Akelaŕe by Pedro Subijana***, San Sebastian

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The second of our big restaurant meal in San Sebastian came courtesy of Akelare, located on the outskirts of town through a 20 minute taxi ride. I’ll like to point out before anything else that the website and the plaque outside the restaurant itself spells it as Akelare while most online resources refer to it as Akelarre. Regardless of the slight difference in spelling, the brains behind Akelare is Pedro Subijana, a man who is credited for bringing to light Modern Basque Cuisine, along with Juan Mari Arzak.

Akelarre, San Sebastian

We were advised to come early as the view was reportedly excellent. Fair point, but I'll like to clarify that the doors open at 1pm and there isn't much to see if you're stuck in the car park. If you're driving up there though you can always stop by the road on the way up for a brilliant view of the coast; we didn't have that option as we took a taxi.

Akelarre, San Sebastian 2

While the exterior may not be too exciting, it is all modern warmth and comfort within. We had requested a window table and were rewarded with a stunning view of the Bay of Biscay underneath.

Akelarre, San Sebastian view

I would have glossed over the bread as although the nutty bread was quite nice, it felt oddly under-salted. However, the olive oil was perhaps the most aromatic olive oil we ever tasted.

The degustation menu here was slightly different as it had two options: Aranori or Bekarki, which simply represent option A or B according to the Maitre d'. We decided to each try one so we can have as many different dishes as possible.

Both A and B started with "Amenities" as a set of amuse bouche. From left to right, we started with taking the "Onion sponge" and squirting some "Tomato and Basil Gel" onto it. The gel looked identical to a liquid soap but had a distinct tomato and very mild basil flavour whereas the onion sponge had only a mild onion aroma as well. A good start to the meal with a tasty yet mild flavours.

Amenities, Akelarre, San Sebastian

We were then advised to take the packet of "Sea Bath Salts" and pop it directly into our mouths. It was actually powderised prawn and the plastic was edible. It was followed by "Idiazabal cheese Moisturiser", which was like a melted cream cheese. Idiazabal is an unpasteurised sheep’s milk cheese from a village in the Goierri Valley in the heart of the Basque region.

To cleanse our palate was a pomegranate and sparkling cava. The playfulness of the set was very clear and I liked how the intensity of flavours started out mild but then jumped strongly with the prawn and cheese before being neutralised with the palate cleanser at the end to ready us for the first course.

A: "Prawns and French Beans cooked in "Orujo" Fireplace". Firstly the pot was shown to us with the porous volcano rock inside and the southern Spain prawns lying on top. A lit match was then used to ignite the alcohol inside (I think it was grappa) and the prawns were flambéed till cooked. We were advised to suck out the prawn head as the juices would collect inside. The prawn itself was cooked just right and was full of its own natural sweetness. Enhancing the prawn flavour was some powdered prawn and the julienned green bean and green bean cream.

Prawns, Akelarre, San Sebastian

Also worth noting was a little pot which the waiter poured a ginger infused liquid into. The little cloth ball within the pot then blossomed like a flower in those fast forwarded videos seen on National Geographic. We were told that ginger was chosen instead of the typical lemon smell as lemon can linger on the hands and spoil the aroma of future dishes. True enough, the ginger smell was sharp and clean but was gone by the next course.

B: "Xangurro in Essence, its Coral Blini and "Gurullos"". The most prominent feature is the claw meat of the spider crab. Underneath that was a mousse of the most intense crab concoction. The gurullos is a rice-like pasta, a Basque speciality, which had a fairly mild flavour but I think helped smooth out the palate to enjoy the crab meat again.

Txangurro, Akelarre, San Sebastian

A: "Molluscs in Fisherman's Net". Here a variety of shellfish were lying in a light creamy broth. Overlying it was a net made from rice crackers which itself had a sea-like flavour. Great flavours and textures.

Molluscs, Akelarre, San Sebastian

B: "Razor Shell with Veal Shank". This was a dish meant to highlight contrasts yet done in a way where the ingredients still complemented each other. The natural sweetness of the clam played off the meaty savoury veal while the cauliflower mushroom in the middle had virtually no flavour but contributed hugely to the textures.

Razor clam, Akelarre, San Sebastian

A: "Pasta Carpaccio, Piquillo and Iberic with Parmesan shrooms". It may look like a typical beef carpaccio, with a smattering of shaved parmesan, truffles and mushrooms dotted over it, but it far from the truth. It was a sheet of pasta, prepared in such a way that it had an infusion of ham flavour into it. Playful and delicious at the same time.

Iberic pasta, Akelarre, San Sebastian

B: "Sautéed Fresh Foie Gras with "Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper"". The foie gras plate was first placed in front of me. The waiter then produced a saucer of salt and tossed it all into the plate, ignoring my slightly concerned look at his gross over-seasoning, and followed that up by tossing another saucer of gigantic black peppercorns on top of the foie. He gave a cheeky smile before asking me to enjoy and departed.

Foie, Akelarre, San Sebastian

My fears that the foie was ruined by too much salt and pepper were unfounded though. The salt turned out to be sugar crystals (surprise!!) while the black pepper was wild black rice, providing a nice crunch. The foie itself was glazed with Sauternes wine for a fruity citric taste. Much like the corresponding course on the Aranori side, this was very playful yet absolutely delicious.

A: "Cod Tripe". Bacalao was used to make this dish. The highlight here is definitely the tripes, one made from cod and the other from veal. The veal one is curled up and coloured white to look like fish while the other flatter piece is made from cod meat to mimic the appearance of veal tripe. There were also two flavourings available in the form of a fish broth and white tomato water.

Cod, Akelarre, San Sebastian

B: ""Fried Egg" with injected Truffle, threads of Cheek and Germinates". The egg must have been a technical nightmare to do as it was first poached, then fried, then injected with some truffle liquid. We were told to break the egg, mix it with the shredded pork cheek meat and salad. The truffle aroma was strangely lacking given the abundance of shaved truffles and also the truffle liquid. Altogether it was a great combination with the richness of the egg yolk and saltiness from the pork.

egg with truffle, Akelarre, San Sebastian

A: "Whole-Grain Red Mullet with Sauce "Fusili"". The term whole grain was used here as essences from the whole fish was used in preparation of this plate. The fillet was from the loin of the mullet and glazed with a concentrate made from the head and bones. The liver was recycled into a small pate on each side of the plate, which was packed with flavour. Visually captivating was the fusili, each colour signifying the flavour within: parsley, garlic and soy sauce.

red mullet, Akelarre, San Sebastian

B: "Turbot with its "Kokotxa"". Kokotxa is the meat from underneath the jaw of a fish (analogous to the chin I suppose) and is a speciality of Basque, typically taken from cod in their bacalao. Turbot however is a flat-fish (like sole) so it doesn't have a chin and therefore doesn't have kokotxa! In this case they had to create it from a Japanese plant known as kudzu (I think, it got a bit confusing at this point). To go along with the fish was pil-pil sauce, essentially a garlic mayonnaise. The required textural component was a chip of fish skin.

turbot, Akelarre, San Sebastian

The next course was the meat of which there were two choices on each menu option.

A: "Roast Wood Pigeon with a Touch of Mole and Cocoa". The pigeon had a ever so slightly crispy crust and the game-y-ness of the bird was complemented by the richness of the mole (mexican sauce made using chilli and chocolate) and sprinkling of cocoa powder. There was a little pastry on the plate as well which was supposed to have pigeon leg within but for the life of me I didn't detect any. It must have been blended into a mousse form. Still, the filling was rich and delicious and the crispy filo exterior here gave the dish more balance.

pigeon, Akelarre, San Sebastian

B: "Roasted Suckling Pig, with Tomato "Bolao" and Iberian Emulsion". According to our menu, the piglet had a two-step cooking process, being first braised then finished off in the oven so that the meat remained juicy yet still had a crispy skin. The meat itself was indeed juicy and also a little bit too salty on it's own while the skin was crispy but wasn't as good as crackling can get, some parts were chewy. The bolao on it's own was essentially a sugar ball with tomato flavour. Now what was surprising to us was how great the savoury salty pork went with this sugary tomato flavour. Once the emulsion of ham was added, the entire combination was simply breathtaking.

pork, Akelarre, San Sebastian

A: ""Xaxu" and Coconut Iced Mousse". Xaxu, an almond tart with a creamy egg yolk filling, is a famous pastry of Gorrotxategi patisserie. Now I'm sure that some things have been lost to translation, but I think chef was attempting to make the Xaxu in the middle resemble an egg with almond flavours; hence the flowing ooze upon puncturing the pastry was like the egg yolk. The mousse flanking the Xaxu is even more impressive as it was like an aerated ice cream, delivering the tastes of a coconut ice cream but in a nearly foam-like texture.

xaxu, Akelarre, San Sebastian

B: "Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine in Parallel Evolution". The mentality behind this dish is to demonstrate different flavours of both the milk and the grape, starting from it's 'origin' on the right to increasing levels of 'age' or 'oldness' on the left. By far the best cheese course we've had.

cheese, Akelarre, San Sebastian

From right to left:
1: "Grapevine, curded sheep milk and walnut". Very very mild start, just the natural taste of milk here with a slight bitterness from the grapevine.

2: "Powdered fresh cream with chive and grapes". The sweetness of the fresh grape is very much in play here, with a little milkiness from the powder underneath it.

3: "Quark cheese with nutmeg and pink pepper aroma, must of tapioca and tomato". A little bit similar to cottage cheese, the taste is now starting to appear. I'm not sure where the grape is supposed to be here though.

4: "Idiazabal semi-matured with quince jelly and wine dust". The cheese here is a Basque local made from sheep's milk and is fairly nutty in flavour, well complemented by the sweet quince.

5: "Torta of Casar's grape with soaked raisins in Pedro Ximenez". This cheese is another Spanish local to Extremadura and is usually creamy when fully matured. So on puncturing the shell, a gooey creamy rich cheese flows out. A strong pairing is needed here and is in the form of raisins further sweetened by sweet sherry.

6: "Brandy sirop with Gorgonzola cheese ice cream". This ice cream, made from this famous blue cheese, was far too strong for me but I would imagine some cheese lovers might enjoy this iteration. There should also be more of the brandy sauce.

A: "A Different Apple Tart". The Maitre d' said that everything on this plate is made from apple (not sure about the pastry itself) including the apple “cream” (no milk or cream) and everything is edible. Yes that includes the 'paper' itself with Akelare's name emblazoned all over it, made naturally with apple amongst other things and thusly had an apple taste to it as well. Technically it was more of a mille-feuille with layers of pastries sandwiching the apple cream. The brown sauce surrounding the tart tasted like pastry while the little dollops of jelly on the sides reminding me of apple liquor.

Apple tart, Akelarre, San Sebastian

B: "Citrus Shell and Chocolate Shaving". This reminded me of a chocolate-decadence type of dessert where different types of chocolate are plated. Here though, it never gets so rich where I felt like I had been overdosed on chocolate. The chocolate cotton candy at the bottom is certainly rich and chocolatey, but because of it's shape you never really shovel too much into your mouth to feel like you had too much. Similarly the ice cream also restrains itself and is delicious while not being too rich. Balancing the chocolate are the little shells of citrus.

chocolate, Akelarre, San Sebastian

After the eight courses, we just needed some coffee to help ease our swollen bellies. Akelare didn't make our life any easier though as we were presented a menu of different digestives (I have to say that the menu is pretty large and the waiter had presented us the menu already opened to the coffee section; small touches do count) and there was a whole page just on coffee.

Along with the coffee were some petit fours. Ingeniously presented here as a bowl with a sealed lid. The waiter then did a cruciate incision to reveal the little goodies within. The lid itself was also edible, a pear 'paper' similar to the apple 'newspaper' in the apple tart dish.

Petit four, Akelarre, San Sebastian

Altogether, the bill came up to €315 with the degustation costing €140 and we opted not to have any wine this time. Service throughout was excellent and our waiter was extremely patient with our incessant questioning of the dishes.

At the end of our meal, most of the other diners had also finished and Chef Pedro Subijana came out to meet and greet each table. Upon finding out that I'm a doctor, he quipped that he too wanted to be a doctor when he was young but now he feeds all his old friends who are now doctors. He also graciously agreed to have a photograph with us.

Overall, the food was simply and utterly breathtakingly magnificent. From start to finish, each dish on both menu option was met with wide eyes, raised eyebrows and drooling mouths. The only other time both the PigPig and I were like this during a meal was dining at The Fat Duck and we're having a difficult time trying to decide which is better.

Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56
San Sebastian
Tel: +34 943 311209

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée

Thursday, 28 April 2011

The royal wedding is just 2 days away and I can't wait! The bride and groom will look gorgeous no doubt but I am more excited about the cakes! There will be two cakes. One of which will be a traditional cream and white multilayered fruit cake decorated with edible flowers of the four home nation - English rose, Scottish thistle, Welsh daffodil and Irish shamrock. This is made by Fiona Cairns and will be the centrepiece of the Buckingham Palace reception. The other will be a McVities chocolate biscuit cake specially requested by Prince William. A biscuit cake???  Apparently, it will be unbaked and made with dark chocolate and crushed Rich tea biscuits. Sounds like a giant chocolate-covered cheesecake crust to me. I can't wait to see how that turns out!

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée 3

With the excitement of the fourthcoming royal wedding, I thought I'd post this long-awaited rose cake recipe before the wedding fever is over. I made this cake for Tate and Lyle Sugars “Let Them Eat Cake” Competition a couple of weeks ago and promised and follow-up recipe. A little late, but better than never right?! This cake has 3 major components (not counting the red sprinkles). The lemon yogurt cake (recipe adapted from The Waitakere Redneck's Kitchen), a strawberry gelée filling in the middle and a rose-design exterior made with buttercream frosting (detailed tutorial at iambaker here). The strawberry gelée filling was a last minute decision and was an idea I got from the Baking Obsession. I wanted something different, something extra in terms of flavour and texture. And the outcome was what I wanted - a wonderful marriage of flavours!

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée 1

As for the buttercream frosting, you will need a lot of it. You can use whatever recipe you are used to or comfortable with. I have not done any proper cake-decorating prior to this and the only buttercream I have experience with was when I made Swee San's opera cake. Instead of coffee essence, I used lemon essence. I made one batch of it and it was barely enough. As you can see, the cake wasn't evenly covered and there were still gaps in between the roses. I would suggest making 1 1/2 batches of the buttercream.

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée 2

I had fun baking and decorating the cake. I was really pleased with the results - looks pretty and the cake was delicious, just too much frosting (a problem with all pretty cakes). Well, I did say pretty, not healthy.

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée

Printable recipe
By Pig Pig's Corner

Prep time: 1 hr 30 mins - overnight (for gelée to set)
Cook time: 40 mins
Yield: 9-inch cake


Strawberry gelée:

  • 350 g strawberries - coarsely chopped OR use 1 1/2 cups strawberry puree
  • 3 leaves gelatin
  • 1/2 lemon's juice
  • 3 tbs sugar (more or less to taste)

Lemon yoghurt cake batter:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 1 lemon's zest - finely grated
  • 1/2 lemon's juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 280 g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup oil

Lemon buttercream: makes 1 batch, I would suggest making more, about 1 1/2 batches

  • 125 g (about 3) egg white
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • 500 g unsalted butter - cold, cut into cubes
  • 4 tsp lemon essence

Red sprinkles:

  • Royal icing sugar
  • Water
  • Red colouring

Strawberry gelée: The gelée can be made up to two days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée 7

  • Puree strawberries in a food processor or blender and pass this through a sieve. You should get about 1 1/2 cups of puree.
  • Line an 9-inch round cake pan/ container with plastic wrap. Lightly oil the wrap. Set aside.
  • Place the gelatin leaves in a bowl with cold water to soften the gelatin.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the strawberry puree, lemon juice, and sugar. Heat to dissolve sugar under medium low heat.
  • Drain the gelatin leaves, squeeze to get rid of as much water as possibe and put them into the saucepan with hot strawberry puree. Whisk to fully dissolve the gelatin.
  • Pour into the plastic-lined container and leave to cool at room temperature. When completely cooled, cover the container with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight till set.

Lemon yoghurt cake:

  • Pre-heat oven to 180°C.
  • Beat eggs and sugar until pale and thick.
  • Add lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix till combined.
  • In another bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Fold into the egg mixture.
  • Mix in yoghurt.
  • Then, mix in oil.
  • Bake at pre-heated oven for about 30 mins or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  • Leave cake in tin to cool for 10 mins before transferring to a cake rack to cool.

Lemon buttercream:

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée 5
  • Mix together egg whites and sugar in a bowl.
  • Slightly warm the egg white mixture over bain marie and lightly mix with a whisk or fork until sugar is dissolved. You can check by rubbing some of the egg white mixture in between your fingers, there shouldn't be any grainy bits. [Be careful, the egg white cooks really easily.]
  • Transfer egg whites to stand mixer and whisk until stiff and cool. [I left it to whisk for about 10 mins.]
  • Add all of the cold butter. Whisk until all butter is incorporated.
  • Add lemon essence to taste.

Red sprinkles: can be made a day in advance.

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée 6

  • Make icing according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Mix in red colouring until you get the colour you desire.
  • Pipe and leave aside till set.

Assemble the cake:

Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée 4
  • When the cake is completely cooled, slice the cake into half horizontally.
  • Unmold the gelée and place it carefully on the cut side of one cake layer.
  • Place another cake layer (cut side down) on the top of the gelée.
  • Spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate. Click here for detailed rose-design frosting tutorial. In short: Use a 1M tip (or any large star tip) with pastry bag filled with buttercream frosting. For single rose: start in the center, then slowly move your tip in a circle around the center point. Repeat until the whole cake is covered.
Lemon Rose Cake with Strawberry Gelée

Tomato and Basil Soup

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Despite the good and sunny weather here where I am, I've been cooking a lot of soups thanks to my new soup maker. Just throw all your ingredients into the little machine, step away, wait and you can enjoy a simple and hearty meal in less than 30 mins. I usually use whatever ingredients I have at hand. I used canned tomatoes, feel free to use fresh. You can omit the heavy cream, but I like the slight creaminess and depth it adds to the dish and it helps to cut through the tartness of the tomatoes.

Tomato basil soup

Tomato and Basil Soup

Printable recipe
By Pig Pig's Corner

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Yield: serves 2

  • 1 large onion - coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic - peeled and crushed
  • 1 can (400 g) plum tomatoes
  • 1 can water (measured using the can from canned tomatoes)
  • 2 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbs heavy cream
  • A few splashes Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves
  • Place onions, garlic, plum tomatoes, water and brown sugar into the soup maker and press the "smooth" button. Once finished (15 mins), mix in a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Lastly, stir in basil leaves just before serving.
  • Saute onions until soft and translucent. Add garlic and fry until fragrant. Pour in canned tomaotes, water, sugar and bring to boil. Leave this to simmer for about 10 mins then blend until smooth before stirring in Worcestershire sauce and cream. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Lastly, stir in basil leaves just before serving.
Tomato basil soup 1

Arzak***, San Sebastian

Monday, 25 April 2011

The name 'Arzak' is nearly synonymous with top tier fine dining in Spain and rightly so for Juan Mari Arzak is often described as being one of the founders of Modern Basque Cuisine (the other chap being Pedro Subijana of Akelare, but that story is tomorrow's). Although the Arzak family has been serving food in the same building since 1897, it was Juan Mari who modernised the local Basque food and turned it into an art form.

Arzak, San Sebastian

Arzak obtained its three star status in 1989 and has kept it ever since even though Arzak restaurant is now in the hands of Elena Arzak, the fourth generation Arzak to feed people in the same building. Elena Arzak had done a stint in El Bulli and this year was nominated for best female chef by the San Pellegrino Awards. The same awarding body however has awarded Juan Mari Arzak a lifetime achievement award this year. In fact, Arzak has been in the top 10 ranking of the World’s Top 50 Best Restaurant Awards and is ranked number 8 for 2011.

The building itself is quite nondescript and doesn't really stand out from the surrounding street. Inside though was a warm though darkened interior and we were soon shown to our table in the quite small dining room, perhaps 30 covers on the ground floor although we did see more people going upstairs.

Arzak, San Sebastian interior

Names of dishes are lifted straight from the English menu given to us after our meal.

"Arzak's amusements". At first they brought out three, which seems a reasonable number of amuse bouche. Then another one came out... followed by yet another and then there were five in total. Good for greedy hungry us.

Amuse bouche, Arzak, San Sebastian

1: "Corn, figs and black pudding". A dense creamy rich corn soup with a little cube of morcilla in the middle to give it even more body. The figs added a nice sweet touch.

2: "Kabraroka pudding with kataifi". I think that the kabraroka is some sort of traditional Basque dish made out of fish (I think I was told it's something like cod) and kataifi is made of very fine vermicelli-like pastry. This was nice but the least spectacular of the five.

3: "Yellow crispy rice with mushroom". Nice contrast of textures going on here while mushroom mousse in the middle was wondefully mushroomy.

4: "Ham and tomato smoke". I thought this was tasty but a rather ordinary and unsurprising combination as it has been used many times. The PigPig however loved it and particularly appreciated the sweet juicy burst of fresh tomato. Part of the table prep involved the waiter pouring tea onto dry ice for a smoking effect.

smoked tomato, Arzak, San Sebastian

5: "Marinated Anchovy and stramberry". Yes I'm aware I just typed "stramberry" but that's what the menu said and I'm copying it letter for letter, word for word. Anyway this was both our favourite of the amuses as it was a bold combination of the fishy anchovy and sweet strawberry. Visually it was very striking as well as it was served on a plate with in-built fluorescent lighting.

anchovy and strawberry, Arzak, San Sebastian

"Cromlech with onion, coffee and tea". Cromlechs are prehistoric megalithic structures and from Elena Arzak's recipe online, the cromlech is made of tapioca. The shell is a very thin and light and had quite distinctive two tones of colour, the darker made from baby squid ink we think.

Cromlech of foie Arzak, San Sebastian

We were told to slip a fish knife under the cone, turn the cone upside down making sure the filling didn't fall out and eat it whole. The filling was a blend of foie mousse and other goodies I couldn't quite make out. We also couldn't quite taste the coffee or tea but it probably contributed to the richness of the filling. A brilliant blend of wonderful rich flavour, textural crunchiness and just pure coolness. Definitely a highlight of the night.

"Lobster, potato and copaiba". The potato came in a wafer-like form and had a fairly strong grilled flavour to it. Personally I thought that grilled-ness was too strong for the lobster but the PigPig thought it went well together. We both agreed the sauce made from lobster and copaiba (an oil made from a tree in Brazil) was magnificent though.

lobster, Arzak, San Sebastian

"Dusted egg and Mussel". The simple story is that this is a dish made from a poached egg sandwiched between two layers of fried kataifi. However, as with all the dishes here, there is far more going on: the kataifi is green because of spinach and parsley; there is a layer of concentrated mussel gel on top of the egg; around the mussel on the side are powders of prawn and oregano; hidden away is a little pool of some very tasty garlic. Altogether the elements combine together (don't forget the poached egg yolk) in an amazing flavour c-c-c-combo.

Egg with mussels, Arzak, San Sebastian

The next two courses is fish and meat respectively. They both have two choices and our waiter second-guessed our intentions by recommending we both try one each. As if we would have done otherwise... Each dish also came with a little accompanying salad.

Fish choice 1. "Low tide monkfish". The green 'clams' were made out of mussels (not obvious to taste, tasted more like seaweed), the white clam was sugary, the star was an orange gel and the red coloured thing was tempura seaweed. For me this was visually stunning, but flavour-wise not amazing as I didn't think the whole dish worked well together. I also don't really fancy monkfish much as it's very meaty although the chef did well here as I've had it worse.

monkfish, Arzak, San Sebastian

Fish choice 2. "Sole with head cheese". We both preferred this dish as the sole seemed to combine better with the surrounding supporting characters: the red wine croutons had a fantastic depth of flavour and is a brilliant idea; beef tongue to add a slightly different flavour; orange sauce to tie it all together.

sole, Arzak, San Sebastian

Meat choice 1: "Pigeon with orange and corn". We left it to chef's discretion as to how done the meat should be and was rewarded with a gorgeously pink interior that had a bounciness to it. The texture of the meat was the best we've ever had. The pigeon was paired with a smear of black olives and courgettes; the effect of this with the pigeon was too subtle for me to appreciate.

pigeon, Arzak, San Sebastian

Meat choice 2: "Lamb with Rosemary and turmeric". Much like the pigeon, we both loved the quality of cooking the meat itself as well as the accompanying jus drizzled over it at the table. This dish was simpler than the pigeon with only a sliver of grilled pepper skin flanked by two streaks of rosemary flavoured oil. In a way, I preferred this to the game pigeon as the elements of the whole dish seemed more harmonious and had more teamwork, although that is easier to achieve when there are less players on the pitch.

Lamb, Arzak, San Sebastian

Most of the salads that came with both fishes and meats had bits from the main dish along with some greens: the monkfish salad had those 'clams' and the pigeon salad had a leg of pigeon. For the lamb however, the salad was a tempura of asparagus and jamon - delicious.

I didn't confirm this directly but I think the dessert courses worked on a similar basis as with the mains of fish and meat. There were two courses of desserts; one is chocolate based, the other not; each course had two choices. Again we tried one of each.

Dessert course 1 choice 1: "Soup and chocolate "between vineyards"". On the left side is a scoop of basil ice cream whilst the right end had six little balls of chocolate which was supposed to resemble grapes (i.e. vineyard). Both of these were swimming in a pool of a strawberry jam-like semi-liquid. We were advised to put the entire chocolate ball into our mouths and were duly rewarded with a burst of bitter chocolatey goodness. Somehow, the combination of the slightly warm chocolate burst, the cold basil ice cream and the sweet strawberry combined together oh so well. Absolutely loved this dish.

Strawberry and chocolate, Arzak, San Sebastian

Dessert course 1 choice 2: "Chocolate, spinach and parsley". On the right side, the blocks were chocolate with a spinach filling which wasn't very obvious on my tongue. We did find that the sauce coating the chocolate was too salty though. On the other side was a trio of flavours, only parsley and coconut we could identify. The poached pear stood out like a sore thumb and whether individually or collectively, this dish didn't work for me.

Chocolate Arzak, San Sebastian

Dessert course 2 choice 1: "Mead and fractal fluid". Firstly the fractal fluid was made at the table. The liquid was a combination on water, honey and anise; drops of natural tasteless red colouring were then dropped into the middle of the liquid to produce this fractal shape. It was then spooned onto our plate. From my understanding, the entire process of generating the fractal is purely cosmetic but it is quite beautiful to watch indeed.

hydromel and fractal fluid, Arzak, San Sebastian

On the plate was two cubes of a white chocolate shell infused with paprika to give it that distinctive orange colour containing a lemon curd-like interior. The fractal fluid was actually quite mild, providing a strong hint of sugar and anise/ licorice. This dish didn't work for me as it left a strange aftertaste in my mouth, plus, we are not huge fans of anise/licorice-flavoured stuff. The Pigpig thought the chocolate shell tasted a bit like "lard".

Dessert course 2 choice 2: "Pistachio and beetroot stone". This plate worked much better for both of us, great textures and the pistachio flavour being nicely evident throughout.

Pistachio stone, Arzak, San Sebastian

Each dessert course also came with a little scoop of ice cream. From the first of the dish mentioned and going down in order, the flavours were tutti-frutti, chocolate with oregano/rosemary, apple and lastly pineapple.

Ice-cream, Arzak, San Sebastian

By this time, we were absolutely filled to the brim and we both ordered tea with lemon. The petit fours were a dark chocolate screw that started melting on contact with our grimy fingers (a sign of high quality chocolate I've been told), a salted white chocolate nut (as in, from the nuts and bolts variant, not the type that gives people anaphylaxis), a coca-cola topped with pop rocks, a mango and passionfruit jelly, and lastly a white chocolate with red tea sprinkles.

petit four, Arzak, San Sebastian

Altogether, the bill for our meal was €425 with the degustation making up a large chunk of the cost at €170 each for eight courses. We didn't feel like having a whole bottle of wine and they didn't do an official wine pairing but they offered to serve glasses of wine to match our pace. In the end we only had a sparkling cava and a glass of red for the whole meal.

All top restaurants in Michelin's eyes need outstanding service to get the three stars. In Arzak's case, from time to time both the Arzaks will come out into the dining room to check the situation with the diners. In our case, we had a chat with Elena Arzak who was especially keen once she found out we were Malaysian as she had a Malaysian family for lunch that day as well (proprietor of a restaurant in Indulgence Hotel, Ipoh apparently). We were also given a tour of the kitchen at the end of our meal.

Arzak***, San Sebastian

Overall, everything was visually stunning, the quality of the food was brilliant and I have grossly oversimplified the dishes by stating only what I can identify. However, I somehow expected more from the dishes as I didn't feel the 'wow factor' in terms of tastes for quite a few of them; the desserts in particular having more misses than hits for us, although one of it was spectacular.

Avda. Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273,
20015 Donostia/ San Sebastian,
Tel: (+34) 943 278465