I am shortly back from a week's culinary tour of the Basque Country, well San Sebastian really...
Here are the results of the big swinging meals:
First stop was Martin Berasategui for Easter lunch. We had never been there before, and actually reading some of the posts on Chow, I was looking forward to this the least. (at one stage thought of cancelling) To be clear, this was at his flagship restaurant in Lasarte (not Lasarte in Barca or any of his other restaurants. Yes he was there, cooking and sweating - and this is reassuring.
Anyway, this was a fantastic meal - every course stunning in its own way while sticking to the traditions of Basque cooking. Lots of seafood - few gimmicks, refreshingly light desserts - all perfectly balanced. Only one slight criticism was the wine list, which wasn't as elaborate as expected. Minor detail really, as you can drink well there.
With the trip culminating at Arzak, I knew that this meal would be hard to beat. I wasn't wrong.
Next meal was at Alemeda in Hondarriba - a family run one star restaurant. These people are passionate about food. I didn't book lunch, just walked in and got a table for four. The food was stunning - again opting for the tasting menu, the food was Basque - cod, squid dishes to die for using local ingredients and flair. Its a lovely restaurant in a beautiful town, well worth the trip. For 33euros, its got to be the best value lunch around.
Next was a trip to Rioja country, to pick up a few cases of the region's finest, the day broken up with a meal at Hector Oribe. This is where the locals in the know go - no glitz, no fuss - but blockbuster food and a very reasonably priced wine list. Again, regional food with a creative twist.
Last up (after a few days of me cooking fantastic local seafood in our house) was an evening at Arzak. From my previous experience 5 years ago, we couldn't wait to go back. However, this ended up being the trip's biggest disappointment with not one stunning course, an over-inflated bill and some entirely inedible food.
Lots of deep-fried amuse bouche which were horrid; a bean soup which tasted like dishwater. With the tasting menu, you have a choice of two for each course. the blonde opted for fresh asparagus - and that is what it was - a plate of asparagus. Nice, but I could have done that too. There was a "Bronze" course, which tasted like cardboard - didn't get that at all.
The worst however was my beef course. There were three rectangles on my plate - one was pure fat (I joke not), one was potatoes which was flavourless and with a red wine foam which again tasted like soap. Truly disgusting. The blond had pigeon which had little bubbles that were filled with artificial items. I won't go into the deserts, but they were unremarkable.
I have been to many 3 star restaurants - I think all 6 in Spain now, but this was with out doubt the worst meal I have ever had at this level. Yes Juan Marie and Elena were there, doing the meet and greets, but this meal was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I will be writing a complaining letter to them as well.
But on the whole, its a great place to go for food, for wine and the craic!