Posted by - 28 August 2009 - 4 Comments

San Sebastian's Michelin Stars

If you're visiting San Sebastian, dining at one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants in and around the city will most certainly be on your check list.   As any gastronome will know, Michelin-starred dining, doesn't come cheap, so to help you make your pick here is a review of the top three: Mugaritz, Arzak and Akelarre.

Make your choice at Mugaritz: 150 mins...submit or 150 mins to rebel

The low down: Mugaritz currently ranks fourth in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list and has three Michelin stars

The look: Large rustic farmhouse located in a beautiful garden set in the picturesque Basque countryside
Clay baked potatoes at Arzak
Star dish: There were two.   The first was the potatoes cooked in grey clay, that looked like real rocks (there were a few real ones in the bowl) served with an aïolli dip

The second was the melon carpaccio, which deceptively looked like a thinly sliced cut of meat.  The refreshing fruit carpaccio was served with a sweet and sour dressing, D.O. Idiazabal cheese and "vegetable splinters" sprinkled on top.  Also worth a mention is the foie gras with mustard seeds and leaves. 

Worst dish:  Sea Urchin and chargrilled banana.  Slimy and fishy does not make for a tasty combination

Good to know: When you're seated, you're presented with two envelopes - one with the lettering "150 min...rebel" and "150 submit" - choose the latter and you'll be presented with the Naturan Menu, the other at your own embarrassment!  

The restaurant prides itself on using local produce and the menu changes guided by what is available seasonally.  And the best bit about eating here is that all diners get a sneak peek of the kitchen and to meet the chefs!  The opportunity to see the inner workings of the kitchen made the experience even more special

There is a cosy outhouse with a log fire, where diners can enjoy a drink before or after their meal

Service: Impeccable.  The staff were friendly and welcoming - they even met us just as we were getting out of our taxi

Cost: Dégustation menu costs €130 excluding wine

Verdict: Mugartiz is one of the best restaurants I've ever eaten at.  The food is rich, rustic, modern and  beautifully presented. I will definitely return there the next time I visit San Sebastian for the good food and great service
Mugaritz, Otzazulueta Baserria, Aldura Aldea 20, 20100 Errenteria Gipuzkoa

The low down: Chef Juan Mari Arzak is considered the founders of "nueva concina Vasca".  The family-run restaurant  is now considered one of the world's best restaurants, was originally opened as a wine tavern by Juan's grandparents in 1897.  Astonishingly, Arzak has held three Michelin stars since being awarded the grastronomic rating back in 1989, and consistenly features in the top 10 of the world's best restaurants

The look: A traditional roadside tavern, contrasts with a surprisingly sleek, modern and chic grey interior

Artfully tasteful amuse bouche at Arzak
Star dish:  Everything from the hors d’oeuvres which included a shot glass of black bean cream with cheese, served with rockfish pudding fried in a noodle crust, plus a selection of other delightful little bite-size treats, including blood sausage in tempura, presented on a light box to the mouth-watering apple and foie gras entree and lamb with seaweed cakes  
The famous "Del huevo a la gallina"
However, the restaurant's signature dish "Del huevo a la gallina" a play on what came first, the chicken or egg, made of a poached egg sealed in paper-thin yolk pouch, served in a flavoursome broth stole the show for me

Worst dish:  I enjoyed all the dishes, however, the restaurant's famous dessert "Piña asada pomposa" which features baked pineapple served with a tall glass of Piña colada which erupts like a volcano over the plate was a disappointment.   It was tasteless and did not match the theatrical manner in which it was served

Good to know: Juan and Elena are both gracious hosts, and regularly come out to meet the diners - they came out twice when we ate at the restaurant.  The restaurant also has an extensive cigar menu
Service: Unpretentious and welcoming

Cost: Dégustation menu costs €155 excluding wine.  An a la carte menu is also available with courses costing around €25-50

Verdict: All the dishes at Arzak were intelligently and imaginatively conceived, and it is definitely one of the most exciting restaurants I've ever eaten at - I couldn't wait to see what was being brought out next from the kitchen
Arzak, 273 Avenida Alcalde Elosegui, 20015 Donostia/San Sebastian

The low down:  The restaurant has three Michelin stars and is run by chef Pedro Subijana, who along with Juan Mari Arzak is also considered one of the founding fathers of nueva concina Vasco.  Akelarre means witches in Basque

The look: Modern and bright restaurant is located on the top of Monte Igueldo, with breathtaking view of the Bay of Biscay

Star dish: Hard to choose, but there were two that stood out from the tasting menu. Firstly the playful selection of amuse-bouches which arrived in a chocolate box was a deight to look at and eat.  It included the light and crispy, fried "Black pudding roller" which looked like a mini chocolate swiss roll; featured alternating layers of black pudding and bread, and "Zurrukutuna", an amuse-guelue that resembled a rice crispy cake but was actually bacalao rolled in rice 

Are these chocolates or not?

"Another Apple Tart", an apple tart made from a printed pastry envelope was a whimiscal and tasty twist on traditional apple tart

Worst dish:  I love cheese, but the "Milk and grape, cheese and wine in parallel evolution" which included seven different types of Basque cheese turned my stomach

Good to know:  The restaurant has its own garden where many of the ingredients used in its recipes are grown.  Chef Pedro Subijana also visits dining room to meet guests 

Service:  Attentive but pretentious - the staff lacked the warmth of the waiters at Mugaritz and Arzak

Cost: The Gastronomic Menu costs €135. An a la carte menu is also available with dishes starting at €25

Verdict:  The avant-garde food at Akelare is world-class and beautifully crafted, but I found the food too experimental for my tastes while the restaurant felt stuffy and devoid of character
Akelare, Paseo del Padre Orcolaga 56, Donostia/San Sebastian
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Gastronomer said...

Thanks for the breakdown! I'm heading to Spain in May and am trying to narrow down my To Eat list. Your write up was very helpful. Thank you.

Eat, Drink, Sleep, Shop & Love said...

You're welcome. I look forward to reading about your trip to Spain.

S Lloyd said...

Wow, this is a great reading about Spain's top tables. I am planing actually to visit the Eastern Coast of Spain, but future visits of Spain will force me to step my feet in San Sebastian.

Eat, Drink, Sleep, Shop & Love said...

Thanks. Would love to hear about your visit to Spain when you're back!

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