Akelarre, San Sebastian
Considered to be one of the founding fathers of the new Basque cuisine movement in the 1970s, Pedro Subijana’s is one of Spain’s leading chefs, recognised worldwide for his three Michelin star restaurant Akelarre in San Sebastian. Cooking in Akelarre since 1975, Subijana obtained his first Michelin star the same year I was born! He has been a regular on national TV running a cookery programme for a number of years, as well as winning numerous awards at local, national and international level.
Akelarre offers an a la carte menu (starters 34€-68€, fish mains 48€-86€, meat mains 48€-62€, desserts 25€–28€) and there are three multi-course tasting menus on offer. There's the 8-course Aranori menu, the 8-course Bekarki menu, and the 8-course Akelarre’s Classic, all priced at €195. I had lunch with my wife on Friday 25 August 2017 and I ordered the Classics Menu.
Lunch started with five canapés, the first one being "Bloody Mary", a fluffy vodka-flavoured foam sat on a spicy tian of tomato tartare and seasoned with finely chopped celery, anchovies, olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper. This was followed by one of the highlights of the meal, “Diabolic Butter’, a goat’s milk butter which carried a phenomenal punchie cheesie flavour that was mind blowing. I had to pause myself or I was going to scuff the whole slab of butter before my first course arrived!
We also tried some potato puff snacks which were great but were only air, a tasty selection of pickles which included a sensational gordal olive filled with Jamon Iberico and to finish an interesting black pudding cookie which was made to look exactly like a “Choco Leibniz” biscuit but for meat lovers.
The first course of the tasting menu was "Lobster Salad with Cider Vinegar". Fresh mesclum leaves that were very well seasoned, combined with juicy pieces or perfectly cooked lobster, apple puree and a zingy cider vinaigrette, was absolute heaven. A superb dish that reminds me why classic food always has that “je ne sais quoi” feel that makes it so special. The dish shows off excellent cooking technique, resulting in a light and elegant dish.
Next was a dish made from homemade pasta flavoured with piquillo peppers and iberico ham and garnished with parmesan shavings, truffle, rocket leaves and wild mushrooms. The idea behind this dish is to make the pasta carpaccio feel like if you are eating a cold meat or ham and that’s exactly how it feels in texture and flavour. Very clever.
A Basque kitchen cannot be a Basque kitchen without a kokotxa (hake throat) dish. A souffled kokotxa with a white garlic pil-pil made from ajo blanco. The dish is garnished with different seaweeds fried in tempura style but the star of the dish is the marriage between the kokotxa and the ajo blanco sauce that actually tasted like a proper pil pil. Simple poetry.
My next dish was a “Sauteed Fresh Foie Gras with Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper’. When it arrived, a lovely piece of seared foie gras was swimming in a boozie pool of reduced moscatel wine. The maitre came over to “season the dish” and poured a load of what looked like salt flakes and whole peppercorns on top of the foie. I honestly wouldn’t have mind, if the fake salt and pepper was the real deal, well-seasoned foie is an essential.
Onto the fish course, a colourful “Whole-Grain Red Mullet with Sauce Fusilli”. A stunning dish which uses the entire fish, from the bones in a praline coating to its liver for a pate. The dish is served with a selection of sauces wrapped in a gelatine made with the help of nitrogen liquid and made to look like fusilli pasta. The idea for this dish came from the concept of using only one ingredient per dish, a concept that the Akelarre team calls “square root produce”.
On to the sixth course, roasted pigeon with a touch of mole and cocoa. Expertly cooked pigeon with a smokey and spicy mole sauce that left me wanting more. The flavours wonderfully accentuated by the cocoa finish on the plate. A delightful dish with the right balance between spice and finesse.
A little cheese before the dessert was right up my street. A carefully selection of artisan Basque cheeses, some which I have never tried, with each cheese paired with a different accompaniment.
The dessert named "The Broken Jar of Yoghurt, Gatzatua and Berries". On the plate was: strawberry puree, smoked milk, iced yoghurt pearls, and a selection of fresh berries such as raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and red currants. Last but not least, there was the broken "jar" made with sugar and with an edible label. The perfect ending to this meal: there's freshness, there's acidity, there's texture and I loved the playful presentation.
Padre Orcolaga, 56 (Igeldo)
20008 San Sebastián
T. +34 943 311209