Arzak, helmed by Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena, is undoubtedly one of the most famous restaurants in Spain, and has been the proud (and worthy) holder of 3 Michelin Stars since 1989, as well as regularly featuring in the Worlds 50 Best restaurant awards.
We made our reservation via email 4 months ahead of time, for 3 people at 9pm (the dinner service starts at 8:45pm so this was one of the earliest sittings!) on a mid week evening, at the height of one of the busiest weeks of the summer. The team were helpful when advised that one of our group was vegetarian, although pointed out that
“Arzak signature dishes are not vegetarian, therefore the dinner will not give you a deep insight of our cuisine. We will tailor some dishes according to seasonal produce for you as we do not have a vegetarian menu as such”
The restaurant is housed in their old family home, built in 1897 for Juan Mari Arzaks grandparents and later operated by them as a tavern, and later, by Juan Mari Arzaks parents, as a restaurant.
After entering via a small reception room, we were lead through the ground floor dining room, up the stairs to their first floor dining room.
Both an A La Carte, and a Tasting Menu are offered, and as we wanted to enjoy the full “Arzak experience” we decided to splash out on the Tasting menu (242 Eu per person, inclusive of service) Diners choosing the tasting menu are offered a choice of two fish dishes “Fish according to the sea” and 2 main-courses; I decided to have the White Tuna with Palo Santo for my fish course, followed by the “Pigeon Hunting Mushrooms”, with our charming waiter discussing the evenings vegetarian alternatives with D so she knew what to expect for each course.
A procession of 5 whimsical canapés were bought to the table, each served on their own specially chosen plate (or in the case of the “Chasing Karramarros” Spider Crab Cookies, a crab net adorned with seaweed!)
“Crescent Sweetbread” dainty little biscuits topped with thinly sliced, cured sweetbread, flowers and herb puree.
“Chasing Karramarros” (Hunting For Crabs) probably my favourite of the canapes, these were lovely little, almost christmassy, spiced gingerbread thins, topped with spider crab, a speciality of the region.
“Scorpion Fish with Krill & Cured Yolk” umami packed dried krill crisps, topped with thinly sliced scorpion fish, herb puree and shavings of cured yolk
“Chinese Bread with Aji” a mini steamed Chinese style bao, topped with spicy powdered aji (a fiery chilli variety that I last enjoyed in Colombia) probably the weakest of the canapés in my opinion but tasty enough.
“Maseca Corn” Maseca (a type of corn) chips with foie gras
Our first course was the “Fish of the Day” (Mackerel in our case) with Shio Koji, Piparras, & Sea Grapes. The mackerel had been “rested” or cured in a mixture of salt (shio) water and koji, a type of rice mould used in the sake making process, and was plated beautifully with a romesco sauce made using piparras chillis, mini edible flowers and “sea grapes” that pop in your mouth when you eat them, adding a burst of freshness to the oily mackerel.
Next, we had “Scarlet Prawn With Sea Crust” which was a carabinero prawn topped with a crispy seaweed and krill crisp, and served with two contrasting herb, and chilli sauces.- flawless ingredients but one of the least WOW dishes for me.
This was followed by a tribute to the famous Arzak Egg, which is an egg that has been poached with a little oil inside cling film. Our version was called “Egg with Corn & Tomato Candy” and the egg was served with several varieties of corn, including pozole, and pop corn, as well as freeze dried tomatoes, mushrooms and more edible flowers. The yolk was as perfect as you’d expect, and had that wonderful orange hue that only comes from happy chickens 😉
For our fish course or “Fish According To The Sea” I chose “White Tuna with Palo Santo” which came served with a piece of burning Palo Santo (a type of wood native to Mexico, and believed to have mystical healing properties) The tuna had been lightly smoked using the Palo Santo, and was served with a vibrant green melon and lemon pine sauce which cut through the fat of the belly tuna beautifully. Whilst I would have to say that tuna is probably one of my least favourite fish, this was an absolute highlight of our meal and I loved the flavour combinations (and the calming Palo Santo 😉 )
There were 2 main courses to choose from, as I am not a fan of lamb, I opted for the “Pigeon Hunting Mushrooms” with roasted mushrooms, and “elements from our forest” (which I assume to be the moringa, and not the orange) The pigeon was perfectly sized and nicely cooked so as to be pink, but not too rare. I especially liked the truffle jus that it was served with, and the quirky mushroom meringue which added interesting texture to the dish, with the sweetness being counteracted by the earthy truffle jus, and orange segments.
Our pre dessert was lovely and refreshing, “Sweet Mezcal” with Mezcal snow and frost, almond praline & fluffy raspberries, with the waitress spritzing the dessert with mezcal as we were served – always a good thing!
We then had two desserts, Cacao Debris, which was thin curls of different flavoured chocolate that were set alight at the table and served with cacao and vanilla, and “Golden Ratio” which was a wooden box filled with coffee & hazelnut mousse with ginger crystals and crunchy peas (!!)
Again, the textural differences added so much more to the dish than just ending with a classic mousse. It’s no surprise that Juan Mari Arzak has a noted sweet tooth!
But of course, dessert wasn’t the end, and we actually finished with tiny petit fours of little chocolate frogs, in milk, turmeric and white chocolate varieties. Delicious and oh so cute!
Our sommelier did a great job of helping to guide us towards some very reasonably priced local wines (of course all the big names and grand crus are available too, but I had neither the budget nor the inclination to choose them when we could try something new and interesting!) We stayed with white wine throughout the meal, enjoying our 2017 Emilio Rojo (48 Eu) and 2017 Cuesta de Oro (42 Eu) very much indeed. Aperitifs and Digestifs are also reasonably priced (my Manzanilla was 12 Eu, and our locally produced grappa was just 5 Eu a glass) and it was nice to have such an extensive drinks menu to choose from, without breaking the bank (well, anymore than the menu did!)
Service in general was lovely, very relaxed; almost verging on informal as opposed to the stricter French style 3 Michelin starred restaurants, which I quite liked. I was absolutely thrilled to meet Chef Elena Arzak herself when she came into the restaurant during service to say hello to all the guests, and was even more thrilled by how long she stayed talking to us even though we gave her several conversational “outs” as we knew she probably didnt want to spend all night talking to us. She really is an inspirational lady and a very talented chef and it really made the whole experience even more special to have the opportunity to meet her – Gracias Chef!