Arzak

It’s fair to say Arzak is a bit of an institution in the restaurant world. They’ve been around since forever, had three Michelin stars since 1989 and been on the World 50 Best Restaurants list since 2003, that’s pretty impressive. Needless to say, we were expecting a lot when we came to visit.

We arrive without getting lost and time to spare, bonus! So opt for an aperitif across the road, I get the feeling this is the sort of place that would have let us have an aperitif there, I saw people having one in the bar, however, we were super early.

Upon entering we’re promptly greeted and told we can immediately go to our table. We’re offered an aperitif and given the a la carte and the tasting menu. It’s a tough choice, particularly as the menus aren’t available online so we hadn’t had time to consider before we got there. We go for tasting as we’ll get to try a little more and get more bang for our buck.

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Then, we’re told we need to get up and follow one of the chefs! It felt like we were being kidnapped as we’re taken through many sliding doors and the labyrinth-like house that they’ve created. First, we go to the kitchen where they have 30 chefs working away to create the dishes. Then we go to the cellar which has 100,000 bottles of wine, I want this one at home! They have roughly 70% from Spain, 20% from France and the rest from around the world, all kept at 14-16 Celsius.

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After the cellar we get to visit the lab, fiancee is beyond excited about this. They have a range of really cool things and it really is like a science lab, but much cooler than what you did at school, they’re experimenting with all sorts to bring out different flavour combinations. We saw a 3d printer, a huge range of spices, a fermentation machine, a snake from Japan, I could go on but don’t want to spoil any secrets!

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Back at our table and we are given room temperature bread, no butter however olive oil is added later on. We order a sparkling rose to start. The dining room is quite noisy and you can hear the street, there is no music, however, the lighting is nice and the room is beautifully decorated. They have a number of dining rooms, and it’s hard to believe that this is the house that has been in the family since 1897, it’s obviously had a couple of remodels!

The maitre’d comes out and customises our menu based on preferences. I really like this touch and it means we get to try even more, yuss! It’s a very personalised service. We’re told they will give us a pen drive at the end with photos so we don’t need to take our own. We’ve ended up using our own for the purpose of this blog. Plus copies of the menu of course which is pretty standard at these restaurants.

We have Zwiesel glasses and we’re both offered to taste first. I welcome this. For our snacks we start with a citrus and mussel sphere, it’s yum and delicious and packs a flavour hit.

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“Maseca” corn, which is essentially corn with Fois Gras, again full of flavour and has a Mexican twist.

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Urban seafood “talo” which is like a seafood cake – delightful.

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Fortunate fish, yolk and peas which is a red mullet rice biscuit, the salitness of the fish really shines through on this one.

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To complete the snacks we have the marinated anchovy and strawberry. You never would have put these two things together but you know what it works. Surprisingly so.

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They’re experimenting in the kitchen here, it’s literally a science lab and it works. There’s attentive busy service and the team are always asking how it is.

Kokotxas on their own wavelength, grilled hake chins on a coconut and turmeric spiral with “pearl” and squid chips. Again the traditional Basque country dish, this time with a twist! We missed the photo on this one, sorry!

Fish of the day with “patxaran” and purple corn. It’s monkfish today with leek and garlic, we had a choice of fish as well! It packs and flavour combo and fiancee said it was amazing.

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The service is very on point however at times a little intrusive, for example talking to us when a dish comes out, long after the food description, sometimes I just want to eat my food! I like that they left the menu on the table so we know what’s coming!

Lobster with banana and loek loom. Basically lobster with black leek but oh so much more. It’s different and it’s good. Lots of different levels of sweetness.

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Marinated prawns on lemongrass and mint served with an unctuous preparation of beetroot and crunchy krill. The cracker is awesome and has a real hit to it. The prawns are nicely cooked and have a good amount of flavour. Bread is continuously topped up.

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Egg with tomato candy, “pozole” corn and seasonal mushrooms. The egg is cooked at 65 degrees for 25 minutes. This one has a very Mexican flare to it which I noticed in a couple of dishes.

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Crab on fire, stewed crab, fried banana, lingonberry and mace. Tequilla flambe with cherry wine. It’s very good and adds a different element to the meal. Again has that Mexican influence. We notice this restaurant has a very worldly feel with components taken from around the world, Mexico, the Amazon etc.

As per with most restaurants the service slows as they get busier, it’s still completely acceptable and I understand this must be difficult to manage as front of house! No hand lotion at this one however nice compact bathrooms that utilise the space wonderfully.

Dark roasted monkfish, pistachio shavings and souffle skin. This one is pretty incredible and my favourite so far. It’s salty but I love it that way!

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Sole in the reeds, fish roasted in hallowed out sugar cane served with carrot and white cacao juice infused length of sugar cane. This is very fascinating and interesting way to cook fish. They’re actually doing potions in this kitchen! The sweetness from the sugarcane compliments the fish like a dream.

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Symbolic pigeon, roasted pigeon with blue potato and parsnip over oranges, vanilla and kimchi. The blue potato is shaped into different symbols representing different elements. The sauce is incredible, apple not needed but appreciated. The kimchi notes are super cool.

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Clockwork lamb, roasted lamb with acorn flour trellis, pepper “gears” and black lemon pulp. This sauce is excellent! The lamb is cooked well, the components for me left a little to be desired. We agree to disagree on our favourites.

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The man himself Juan Mari Arzak comes out and immediately recognises that fiancee is a chef, he’s been around long enough to notice that! I love that he still takes the time to greet all of the tables.

Spring frost, tomato ice cream “sauced” with yuzu granita, acai and fruits. It’s an explosion of flavour touching all the flavour areas of your tongue.

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Balearic tonic, with hibiscus over a beetroot crumble, hibiscus ice cream served with melon juice and dried bergamot and sumac meringue. The beetroot hibiscus flavour almost tastes like bubblegum!

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This is definitely the most worldly menu so far with so much experimentation! Especially after coming from Asador Etxebarri who had kept it local and so simple. The service team is also a little older than we’ve noticed in other restaurants, more experience perhaps?

Bon fire! Cacao debris, smoked chocolate, vanilla ashes and cacao shavings. It’s like a flake but with a fiery flavour and you can feel the creative bonfire elements.

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Square moon, lunar chocolate cube filled with a fluid core of mint, neroli and kiwi. It’s like a mint chocolate trumpet on steroids, crunchy, delicious and sweet.

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Our petit fours are frogs! Which are local to the area and a bit of a mascot. They’re on the buses and have a sports team. At Arzak they’re chocolate with a number of different infusions. We have so much fun trying the different frogs!!

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We end our afternoon with an aniseed drink, not my favourite, however, a nice touch. As we leave we’re gifted with some wine that they’ve collaborated with winemakers in the area. Leaving us with the decision of either drinking it or taking it around the world with us! Update: we drank it and it was delicious.

Overall it was an interesting lunch, definitely the most experimental and worldly restaurant we’ve been to. Would I go again? If I was in the area probably, just to see what they’re experimenting with and what crazy flavour combos they’ve come up with!

Latest ranking:

  1. Tim Raue
  2. Piazza Duomo and Reale
  3. Quintonil
  4. Asador Etxebarri
  5. Le Calandre
  6. The Ledbury
  7. Arzak
  8. The Clove Club
  9. Saison
  10. Mirazur and Azurmendi
  11. Dinner by Heston
  12. Pujol
  13. Restaurant Steirereck

Next up, Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain.

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