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Akelarre in San Sebastian, Spain - 3 Michelin stars

Rating: 98.
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In 1976 the Spanish magazine "Club de Gourmets" organised a round table discussion for which they invited Paul Bocuse as a speaker among others. Attending this round table were Basque chefs Pedro Subijana (b.1948) who had just become Chef de Cuisine at Restaurante Akelarre ("Akelarre") in 1975, and Juan Mari Arzak of restaurant Arzak. Paul Bocuse's talk on "Nouvelle Cuisine" turned out to be so inspiring that both chefs travelled to Lyon a couple of months later, to get Paul Bocuse to teach them all the ins and outs of Nouvelle Cuisine. Subijana and Arzak went on to become important initiators of the New Basque Cuisine movement. It was in 2006, thirty years after that round table discussion, that Pedro Subijana's Akelarre was awarded 3 Michelin stars.

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 Aronori menu, the 8-course Bekarki menu, and the 7-course Classics menu, all priced at €175. I had lunch with my husband and a friend at Akelarre on Saturday 16 May 2015 and I ordered the Aranori Menu.

Lunch started with four canapés, the first one being "Bloody Mary", a fluffy tomato-flavoured foam, spiked with vodka and chilli and coated with a thin layer of tomato jelly. Arranged around the foam were finely chopped tomatoes, celery, anchovies, olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper.  This was followed by a crisp potato sandwich with a creamy prawn filling, and a soft beignet with a smooth and liquid mussel filling. Two really lovely bites, the latter having a nice touch of spiciness. Finally there were two "olives" with a anchovy cream filling and an olive jelly casing. Lovely pure and fresh flavours with nice bitters. Four wonderful canapés with great, distinct flavours, the Bloody Mary being particularly lovely and packing a real punch. 



The first course of the tasting menu was "The leaves and the foie under the rain". Fresh leaves were lightly seasoned with  a "morning dew" of lemon, apple and ginger infusion and successfully paired with two creamy foie gras "leaves' and some red currants in a crisp, sugary casing for extra texture. Superb foie gras with a wonderful light and smooth texture, resulting in a light and elegant dish with unexpected flavours and textures.


Next was a bowl lined with thin slices of lightly smoked monkfish, served with a flash-grilled langoustine, some coral mousse, and a crisp monkfish "bag" (made with obulate) filled with herb/monkfish crisps and prawn powder,  onto which a warm broth was poured, dissolving the "bag" and releasing the crisps and prawn powder. The end result was an intricately seasoned broth with delicate flavours, complementing the langoustine perfectly. Very elegantly smoked monkfish, its light smokiness adding body to the dish. The langoustine's head, crisp-fried in thin tempura batter, was served on the side. 


Third course was a fabulous, incredibly finely chopped (or perhaps ground) and perfectly seasoned beef tartare, garnished with two classic tartare condiments, capers and dots of egg yolk, and a delicate Pomme Soufflée. A few extra Pommes Soufflées and some herb-laced crackers were served on the side; the crackers worked brilliantly to scoop up the tartare. A truly outstanding dish.

Then there was an absolutely stunning hake dish. An exquisite piece of lightly charred hake accompanied by Kokotxas (hake throats), a fresh oyster, a salty oyster leaf broth, and garnished with some pungent Santolina (olive herb). An inspired combination with wonderful textures and levels of saltiness. There's the firm and delicately salty hake, followed by more intense hake flavours of the throats, a lovely fresh burst of salinity from the oyster, and all this is brought together by the beautifully flavoured oyster leaf broth. 

Equally wonderful was an elegant dish of succulent grouper, with a fine golden brown finish, and served with grouper eggs' "couscous" and sea grapes. Hidden underneath the couscous were some juicy cockles and a magnificent "sea foam" broth/sauce was served on the side. The sea foam (made with cockles) had a lovely smooth consistency with tiny "bubbles" and a nice iodine richness. An original and extremely elegant dish with a great symphony of sea flavours.


On to the sixth course, suckling pig complemented by a terrific, reduced Iberico pork sauce, a light garlic gel, roasted garlic and a Pomme Soufflée; some soft suckling pig meat was served in an edible "bone". Expertly cooked suckling pig with a nice and chewy skin and perfectly moist and sweet meat, the flavours wonderfully accentuated by the garlic. A delightful dish with the right balance between comfort and finesse.

Seventh course was a sensational dessert of frozen aerated coconut ice cream served with a creamy egg yolk and almond sphere (based on the flavours of Xaxu de Tolosa). Even better was the next dessert named "Broken jar of yoghurt". 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.


With its magnificent seaside location Akelarre can easily lay claim of having the best view in the Basque Country, and today's lunch was just as impressive as the views. Pedro Subijana is a prolific and accomplished chef with four decades experience under his belt. The Aronori menu was well-constructed with technically strong and complex dishes, that were all executed with authority. Highlights were the hake dish and Subijana's splendid reinvention of the beef tartare. Pedro Subijana was a true game changer with the New Basque Cuisine movement in the seventies, and looking at his food today, it's clear to see why. The food at Akelarre is still cutting-edge with great textural contrast and refined flavours, and more importantly, everything tasted as good as it looks, or even better. 

Posted 21-09-2015


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