If you have yet to set forth in the coastal city of San Sebastián (Donostia), Basque Country, you're definitely missing out on one of the loveliest cities in all of Europe, even the world. Nestled along the Atlantic coast on the north side of Spain, and comprising 3 beaches and 2 rocky outposts (small hills) with the city wrapping around them, it's certainly a lovely sight for the senses. The beaches are filled with sunbathers, swimmers, surfers - all summer - and along the beach promenade, there's a carnival atmosphere of people just walking around, buskers performing incredible jazz music, and so on.
And, specifically concerning food (since this is a food blog anyway), San Sebastián has the largest concentration of 3 star michelin restaurants in the world per capita - seriously. In or around San Sebastián there's three 3 star restaurants - Arzak, Akelare and Martin Berasategui, and there's also 2 star Mugaritz that's well known as one of the top restaurants in the world, being in the top 10 of the San Pellegrino List. And just an hour's drive away lies Azurmendi, (which I shall be blogging about another day), and Extebarri - which is that famous grill restaurant where the chef from Burnt Ends used to work at. San Sebastian's also known for the pintxo crawl - where locals would throng the streets every lunch and dinner time through the old town, hopping from bar to bar. Pinxtos is basically the Basque version of tapas - so named because traditionally the food came on a toothpick.
With so many choices and only 3 days - we picked 2 three-starred Michelin restaurants, Akelare and Azurmendi (which I shall be blogging about later).
Akelare has been lauded by reviewers on the Internet as being one of the most creative and delicious restaurants around, despite its relative inconspicuousness in the gourmet world. The head chef Pedro Subjana is, along with Juan Arzak (of Arzak), known as one of the forefathers of modern Basque cuisine. So naturally we had strong expectations.
The restaurant's located within a half an hour drive from central San Sebastián - it's located along a ridge overlooking the Atlantic Ocean which makes for a spectacular view. The view is fantastic especially during lunch - where the sky stretches for miles without end. I'm not sure if this photo does the view justice actually but you get the idea. That's partly the reason why we chose to go there for lunch - to experience the view in it's sunlit splendor.
The amuse bouche comprised a "sea garden" of various interesting nibbles. They were eye-opening certainly, but nothing really exciting.
We move on the real dishes which were far more interesting - and to start off, I had the prawns cooked in the "Oruju" fire which was actually from the Aranori menu but I decided to order it since it's renowned to be one of the signature dishes of Akelare. It was a visual spectacle - the waiter brought a pot with lava rocks and the prawns to your table, and a visual spectacle ensued as the prawns were flambeed over the rocks and liquor, and then plated individually over french bean puree.
|Prawns and green beans|
This dish was a real spectacle and a delight to eat - and all because of the really good ingredients used: the prawns were very sweet, and cooked in this way had a lingering smoky aftertaste. Sucking on the heads was a particular delight. The french beans lent some contrast to the dish and did not overpower the stars of the show, the prawns. A great dish and I see why it's been on the menu for so long. (8.75/10)
|The scampi and monkfish|
|Foie gras with "salt" and "pepper"|
|Turbot and fake kotkotxa|
Next up, we had a desalted cod box with shavings: this consisted of cod, cod tripe, and a slight tomato water - just slightly tangy. A pretty good dish - very "fishy", if you like - and with various different kinds of textures in the dish to make things interesting. The shavings were crunchy, if you like; combined with the gelatinous textures of the cod tripe, and of course we have the cod. (8/10)
|Pigeon with Mexican mole|
|Milk and grape, cheese and wine in parallel evolution|
|Orange Tocino sheet with chocolate leaves|
Overall, the meal at Akelare was one of THE meals of 2013 thus far - the food was very good, technically excellent, and rather creative, whimsical if you like. Importantly, there were a few truly outstanding dishes such as the foie gras and the pigeon - dishes that stick in your consciousness long after the flavours have gone from your palate. Quite exceptional and worthy of the 3 stars it holds.