Akelarre was the second highlight of my trip in San Sebastian after Asador Etxebarri. It’s one of three restaurants in San Sebastian holding three Michelin stars which is quite remarkable for a city with less than 200,000 inhabitants. Together with other Michelin institutions and cutting-edge pintxo bars the international culinary status of San Sebastian has been pushed to the level of its bigger peers.
Pedro Subijana is head of the restaurant and achieved his third star in 2007. The restaurant sits on a great spot overviewing the Bay of Biscay so if possible, reserve a window table. Apparently they will launch a hotel in the same building just beneath the restaurant in the near future. The location is about 20 minutes away from the city centre by cab or bus.
The cuisine is a modern take on traditional Basque ingredients and dishes. They offer two tasting menus: Aranori and Bekarki (meaning grape and rocket in Basque). Only after the meal I was told that the Aranori menu is the more international of the two while Bekarki is more traditional. I went for the Aranori menu:
Prawn’s Sand – Oyster Leaf – Mussel with “Shell” – Sea Urchin’s Sponge – Beach Pebbles – Codium Seaweed Coral
Prawns and French Beans cooked in “Orujo” Flame
Mollusks in Fisherman’s net
Pasta Carpaccio, Piquillo and Iberic with Parmesan
Hake and its Kokotxa with Oyster Leaf and “Mussel’s Bean”
Whole-grain Red Mullet with Sauce “Fusili”
Carved Beef, Tail Cake “Potatoes and Peppers”
Roasted Pigeon with a Touch of Mole and Cocoa
“Xaxu” and Coconut Iced Mousse
A Different Apple Tart
Akelarre has an extensive wine list with an exceptional selection of Spanish wines. For people less familiar with Spanish wine geography (like me) a detailed map can be found in the wine list. For this meal I had two glasses of Spanish suggested by Carlos Muro, the sommelier. The first one was an 2008 Trico Albariño from Riax Baixas. Albariño is usually drank quite young and is cheered for its refreshing character so I found it interesting to try this older Albariño with a heavier body. The second glass was a Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo). Carlos also gave some recommendations for vineyards to visit in Rioja which was my next stop.
This was a fun plate with small seafood items. Starting from the left is an Oyster leaf which taste strangely similar to a real oyster. Next to that is mussel in a shell that melts in the mouth. In the middle is a sponge with sea urchin in the middle. Although a fun idea I think the sponge overpowered the delicate texture and flavours of the sea urchin. The beach pebbles were on the plate more for looks. They were made of a shallot and corn mixture. At the left end of the plate was a seaweed coral tasting goose barnacles. The sand was made of pulverized dried shrimps.
This was the more theatrical dish during my meal. The waiter presented the prawns in the pot lying on top of stones and dried herbs before pouring Orujo, a Spanish grape liquor similar to that of Grappa, into the pot. The lid was then held on top for about half a minute before it was closed to cook the prawns on the hot stones.
After cooking the prawns were put on a plate with green beans and green bean cream. I love the simplicity of this dish. The prawns didn’t need much seasoning to get the amazing but subtle flavours. I wonder how big role the Orujo played in the wonderful sweetness in the dish.
A rolled cloth dipped in ginger liquid was prepared for cleaning the hands. The reason why ginger is used is because the smell disappears much quicker than lemon and won’t disrupt smells from coming dishes.
Next was yet another seafood course. Underneath the “fish net” was a mix of goose barnacles, mussels and clams which have been cooked on charcoal fire. A light rice and borage cream was mixed with the ingredients. Again, a dish full of fresh flavours.
The pasta was very thin and had great texture. While resembling cold cut meat this was a 100% vegetarian dish. With the parmesan, shaved truffles and mushrooms all umami-rich ingredients complementing the dish not much could go wrong in terms of flavours. To sum it up, this was a plate of earthy flavours and one of my favourites.
Kokotxa means cheek and is a cut I don’t encounter often enough. It’s succulent and more silky in texture than the bigger piece in the bowl. The fish blended in well with the earthy mushroom sauce and was a good transition into the next dish.
This plate was as playful as visually pleasing. The “Fusili” in different colours contains three different sauces: parsley (green), garlic (white) and soy sauce (brown). Although not visible the whole fish has been used. The head and bone has been integrated into a intense concentrate on top of the crispy skin of the fish which gave some extra crunch and flavours to this dish.
Next was a rather interesting combination of flavours. For me it’s the first time I see cacao being one of the main components of a dish. Mole, the brown thick cream sprinkled with sesame in the photo is a Mexican thick sauce made out of many different ingredients. The staff explained to me that their version is made out of chocolate butter mixed with chili and fruits. It’s slightly bitter sweet with a hint of spiciness and works out quite well with the medium rare and very tender pigeon.
The Xaxu was another favourite in this meal. The pastry (Xaxu) in the middle originates from the pastry shop Gorrotxategi in Tolosa not too far from San Sebastian. I suppose this version is fairly similar to the original one. Inside the ball is a thick liquid of egg and almond/marzipan and is very rich in flavour. Put this in contrast with the light and fluffy Coconut Ice Cream and you have a wonderful dessert.
The final dish might look good but other than that it was a disappointment after having gone through a number of clever and interesting dishes earlier. Covering the actual tart is apple paper but that’s where the excitement stops. On the side is apple cider reduction. Underneath the apple paper is cream with puff pastry, although good it just doesn’t hit the high notes like the previous dessert.
After finishing the coffee I was both very full and satisfied. The dishes were stunning and the execution front of house was smooth and well-paced. More of the staff spoke English compared with Asador Etxebarri but then the clientele was more international as well. It was snowing heavily first half of the meal but towards the end I got to enjoy the view of the Bay of Biscay. A nice touch was the mobile heater they put next to my table. At the end of the meal the head chef Pedro Subijana came out for a chat with all tables with a big smile on his face and rightfully so.
Akelarre was a well spent 4 hour experience exploring the forefront of Modern Basque cuisine. This made me regret not allocating more time in San Sebastian to try Arzak and Martin Berasategui. On the other hand they would be a reason to come back.
For more photos from Akelarre, please visit my Flickr set.
Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56
20008 San Sebastián
+(34) 943 31 12 09