre, another three Michelin star temple of gastronomy (which I’ll cover in the next review). After experiencing Nouvelle cuisine while working with Paul Bocuse in Lyon, they set off to change the culinary landscape across Spain. Now, the elder Juan Mari still oversees the restaurants together with his daughter, Elena Arzak, who has taken over the kitchen.
As of recent years, the restaurant had appeared to experiment with ways to modernize the cuisine, mostly with mixed reviews and perhaps not quite as current compared to other contemporaries. That said, to not eat at Arzak while at San Sebastian would probably be considered a sacrilege akin to not eating at Paul Bocuse in Lyon, or perhaps Maison Troisgros in Roanne.
This meal is probably one of the pinnacles of my gastronomical adventure for 2016. After much excitement, we finally made our way to San Sebastian, and finally, to Arzak.
We kicked off the meal with a few amuses, the first of which was Sardines with strawberries. Never a big fan of combining savoury elements with fruits, but this was really delicious. The richness of the sardines paired against the slight tartness of the strawberries. Something must have been done to the strawberries, as the flavors appeared more subtle and restrained.
Next, was another very successful amuse of squid with beer and mango. The squid was perfectly prepared and was smooth and tender, coupled with the mango flavor and a bit of beer. The other amuses were Txistorra with banana, and Moringa and prawn gyoza, which were also quite decent but not particularly exceptional.
The next course was sea bream marinated with Patxaran and dusted with the purple corn. The texture of the sea bream was quite firm, and was quite flavorful.
After that, was a dish marinated prawns on lemongrass and mint served with an unctuous preparation of beetroot and crunchy krill. Another good plate of food, and the krill provided a crisp texture to contrast against the prawn.
This was followed by a “Red egg” cooked at 65 degrees Celsius, with red peppers, cereal ferments and crispy pig trotters. The egg was perfectly cooked and the yolk just gushed right out, and the pig trotters was also well cooked with a bit of a gelatin with it as well. Not a Wow dish, but a good one nonetheless.
Seems like the trends of using fruits continues with a dish of White tuna with green melon and Jackfruit sauce. Never thought I’ll see Jackfruit all the way in San Sebastian! And it sounded so bizarre that I had to give it a go. The Tuna was nicely cooked and very fleshy, and oddly enough the Jackfruit relish was not overpowering at all, but rather gave a pleasant hint the fruit itself.
For the main, was a perfectly cooked piece of pigeon with traces of mastic accompanied by potato “feathers” of sorts. Definitely one of the most tender pigeon that I’ve ever had. One of the stronger game dishes I’ve had in awhile.
As an palate cleanser, which seems quite rare in some of the more contemporary restaurants nowadays, was a Acai granita with Yuzu ice cream and fruit. A very refreshing and tart combination of flavours, which I had enjoyed very much.
For my dessert, I had the Lunar chocolate cube with a fluid core of mint, neroli and kiwi. The flavours of the chocolate cube was very nice, but the passion fruit sauce that was served with it was overpowering and way too acidic for my liking.
And some bonbon eggs in a bird cage to cap off the night!
Despite my initial reservations, we had a brilliant meal here in Arzak. The cookery was very good and flavours were generally spot on. No fancy molecular gastronomy or showy bits were on display, which is probably for the best as the kitchen just focused on delivering good, balanced dishes. Pleasantly surprised by the usage of various fruits in the savoury courses, and impressed that it worked very well for the most part. Service was warm and very friendly, and we even got to meet Juan Mari himself, which was a real treat to meet the legend! This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.
Arzak may not be the most current of restaurants compared to the likes of Noma or Alinea, but it certainly remains relevant in the culinary world and perhaps still worth that special journey just to dine in a temple of gastronomy.
Location: Av Alcalde Elósegui, 273, 20015 San Donostia-San Sebastián, Guipúzcoa. +34 943 278 465. Website.