I had the honour and sheer delight of dining at not only one of the finest restaurants in Spain, but one of the all-time greats of the world – Arzak, located in San Sebastian. Even before the creation of El Bulli, there was the mighty Arzak. Created by Juan Mari Arzak who has been in the kitchen for 50 years and is credited with being one of the founding fathers of new Basque cuisine, and now his daughter Elena – who runs much of the kitchen – has kept Arzack on the cutting edge. This legendary restaurant has held the top ten position in the World’s Best 50 restaurants since 2006, and maintained its third Michelin star since it received it in 1989. Note, it was the first Spanish restaurant to earn three stars. Elena also won the best female Chef in the World award in 2010. Their enviable position is perhaps only been matched by El Celler de Con Roca (which we did not enjoy nearly as much).
This dynamic duo produces marvels culminating in dishes on the forefront. They fuse quintessential Basque cuisine with modern techniques, which have influenced chefs from all over the world. In fact we got a tour of the wondrous Arzak lab, which is like a science laboratory, where they can experiment and create their wonderful gastronomic dishes.
The building that houses Arzak has a traditional façade, but once you enter into the dining room, you find yourself in a sophisticated, sleek, modern, and minimalist temple. There is frosted glass, greys and blacks with exposed concrete that looks like wood that has indents of spoons carved into it. The restaurant seats about 50 people on two floors, with a staff of about 45, so you can imagine how smoothly everything runs and how good the service is. The linens are crisp, the silver is polished. There is a 46 page wine list and a cellar that holds 100,000 bottles. We were lucky to also be able to get a tour of the massive cellar and the pristine kitchen with its huge amount of line cooks, along with the technically advanced lab, where they experiment on new recipes.
Arzak has an a la carte menu as well as a 205 Euro, fifteen course tasting menu. The server said if there was anything we didn’t like on the tasting menu they could substitute something else. If they brought something that was not to our liking, they could change that as well. That is quite impressive! We selected the tasting menu and held our breath in anticipation. We paired our menu with a lovely 2009 Ossian. I am not exaggerating when I say that every course including the additional five amuse bouche were outstanding. They get full marks for presentation (for example – one dish was red mullet on a glass platter on top of a video of water and crashing waves), freshness of ingredients and elegance in service and fine dining. Many of the ingredients were quite unique and everything was perfectly timed. The food not only had a playful element to some of the dishes, they also showcased their complexity. Each mouthful brought several textures and depths of flavours.
Just about everything was memorable, but one dish in particular that I loved was the roasted lamb loin over a nut and Armagnac spread accompanied by yucca and “guitar” shavings which envelop the whole dish in a light cypress aroma. This was placed on a video screen tablet that had flames shooting out. The roast pigeon with potato feathers was quite a standout too. Every mouthful brought joy to me. Food as art, just pure bliss.
Both Chefs come out to the dining room to personally greet each guest.
As you can see I was blown away by how imaginative, colourful and dramatically visual each course was. There was a lot of attention to detail. It was so exciting to step into this establishment and let the magic begin. This was one well-oiled machine and the meal was intoxicating. In fact, this was one of my all-time favourite meals. Technical brilliance, and an establishment that doesn’t rest on its laurels.
Very highly recommended!