akelaŕe, san sebastian
when i was planning our trip to san sebastian i read about many of the michelin-starred restaurants that are in the city. choosing which one to visit was tricky, and it could only be one as i didn’t want to miss out on experiencing the pintxo culture of the town, but in the end i chose pedro subijana’s akelaŕe, which has 3 stars. it was our first visit to a 3 star restaurant and it was fabulous.
the restaurant is situated atop a cliff, with superb views across the bay of biscay (it reminded me our visit to the post ranch inn, in california, a few years ago) and it was this water-facing setting that really appealed to me when choosing where to go. i also liked the fact that they serve two tasting menus (the aranori menu, which apparently has lighter flavours, and the bekarki menu), which would mean that david and i could each have something different and therefore try twice as many things!
our appetiser was a sea garden which included prawn sand (dehydrated, with an intense flavour), oyster leaf (i first tried these in the loire a few years ago, their similarity in flavour to oysters is uncanny!), a sea urchin flavoured “sponge” and the most beautiful seaweed coral, a tempura flavoured with goose barnacles.
david’s first course was prawns flamed over a bed of volcanic rocks at the tableside and then served with fresh and creamed green beans.
i had xangurro (crab) which was served with its incredibly intense juices and an accompanying, and very pretty, side of gurullos, a semolina pasta which resembles rice.
next up was the incredibly beautiful looking molluscs in fisherman’s net for david. although i actually ended up eating this as shellfish (mussels, clams, oysters, goose barnacles), “caught” in a rice flour net complete with bits of seaweed had an intensely fresh ocean flavour, that was much more to my taste than his.
not that he missed out, enjoying my razor clam with veal shank and shavings of “mushroom” which were actually made from cauliflower. this dish was the complete opposite of the molluscs, with a rich meaty flavour.
we then both had the same third course (i swapped the foie gras option for this) , pasta carpaccio which had the flavour of iberian ham and chorizo, despite being vegetarian. this was a favourite of both of ours, the “meaty” flavours working really well with the mushrooms and shavings of truffle and parmesan.
our next course showcased a basque speciality of kokotxa, a part of the fish that is perhaps best described as their cheek. david’s was hake (the kokotxa is on the left), served with “mussels beans” which were fake beans, made with mussels (i think these were the only part of the meal i didn’t like – their flavour was incredibly strong).
my fish was turbot but the kokotxa (on the right) was fake, as this flat fish doesn’t have cheeks! having the opportunity to try the two side-by-side, i definitely prefer the real thing. the accompanying fish skin “crisp” was particularly delicious though.
another beautiful dish for david – red mullet with fusilli. except they aren’t really fusilli, but something made to resemble them and filled with soy, parsley and ajo blanco sauces. the skin on the fish was also something other than what it seemed – it was made using the fish head, bones and liver to create a more intensely flavoured part of the dish.
by this point i was starting to get full and didn’t mange to finish my desalted cod (a play on bacalao)with edible shavings and tomato water. this was the least successful dish for me as the shavings were difficult to eat when crispy and not particularly enjoyable when made soggy by the tomato water.
on to the meat course, where the menu offers a choice. david went with pigeon with mole and cocoa, which looked so beautiful and tasted delicious. i chose hare with chestnut smoke, another rich and intensely flavoured dish which, for some reason (greed, no doubt!), i forgot to photograph.
my penultimate course was savoury, entitled milk and grape, cheese and wine in parallel evolution. i loved this take on a cheese board – starting from left to right the cheeses showcases the evolution from milk to cheese (sheep curd, quark cheese, the local semi-matured idiazabal cheese, gorgonzola cheese ice cream and the local torta del casar cheese, which is aged for 60 days) and grapes to wine (fresh grapes, grape must, quince jelly with wine dust, raisins soaked in pedro ximenez and brandy sirop). the flavours moved from mild to strong and made this a very enjoyable and memorable dish. so playful and imaginative.
meanwhile, david had a dish that reminded me of the tale of jason and the argonauts, sailing between tall cliffs. in this case the xaxu (a take on the traditional xaxu de tolosa egg and almond cake) was caught between two airy coconut ice cream “sponges”, which had a wonderful lightness and tasted of fresh coconut.
finally, pudding proper. apple tart for david – a puff pastry topped with toasted apple cream and edible apple paper.
and for me, an orange jelly with a pretty arrangement of fruit flowers and leaves plus some dark chocolate leaves.
the meal was wonderful - if you are in the area and looking for a special meal to spend some time on, i thoroughly recommend akelaŕe.
paseo padre orcolaga, 56. san sebastian, spain.
t - +34 943 311209
w - www.akelarre.net