Thursday, October 11, 2012

Arzak (San Sebastian)

October 2012

Avinguda del Alcalde Elosegui No. 273, 20015 Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain
Tel: +34 943 278 465

Three Michelin stars, San Pellegrino's 8th best restaurant in the world in 2012 and chef Elena Arzak winning best female chef in the same year; Arzak has the credentials to be regarded one of Europe's top restaurants. Chef Elena runs the kitchen together with her legendary father, Juan Mari Arzak, in a two-storey tavern along a busy main road in San Sebastian. The day we were there was also the last of the week-long Gastronomika held in the same town, an event which celebrated some of the best chefs in the world, and given the crowd of foodies in San Sebastian that week, expectations were high when we scored a reservation here. It was set up to be one of our best meals ever.

Except that it wasn't. The dining room was nice and the table settings and service were as impeccable as can be expected from an establishment of such standing, but it was to be probably our most disappointing meal during our 2 week trip in Spain.

The wine we picked for the dinner was a 1998 Grand Reserva La Rioja Alta, which was supposedly the more premium version of the 2001 Vina Ardenza Reservav (which we had at Sant Celoni a week before). But the 2001 being the better vintage, we actually preferred the latter.

Gooseberry with coconut. Kabraroka pudding with kataifi. Chorizo with tonic, and corn, figs and black pudding: The meal started very well. In particular, of the amuse bouche, the kabraroka (a kind of fish) wrapped in a vermicelli-like pastry was excellent.

Marinated sardines with strawberry: The appetizers continued to impress, in this case, the tartness of the strawberries proved an interesting balance to the fishiness of the sardines.

Cromlech with onion, coffee and tea: The next course was a crispy cromlech (a kind of monolith which had the texture of deepfried wonton skin) filled with onion confit with a dash of coffee and tea powder, which was very good.

Hemp's mustard and lobster, tapioca salad with citrus: We thought the lobster portions in this dish were too small to really make much of an impact. The mustard seed crackers were interesting but otherwise the dish fell flat.

Gooseberry, spelt and monkfish: The berries and monkfish formed a perfect combination. The dish worked.

Pork fat and physalis: We were not impressed with this dish, which essentially was bacon and petals of a flower.

Dusted egg and mussel: This was one of the rare dishes which turned out very well. It was a poached egg and a mussel flavoured with various different powdered herbs.

Pigeon with anthocyanin: The pigeon breast garnished with a variety of colourful pigments was pretty good.

Pigeon leg and hibiscus pudding: The pigeon leg on the other hand was rather forgettable.

Beef with vegetable screens: The most bizarre dish of the evening was the steak presented on a TV screen on which was an animation of a blue flame. The dish was ok but it was just weird eating food off what looked like an iPad. We really didn't see the point of it.

Roots, fruits and seeds: A puzzling dessert made of a mousse and globules of liquid fruit and with flavoured rice crispies sprinkled over them.

Pistachio and beetroot stone: This was also disappointing. The bread/cake was hard and the pistachios tasted too salty.

Golden footprint and ladybird: This looked nice but we retained no impression of this dessert.

We didn't touch the petit fours.

Impressions: We were bewildered by our meal at Arzak. Despite the presence of both Chefs Juan Mari and Elena, the food was oddly inconsistent and we found ourselves adversely distracted by the unnecessary props and gimmicks used to accompany the food. There was nothing really blatantly wrong with our meal, it was just that somehow we could not grasp many of the ideas and flavours which the chefs were trying to impress upon us, and though service was very good and we enjoyed our wines, the meal was rather anti-climatic (especially given the standing of this restaurant and the cost of our meal). 


  1. So sad to hear this didn't live up to your expectations! Everything looks so interesting–but of course interesting isn't nearly as important as tasting great.

    1. We really wanted to have liked this meal (especially since the restaurant is so critically acclaimed), but it just didn't work for us. Although that night they were supposed to have had their A-game on (as it was Gastronomika week), there was a sense of restlessness in the room and it seemed we weren't the only table which was less than impressed.