Mummy’s nerves were as highly strung as a 2010 Chevalier-Montrachet after Patrick had upended a bottle of Cousin Lucy’s nail polish just prior to us having to head to Akelaŕe for lunch. It’s called nail polish, not hand polish and Heidi was worried she was going to arrive at a 3 starred Michelin restaurant with hot pink hands. All it took was a glass of 2007 Raveneau Chablis ‘Butteaux’ 1er Cru to unfray said rattled nerves and soaking in the splendid view at this fabulous restaurant. The Raveneau had some notes of preserved lemon and seaspray and was full and textured in the mouth with great rocky detail. It finished with precision and left the mouth feeling clean and invigorated.
‘Sea garden’ was the starting plate of our ‘Bekari Menu’ degustation and a rectangular tray with edible prawn sand housed some interesting morsels. Oyster leaf tasted like oysters and had two drops of intense chicken stock on it. Mussel with shell was a weird deconstructed/ re-constructed thing that looked like a mussel whose shell had the texture of chocolate and flavours were briny and full of oceany goodness. Sea urchin sponge was savoury and very good and beach pebbles were made from shallot and corn and tasted a little like intense barbecue shapes. The final artistic piece of this coastal puzzle was termed codium seaweed coral, it was a tempura of goose barnacles and was texturally challenging but very good.
A crab dish saw pristine, sweet crab meat sitting atop some of the roe that had been built into some sort of custard ‘blini’ and served with a salad of samphire and pasta that looked like rice. It was a dish of great elegance and the brininess of the crab worked remarkably well with the Chablis.
I’ve had a big year on the trendy ‘surf ‘n’ turf’ dishes but this one is leading the race for ‘best surf ‘n’ turf dish of 2012’. Fresh razor clam lay alongside veal tendon and cauliflower mushroom. The dish has a gelatinous and savoury feel that one finds in great Chinese cooking and has that delicious savouriness the Japanese would term umami.
As our waitress presented the most magnificent looking lobe of foie gras straight off the grill and then started sprinkling what seemed a ridiculous amount of salt flakes and black peppercorns on top I had to catch myself from saying ‘what the fuck are you doing?’. Salt flakes were sweet nougat that looked like salt, pepper was black rice puffed up and the foie was on a calvados reduction, the whole dish was splendid. The waitress that I did not swear at then began to tell us a story about the regional speciality cheek of hake fish, and that Turbot did not have a cheek so chef constructed such cheeks to go with perfectly cooked Turbot fillet. Having had hake cheek the day before I can attest that the fabricated cheek did indeed have the same gelatinous feel and the flavour was fishy yet elegant. It was served on a Pil Pil sauce and was delicious.
There was a story about the next dish as well, fresh fillets of cod. I think it was trying to go back to times when the fishermen would salt the cod and pack it in straw as this is how the dish presented visually. The perfectly cooked fish was sprinkled in some sort of grain that looked like salt and lay on edible straw made from filo pastry infused with olive oil, paprika and garlic. It was a strange dish but very good.
For our meat course we had ordered in advance a 1952 C.V.N.E Rioja Vina Real Reserva, which had been opened with much theatre with Port tongs. The wine had only been released from the cellars in February this year to the restaurant and was remarkably fresh. It was one of the greatest wines I have had this year, showing no oxidation or volatility. The nose had some notes of moss, pine needles, sweet raisins, leather, beef stock and tar. In the mouth it was silky, even and beautifully balanced. It was ethereal and lacy with a fruit sweet heart and all sorts of complex, tertiary flavours building towards the finish. It had fresh acidity and tremendous freshness and energy. The accompanying dish was every bit as good as the wine. Roast suckling pig is cooked in an Iberian broth and finished in the oven. It was served with pieces of intense tomato and broth and a sweet meringue thing that complimented the succulence of the pig.
At this stage you could say the shoe was on the other foot. An American at a nearby table was overheard to say ‘gee there’s a lot of Aussies in this restaurant’, there indeed were with Australians filling four of the tables, well we do like sun, surf and bloody good food!
I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a more intellectually challenging cheese course. The first offering on the plate was a piece looking like a cross section of a dice with 6 dots on it and was made from curded sheep’s milk and walnut, it was elegant and restrained. Intensity gained as we went down the line and powdered fresh cream with chive and grapes was kind of cheese and onion dip of life! Quark cheese with nutmeg, pink pepper and must of tapioca and tomato was complex and ignited the senses. Semi-matured Idiazabal was layered with quince jelly and wine dust and was excellent and brandy syrup with Gorgonzola ice cream reads none too well on paper but was sublime. To finish Torta of Casar’s grape with soaked raisins in Pedro Ximénez was confronting in a smelly sock kind of way.
Dessert was stunning. Some tempered chocolate in the shape of a large strawberry had mint as its leaf and housed intense strawberry jam. Some smaller strawberry shapes made from tapioca lay on the plate. Columbian espresso was so good I had to have two and as I type this report I have eyes as wide as dinner plates and a nervous energy coursing through my veins similar to when Heidi first saw what Patrick had done to the nail polish.
Akelaŕe is a restaurant that screws with your mind a bit. You wonder how they do certain things but never question why. Service is professional, well drilled and friendly and the wine list has some out and out bargains on it. The view is one of the best in the world.