It has been a while since I last blogged, hasn’t it? I’ve been so caught up with lectures (I’m a student again for this year) and doing various bits of work that all the typing I’ve really been doing is the typing of my study notes! But a girl has to take a break once in a while, so I thought I’d blog about the epic meal we had at Akelare in San Sebastian. I can’t believe it’s been two months since I was there – how time flies.
Akelare is one of the many Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian (this region has the greatest number of Michelin stars per capita than any other city in the world), and holds three stars. The kitchen is led by Pedro Subjiana, who along with Juan Mari Arzak are known as the “founding fathers” of Basque cuisine.
Akelare is situated atop a hill – giving you stunning views of the Bay of Biscay underneath. I truly believe that the whole experience starts during the drive up to the restaurant, where you start to get glimpses of the magnificent view that awaits you. I mean, just check out the endless blue seas and skies! We left it a little late to book, so unfortunately did not get a window table, but got a table in the little ‘gazebo’ area of the restaurant.
We were there for lunch at 1pm (when the restaurant opens), and were the first people there… which was good as I could wander around taking photos! Whilst I was doing this, one of the lovely waiters came up to me, and offered to bring me on a tour of the kitchen.
The kitchen staff were having a coffee before the lunch service began - I thought it was quite nice that they took the time to have a coffee together before the madness enfolds.
They also have a test kitchen in the restaurant – which I absolutely fell in love with. It would be hard to not be inspired to create delicious dishes when you had the amazing views of the Bay of Biscay right on your doorstep. There was also so much light in the kitchen, which I always think is important. I would love to have a kitchen like this in my own home, preferably with the views as well. One day, one day.
What I liked about Akelare’s tasting menus was that they offered 2 different ones: Menu A (Aranori), and Menu B (Bekarki). They allow each person at the table to choose their preferred menu, which I thought was a nice touch. Naturally, we each chose one menu – meaning we got to try a wider variety of dishes. Akelare also offers an a’la carte menu, which looked equally enticing.
To start off, we were served a set of ‘amenities’: On the back row from left to right – Tomato and basil gel, Idiabazal cheese moisturiser, Mouthwash cocktail. On the front row, from left to right – Onion sponge, Sea bath salts.
This was such an innovative appetizer, and I absolutely loved it. We were asked to squeeze the tomato and basil gel onto the onion sponge, and then to pop into our mouths. And oh man it was SO good. The onion ‘sponge’ bread was fantastic, and actually tasted like a sponge – it was crispy and was very flavoursome. I would do anything to learn how to make it (this turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the meal). The tomato and basil gel was also delicious, and I found myself squeezing it onto my spoon just so I could have more! If only actual handwash gel was edible, and tasted THIS good.
I also enjoyed the sea bath salts, which was essentially dried prawns in an edible plastic container. The mouthwash cocktail was made from sparkling cava – definitely the most tasty mouthwash I’ve ever had!
The second appetizer: Oyster in an edible shell – the ‘shell’ melted away when you put it into your mouth, revealing a juicy fresh oyster within.
We snacked on some warm bread and olive oil whilst waiting for our first courses. Whilst the bread was good (we had a selection of traditional white, ciabatta, and multiseeded breads), the olive oil was fantastic – it was definitely THE best olive oil I have ever tasted. I mean, I would choose this olive oil over butter, and I love my butter. Upon questioning our waiter, we were told that this was an arbequina extra virgin olive oil, and some post-meal googling enlightened me to the fact the arbequina is a type of olive that highly aromatic, and is grown in large amounts in Catalonia region of Spain.
Aranori: Prawns and french beans cooked in “Orujo” fireplace. The prawns were cooked/flamed with wine, in a Le Creuset pot filled with volcanic rocks. They were then served with green beans, cream of green beans, and a powder made from prawn shells. The prawns were just slightly undercooked, were very fresh, and was delicious paired with the prawn shell powder.
Bekarki: Xangurro in essence, its coral blini and “gurullos”. This was a piece of crab claw meat cooked in crab juices, served with a crab roe blini and pasta which was shaped like rice grains (gurullos). The gurullos was a revelation – it was cooked al dente, and was lighter than normal rice. In a way, it was similar to orzo, just with a slightly different shape.
Aranori: Molluscs in fisherman’s net. This was a very flavoursome dish which tasted like the sea – a selection of shellfish (clams, squid, scallops and mussels) served underneath a ‘net’ made from rice flour.
Bekarki: Razor shell with veal shank. I never would have thought that razor clams could go so well with veal – but you know what, it did. It was served with a cauliflower mushroom which had a similar texture to chinese fungus. Overall, this dish was a great contrast of textures and flavours.
Aranori: Pasta carpaccio, piquillo and iberico, with parmesan shavings, truffles, and mushrooms. Whilst this might sound rather boring, it was actually one of my favourite dishes of the meal. The pasta was infused with the flavours of piquillo peppers and Iberico ham. I would happily buy this pasta and eat it plain, as it was so delicious.
Bekarki: Sauteed fresh foie gras with ‘salt’ flakes and grain ‘pepper’. The people of San Sebastian are huge fans of foie, and it appears in the menus of most restaurants, and of course Akelare was not to be an exception. The waiter poured over ‘salt’ and ‘pepper’ onto this dish, whilst saying “don’t worry, it will taste good”… it turns out that the ‘salt’ was actually flakes of sugar, whilst the ‘pepper’ was black rice grains. Absolute genius.
Aranori: Cod tripe. This was a piece of perfectly cooked bacalao, with a crispy and smoky skin. It was served with ‘tripe’ made from cod and veal, and finished off with a white tomato juice.
Bekarki: ‘Fried egg’ with green peas, and little farm vegetables. The fried egg was actually a poached egg, which was then tempura fried. I was amazed at the skill involved in cooking this, as the yolk was still perfectly runny. There was also a tempura-ed spring onion, and a mix of peas and broad beans. This was a nice refreshing dish, which was very welcome after the richness of the foie gras.
Aranori: Whole grain red mullet with sauce ‘fusili’. As with all the seafood dishes we ate, the red mullet was cooked perfectly. It was served with ‘fusili’ which were filled with a variety of flavours – parsley, soy, and garlic. This dish was called ‘whole grain’ red mullet because all parts of the fish was used: the head, bones and liver were used to form the red paste you see on either end of the plate. It tasted a bit like a very flavoursome and fishy tomato puree!
Bekarki: Turbot with its ‘kokotxa’. This dish was made from various parts of the turbot, and it was served in 3 preparations: the fillet, a crispy “chip” made from turbot skin, and the ‘kokotxa’ (“cheek”) – turbot don’t actually have a ‘kokotxa’, so this was made from something else.. I just can’t remember what it was!
Aranori: Charcoal grilled lamb with the wine lees. A piece of charcoal grilled lamb loin, served with red wine sediments (the powdery red bits), a plum sauce (maple coloured), and a red wine reduction (dark red coloured). There was also a green tea and red fruit sugar “netting” that was served with this – I didn’t feel that this added all that much to the dish, and don’t think I would have missed it if it wasn’t there. Everything else was excellent though.
Bekarki: Roasted suckling pig, with tomato “bolao” and Iberian emulsion. The pieces of sucking pig (belly and loin) was first cooked in an Iberian ham broth, then finished in the oven. Whilst the pork tasted fantastic, it did lack a perfectly crispy crackling (it was slightly chewy in some parts) which was a shame. The tomato “bolao” was a sugary tomato “ball” which had a crumbly texture. This actually worked well with the rest of the dish, rather surprisngly!
Aranori: “Xaxu” and coconut iced mousse. The “xaxu” is a specialty of the Gorrotxategi patisserie in Tolosa, and is a creamy almond tart with a runny ‘egg yolk’ filling which was recreated specially with their permission. It was flanked by two blocked of coconut iced mousse, which was essentially a foamed coconut ice cream – I kid you not when I say it tasted like air. So. Damn. Good.
Berkarki: Milk and grape, cheese and wine in parallel evolution. This was one of the most innovative cheese courses I have ever seen, where we were instructed to start eating from one end of the plate where the cheese was lighter in flavour – the flavour and intensity of the cheese then increased as you progress throughout the plate, thus the “evolution”.
From the bottom of the plate:
- Grapevine, curded sheeps milk & walnut (this was very light, and went well with the powdered walnuts)
- Powdered fresh cream with chives & grapes (this was one of my favourites, as I felt the powdered cream just had the right hint of “dairy” to it, and paired well with the sweet grapes.
- Quark cheese with nutmeg and pink pepper aroma, must of tapoica & tomato
- Idiabazal semi-matured cheese with quince jelly & wine dust (this was my other favourite of the lot, as the nutty Idiabazal complemented the sweet quince jelly very well)
- Torta of Casar’s grape with soaked raisins in Pedro Ximenez
- Brandy sirpo with Gorgonzola cheese ice cream (I normally am not a fan of blue cheese, but this ice cream wasn’t as overbearing as the cheese itself, so I did actually enjoy it. Couldn’t eat too much of it though!)
Aranori: A different apple tart. This was a similar to a millefeuille – where two sheets of puff pastry were sandwiched with some apple cream. This was then covered with some specially made edible apple paper. I LOVED the edible paper, and wished that I could steal some from the kitchen and bring it home with me. I mean, that could be like my perfect “so-called healthy” snack!
Berkarki: Citrus shell and chocolate shaving. This was a sugar seashell filled with citrus cream, chocolate “cotton candy”, cocoa ice cream, and the crispiest chocolate curls I’ve ever tasted. Although flavoursome, it was surprisingly very light for a chocolate dessert, and didn’t fill me with a “jilak” (overwhelming) sensation you get sometimes when you eat a chocolate dessert. The sugar seashell was a little too sweet for me though.
We finished off our meal with some tea, and “bon bons”. The bon bons was served in a bowl covered with an edible paper, which the waitress slashed with great style before opening it up to reveal the goodies within (truffles with a liquid cherry/chocolate mousse centres, berry marshmallows and passionfruit pate de fruit). Oh and of course, the paper was edible – you can’t see much of it in the photo because errr… I ate most of it before I remembered to take a photo.
So yes, that was our meal at Akelare, and I enjoyed every single moment of it. The service was absolutely impeccable, and the food was both beautiful to look at whilst being delicious. In fact, I actually ate MORE than R, because he was too full by the time we finished our mains (i.e. I ate most of the FOUR desserts) – so yes, I do have a humongous appetite, thankyouverymuch.
Akelare also does an a la carte menu, and we fully intend on revisiting this fantastic restaurant to try this out if we’re ever in San Sebastian again – that’s how much we loved this place. Definitely a perfect place for a special meal, and definitely more affordable than Michelin starred food in London.
Paseo Padre Orcolaga 56,
20008 San Sebastian
(+34) 943 31 12 09