So I waxed lyrical on my serendipitous meeting with the Arzaks, now, I shall attempt to be as poetic as I can for the sublime meal we had. The traditional front of the building that Arzak is housed in, is a stark contrast to the modern interiors, the cool gadgets and fun-with-food that were in store for us. We didn’t hesitate when it came to the menu, we had come for one experience only, and we wanted the best. What better way to do so than to drop some substiantial moolah on the tasting menu? *gulps*
Very quickly, we were served a stunning assortment of five types of amuse-bouche. The first, kabraroka (scorpion fish) pudding in fried fideos (a type of vermicelli used in Spanish cuisine), was a clear winner with the four of us. The pudding was essentially a rich, smooth and creamy mousse of scorpion fish, wrapped in a light and incredibly crispy pastry fashioned from fideos. The mousse was so darn delicious, that we all thought it was foie gras. Perched on an avant-garde steel tree, I thought it was a fabulous way to make a grand entrance.
The theatrics continued with the iberico ham & tomato gem served with an incredibly thin shard of sweet clear toffee. Nestled in a bowl on individual serving discs, I thought they already looked cool as hell, then the waitress poured water into the bowl. The smoke from the dry ice that billowed out clearly made for a very good photo-op (see picture for evidence of food paparazzi) and drew gasps from all of us. This amuse-bouche boasted robust savouriness from the ham, subtly sweet and strong tangy flavours from the sugar sheet and tomato. Very good indeed.
More juxtaposition of crunchy and creamy textures laid ahead of us, with a rich and earthy mushroom mousse wedged between two sheets of yellow puffed rice crackers. It was like having an intense mushroom soup with croutons, but in a more solid and fun-to-eat form.
The amuse-bouche course ended off with two shot glasses that were to be approached with the long-stemmed cutlery. One was a white bean soup with green apple strips and the other was a corn and black pudding with figs. I never knew that the tartness of green apples could go so well with something as plain as white bean soup; having said that, the white bean soup was far from plain and was wonderfully seasoned. The corn and black pudding was rich, ever so slightly sweet and creamy, and tasted almost like clam chowder; the sweet figs were a perfect touch to the pudding.
The showmanship and fun didn’t end with the amuse-bouche. The first starter was a stunner, and really one of my favourite courses of the entire meal – two towers that resemble cromlech (prehistoric monument with monoliths, hence the name of the dish) erected on a plate of (what I think is) green tea and coffee powder. We were told to pick each up and turn it over swiftly with our hands. When we did so, we realised why it was essential to flip it over quickly; right at the bottom of each tower laid a generous dollop of foie gras that has been flavoured with caramelised onion, tea and coffee, and this was to be scooped up by the cromlech. I wasn’t sure what the cromlech was made of, but it was crispy, very light and the centre was hollow. The textures worked beautifully with the creamy foie gras. What an ethereal combination! I ate the second one rather reluctantly, because I was trying to save the best for the last, but oh well, we had to move along the tasting menu, didn’t we?!
Next up was lobster, potato and copaiba (shown above) with a small salad of herbs and tapioca pearls on the side (no picture here, forgot about it!). This was a well-executed dish, it wasn’t mind-blowing in that nothing was very experimental and out-of-this-world, but it was comfort food at its best. The sweet, ridiculously fresh and succulent lobster was sandwiched in a crispy potato shell, that was reminiscent of the crispy prawn discs sold at wu xiang stalls in Singapore, sans the nasty bitter and oily aftertaste. This was served with a drizzle of sauce made of copaiba, a South American essential oil with medicinal properties. I couldn’t quite discern the taste of copaiba, but all the same, this dish was very good posh nosh. The zingy and mustard-flavoured tapioca pearls lent an interesting texture towards the end of this course, and certainly refreshed our palette for the next dish.
Yes, egg with earth tremor, a rather unsual name directly translated from the Spanish counterpart. This was sublime. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love eggs, and I have a particular weakness for soft-boiled or poached eggs, or eggs with a runny yolk, period. This has got to be the best egg I have ever eaten in my life, poached to perfection and garnished with subtly sweet crystallised crumbs of cocoa, white truffle and caramelised sesame seeds that were coagulated in metallic silver morsels. I so regret not taking a better picture of this, because this egg rocked my world. When prodded, the egg revealed a deep orange magma that hinted at its incredible freshness, and my gosh, I have no idea how the Arzaks came to realise that cocoa and sesame seeds could complement eggs so perfectly.
For the first of two mains, we were served fish of the day and I opted for the sole while M went for the monkfish. The impossibly tender, savoury and smoky sole was served with creamed spinach fashioned into ‘garlic cloves’ and peppers shaped into walnuts. This dish clearly played with our expectations and visuals. On the side, I was given two sugar sheets studded with walnut and paprika. A very clever way to introduce a little sweetness, nuttiness and a bit of a kick without actually including it with the sole.
M had the low tide monkfish, an adorable dish that had me squealing at the sight of it! The pillow of monkfish looked like it had been washed up the beach with nori-flavoured ‘seashells’ and ‘corals’ made from heaven-knows-what. I didn’t really have a taste of this because M was still ill, but I did steal a bite of the tender monkfish.
For the meat course, I had lamb ossobuco whilst M went for the pigeon with chia. I don’t have a picture of the pigeon dish as it turned out too blur to be published, but suffice to say that Arzak cured my aversion to gamey pigeon meat. It was very well-seasoned and tender, with none of that rude gamey taste that I’ve come to dislike. The lamb ossobuco was beautifully cooked, moist and very flavoursome. The ossobucco part of the dish really nailed the fun factor, this was actually a potato confit that has been painted to look like a bone section, and the ‘marrow’ in the middle was actually onion and mushroom puree! What a surprise this was for me! Another ‘bone marrow’ was served on the side, this time, a potato confit filled with a sweet zucchini ‘marrow’. Excellent stuff!
We move on to desserts and boy, was I in for a treat. I had the soup & chocolate ‘between vineyards’. Liquid chocolate spheres were nestled in strawberry soup and served with a scoop of basil ice cream. This was amazing, the best dessert I’ve ever had! The chocolate spheres somehow held their own on the plate, and once devoured, burst delightfully like bubbles! I don’t know what kind of NASA technology has gone into this, but oh gosh, I wish there were more spheres for me on that plate! The basil ice cream was wonderfully and strongly flavoured, much to my liking, and it worked very well with the dark chocolate and tangy strawberry sauce. A scoop of strawberry sorbet was served on the side as well. M had the chocolate, spinach and parsley dessert which I didn’t get to try, he cleaned out the dish soon after it was served, so that explains why there aren’t any pictures.
For the second dessert, M had the mead & fractal fluid, a name that has given me no clue whatsoever to what it was. The orange squares were actually blocks of lemon curd, and the interesting part came when the waitress poured a red fluid into a bowl of mead. I was incredibly fascinated with the pattern that formed through the mead and I suppose this explained the word ‘fractal’ in the name of this dessert. The pretty fluid was then mixed and poured over the lemon curd. I have no idea how this tastes like, but it was fun to watch.
The second dessert for me was a pistachio and beetroot stone. The ‘stone’ melted in the mouth and seemed to be flavoured with apple puree and plum wine, but I could be wrong. It was sweet in a strange way, and I have to say that beetroot isn’t one of my favourite vegetables, so this dish didn’t work for me. Pity.
Thank goodness, we were served a tasty platter of tools for mignardises to finish of our meal! This was a fun plate to eat, visually exciting and really quite delicious! The bolts were actually good quality dark chocolate bits, and nuts were salted white chocolate blobs that were painted grey. Bottle caps were made of gelatin and topped with pop rocks that sent us into a popping orchestra-like frenzy, and the orange building block pieces were actually mango jellies. The cream-coloured balls were made of a rich paste and studded with tangy pellets. No idea what they were suppose to resemble and what they were made from (overheard: cheese were part of the balls, but I’m not too sure!), but I guess this is part of the fun of having a meal at Arzak!
There were common themes of theatrics and magic molecular gastronomy tricks that ran through the entire meal; in my humble opinion, these are wonderful products of the culinary research the Arzak team has done. A lot of times, we thought we were having something based on the visuals, yet the flavours would take us by surprise. I had lots of fun during this meal and even though I am €200 poorer now (the tasting menu costs €170 per head, and we left tips), I would say I bought an incredible experience with that money. Our meeting with the Arzaks certainly topped this experience, and because of this fantastic meal, I can only say that I’m going to have to save up more for a more prolific dining experience in the upper echelons of the molecular gastronomy world in the far-flung future (because this hobby is just too expensive).
Arzak is located at:
Avenida Alcalde Elosegui, 273, 20015 Donostia-San Sebastián