All posts filed under “San Sebastian

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Not The World’s 50 Best Restaurants..

Not the world’s 50 best restaurants..

Had I but world enough and time, trotting the globe to eat wouldn’t be such a crime. I am a self-confessed World’s 50 Best Restaurants junkie. I find it commendable that the list is streamlined towards unearthing innovations where (occasionally) no ordinary foodie has reached. There is a catch, though. “Innovation” does not always guarantee “satisfaction”, and no “satisfaction” often means a “waste of time”. But, who am I to judge? I am an amateur eater, have made it to only 21 out of 50 of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2012 and some other odd ones that are now off the 2012 list. Also, given the effort chefs and the restaurant teams have put in to make their establishments a success (and the fact that everybody has his/her own preference), it would have been too mean to publish my carefully selected top 10 “waste of time” list. (Personal email exchange is welcomed).

So, I am having this instead – a very personal “Life-Changing 10″ restaurants in an alphabetical order. These places have somehow changed my personal view on cuisine at different points in my life and I have no hesitation to return to these places.

(NB: To understand how my preference works, I’m pro innovation, hate over-complication and I also love food that retains a touch of comfort. I am usually inclined to appreciate subtle and no-fuss flavours).

- AQUA -
Wolfsburg, Germany

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Chef Sven Elverfeld not only refines but redefines what humble German cuisine is to firework effects. In Chef Sven’s hands, “Candy Apple” was made entirely of sugar crust and shattered with a touch of a spoon to reveal ethereal yogurt foam (precisely as sour as a Granny Smith) and caramelised pecan core. The watery essence of apple underneath bound the dish together. My meal at Aqua was full of these brilliantly executed, non-alienating surprises.
On #Worlds50Best: 22
More photos here.


Paris, France

Visited: Winter 2010/11 & Winter 2010/11 (Twice)
Why: Not that I don’t love red meat but it is chef Alain Passard’s take on vegetables that is a classical revelation. I still remember my plate of root vegetables with cous cous and argan oil at L’Arpege – the exuberant crunch, the acidity and sweetness from multi-textured root vegetables cooked by various means. This is innovation but this is also firmly grounded in classical French techniques.
On #Worlds50Best: 16


- Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare -
New York City, USA

Visited: Spring 2012
Why: Chef Cesar Ramirez rocks this tiny space, an appendix to Brooklyn Fare supermarket. He not only has fine eyes and unlimited budget to fly in the premium fish in the world but he also has the greatest and most creative mind, with huge respect to Japanese sensitivities, to dazzle 16 odd diners with (arguably) the BEST seafood in the world. I still recall Red Snapper served sliced with rich but cleansing ponzu sauce and toppled with crispy snapper scales or utterly rich and creamy sea urchin with yuba, wasabi and dill. As CTBF runs a no photo policy, I was only naughty enough to snap a shot of chocolate truffles at the end. (Lame, I know).
Not #Worlds50Best (This is unbelievable!!!)


- Faviken -
Jarpen, Sweden

Visited: Winter 2011/12
Why: Youthful and talented, chef Magnus Nilsson makes the most of his adverse environment to create a spectacular “real food” meal, paying respect to the raw beauty of the produce, the ways flavours should naturally be maximised, and the gastronomic timelessness as opposed to flashy and fashionable cooking. Cod “lightly brushed with honey and fried in a dry pan” had the burnt sweet crust that immersed itself with the firm sea-sweet fish. The pairing of carrot cooked in “almost burnt sour milk” and spruce and alcoholic vinegar jelly was striking and effective. Apart from the food, the setting at Faviken – embraced by sleepy mountains and a tranquil lake – is purely magical.
On #Worlds50Best: 34
More photo here.


- Hedone -
London, UK

Visited: 5 times since its opening
Why: My first meal at Hedone was not successful but there was this minimal but otherworldly piece of mackerel (with salad and Japanese dressing) that enticed me back to try more of chef Michael Jonsson’s cooking. This is the place to go for upper-crust produce prepared minimally to enhance its natural flavours. Chef Michael’s approach, I’d describe, is French with a touch of Scandinavia, where he originates, while his best of dishes range from Cevenne Onion with Pear, Scallops with Radish and Squid Ink and Venison with Foie Gras and Chestnut Veloute.
Not #Worlds50Best (I foresee Hedone to be on the list in just a matter of years).
More photo here.


- Mugaritz -
San Sebastian, Spain

Visited: Spring 2011
Why: My overall meal at Mugaritz was deceptively simple and with the unmissable regional Basque influences. “Fake Saffron Rice Just Rested” looked like juicy pumpkin seeds and was served in rich saffron sauce and toppled with white bread crouton. “Nails and Flowers” featured a crystalised sugar cone as translucent as a raincoat, with milky ice cream, chocolate nails and edible flowers. The topicality does not stop the meal to resonate the universality of emotion, and by the end of the meal, the ‘techno-emotional’ cuisine of Andoni Luis Aduriz left me in a nirvana of sort.
On #Worlds50Best: 3 (I was rooting this to be no.2!)
More photos here.


- Nahm -
Bangkok, Thailand + London, UK

Visited: 3 Times in Bangkok, Countless in London since 2008
Why: For a Thai who has grown up and become jaded with Thai food, Chef David Thompson is an inspiration. His delicate touch and stubbornness to the long-standing tradition both preserves and revolutionises Thai cuisine. While meals at Nahm London are, at times, inconsistent and restricted by means of daring audiences, its Bangkokian flagship pushes boundaries to the max. Say, a refined version of Pla Rah Song Kreung (rotten fish) for upper-class urbanites. In London, Nahm is the only restaurant where I can find the rarest of Thai desserts cooked to absolute perfection. Next year 2013 in Singapore it would be interesting to see how Nahm fares on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
On #Worlds50Best: 50


- Noma -
Copenhagen, Denmark

Visited: Spring 2010 & Autumn 2011
Why: I first went to Noma with zero expectation or knowledge about the restaurant (before #Worlds50Best fame) and the meal ended in subliminal reverence. Chef Rene Redzepi is a nationalist genius and his creations are well matched with taste, imagination and artistry. I don’t think I need to say much else.
On #Worlds50Best: 1
More photos here.


- Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua -
Beijing, China

Visited: 4 times since 2010
Why: This is the ultimate North Korean restaurant of the finest produce and the most impeccably trained kitchen brigade. Pyongyang Hae Dang Hua stands for the opulence of the old world unpolluted by globalisation (one of the very few things that closed countries such as North Korea benefit from). While the kitchen does not intentionally push boundaries, the culture in which we live in and our familiarity with the modern world makes this meal something of a rebellious, retrospective experience. Snapping Turtle was dissected, reassembled and simmered in medicinal ginseng stock, while Dog Meat Hot Pot featured braised roulade of dog’s legs toppled with some ground nuts, spring onions and an infusion of tomato and chilli sauce.
Not #Worlds50Best


- Shinji by Kanesaka -
Singapore, Singapore

Visited: Winter 2011
Why: I have never embarked on a proper gastronomic adventure in Japan and having been on this side of the world (where good Japanese food is scant) I lost interest in such cuisine. Shinji by Kanesaka (praised by my much better eating friend) in Singapore rekindles my faith in prime Japanese produce with premium sushi-making skills to match. I still dream of Oshino-san’s Uni Risotto, which involved a mashing of sea urchin with sushi rice (an estimated 2:1 ratio) until the rice turned creamy and golden and a toppling of chopped tuna belly. The pure, savoury, sea-like custard-y thing passed through my nose and throat at every spoonful – simply the raunchiest bowl of food I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Not #Worlds50Best
More photos here.


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Martin Berasategui, San Sebastian

It says, on Martin Berasategui website, “Lat. 43.2668 / Lon. 2.0155″. Not very often indeed does a restaurant require a rather scientific citing of its geographic location but tucked away in the hills outside San Sebastian, Martin Berasategui needed this… kind of.

After many gastronomic storms – Arzak, Mugaritz, Akelarre – I nearly cancelled Martin Berasategui. Not that his restaurant wasn’t good enough – it holds three Michelin stars and is no.29 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurant list – but that I had reservation over how I could correctly pronouce “Berasategui” to my driver. Never mind. I got there eventually. A stunningly formal dining room with a touch of wood, a fireplace and embraced by mountainous greenery. The FOH spoke fluent Spanish, French and English. I was in for a linguistic treat and might as well ask one of them to recite me the name of the restaurant…

The grand tasting menu was among the lengthiest I had eaten. 12 courses. All were dated according to the year in which each was created. I couldn’t recall the price tag. What I distinctly recalled was this 1995 bar of Smoked Eel, Foie Gras, Apple. A voluptuous piece of eel sandwiched by the silky, sweet foie and further layered with spring onions and apple. The top was a neatly constructed sheet of caramelised apple, bringing about some gentle acidity. A gorgeously comforting dish. I came across a similar but less refined version of this at Cambio de Tercio in London.

Tuna, Seaweed with Cucumber was a lot more modern dish. The taste of this 2011 was current. A beautifully pureed tuna released appetising melting fat content, balanced off nicely with the refreshing cucumber liquid. Good texture from radish and seaweed crunches, while them little pearl-like roe added bursting salty-ness.

Less innovative was this 2001 Squid Soup, Squid Ink Ravioli. Rich and densely smoky squid consomme was poured on top of a little reconstructed squid dumpling. Its casing was made entirely from squid flesh and injected with potent squid ink. Bold flavour for a small dish and nothing to dislike. That said, this was pretty much food that would work better in a bigger portion. The squid ink crouton was very much a rice cracker.

The 2011 Oyster with Cucumber, Kaffir and Coconut, however, did not deliver the same satisfaction. Despite the plumbest oyster, this 2011 dish fell flat The combination of the gelatinous oyster and the velvety broth created an oddly springy and slimy texture not to my liking. The cucumber dimension took over a little and did not marry well with the coconut soup. The 2009 Fennel Risotto (which I lost a photo) fared better. The herbal quality of the fennel was cleverly mediated with the milky emulsion, while many of the fennel shavings were agar-like and jaunty.

Another 2011 dish of “Gorrotxategi” was also just decent. This was billed as “egg resting on a liquid salad of red tubers and dewlap carpaccio”. In other words? Thinly sliced, almost web-like pork neck over barely cooked egg. Too delicate a dish. Here the egg mixed together with the sweetness from red tubers was domineering, leaving the rest to be felt a tickle on the tongue but not distinctly tasted.

The 2001 Warm Vegetable Heart Salad had more clarity. A plateful of lobster, roe, asparagus, many leaves and spring onions. All submerged in a transparent marsh of tomato water and a little squeeze of lettuce puree. Visually it was undeniably pretty; the flavour undeniably subtle and vibrantly green. That said, it made me feel a dish to fidget about (to see what things were on) rather than one to be spontaneously enjoyed. The same could be said of the 2011 Curdled Seaweed, Mussels and Carabineer Consomme. The curd had a Japanese Shawan Mushi texture but feisty in its seaweed-y taste. Mussels were cooked just right. I was not sure about the consomme that was poured on top.

The 2009 Red Mullet and Edible Scales was one of my most loved of the evening. Heavenly crispy scales to contrast with the deliciously roasted fillet. Inventive pairing of white chocolate and seaweed cream, adding a dimension I never experienced in a fish course. For Londoners, Roganic is also doing chocolate with fish, which were as nearly well executed. The 2011 Grilled Sirloin was a heart-stopper. Offensively red meat artistically juxtaposed by the chlorophyll of swiss chard. Very robust, yet deceptively tender meat. Pungent and minimally bitter chard became very lovely and mellow with the touch of cheese. Aromatic peppery-ness at the back of my tongue. It was also the taste to behold.

The first dessert was dated 2011. Basil Essence, Limer Sorbet and Juniper Granita was sensational. Explosion of herbs and zests both from the lime and the juniper ice. A little crust from raw almond made me wonder if I should ask to reprise this dish in its full portion. On a second though I didn’t ask for a reprise as this would be my greatest excuse to return to Martin B.! The 2010 Chocolate and Acacia Honey with Unsweetened Irish Coffee was a bittersweet way to end my meal (and my San Sebastian trip). Quite heavy for a small dish. Intense chocolate, intense coffee and a note of honey. All concluded with petit fours, which were not memorable.

I highly commended the nearly faultless execution and precision in my dishes at Martin Berasategui. But, I left with a reservation over the eclectic, anachronistic choices of dishes. In a matter of speaking, this meal spanned over 15 years! Personally, this meal was a rollercoaster of innovations and dated innovations. Not that the dishes were not nice, but as a menu they were jarring, as if I dined at two restaurants at the same time. If this meal were a film, there would be too many climaxes and anticlimaxes, shot by an 8mm and edited by graphic computers. Certainly it did not lead to a particularly scintillating ending. While the less recent dishes commanded flavours tried and tasted (or even replicated elsewhere in this world!) and passed through my palate in a rather charming manner, the newer ones seemed more constructed, more scienctifically prepped, therefore with less soul. And my conclusion was..

I did not dislike Martin Berasategui. But, I did not fall in love with it either.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.


Loidi Kalea 4
Lasarte-Oria (Gipuzkoa)
San Sebastian

Tel. +34 943 366 471

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Mugaritz, San Sebastian (2)

This is the continuation of my Part I at Mugaritz. Make sure you have a peek of what came first here ;)

And my experience continued with another cross-culturally familiar item: Kuzu bread (10). Made from starch flour. So white it looks as if plastered up with ceramic. Sponge-y but dense. Quite heavy (yes I lifted the bread after the guy left!!). I was told not to eat the whole of it as it would kill my appetite for the meal. Tore up a piece and in my mouth. There was this distilled sweet creamy-ness in my mouth. The artichoke and bonemarrow ragout topping was glistening and densely meaty. Grainy artichokes – a joy to bite – with a rich note of greasy marrow.

Also risked killing my appetite by finishing the bread..


Pork Noodle with “Arraitxiki” Extract & Toasted Rice (11). An alchemist work.. I took the noodle for poached pork under-skin. Similar gelatinous texture. Udon-sized but not as lengthy. Could be found in northeastern Thai salad! Sea bream extract loosened up the noodle and made it slurp-able. Not the stellar dish and I found the texture more memorable than the taste.

Grilled White Tuna Fillet with “Piparras” (12). Pan seared fatty tuna (I deducted) was slightly raw within. Delicate stripes of onions and peppers revived the fish with a polite kick. The waiter told me to leave the skin alone but I found it nicely crispened up and agreeably edible (unlike the fatty tuna at Arzak!). That said, this was my least favourite dish of the whole menu. There wasn’t enough freshness to balance off the oily meat.. perhaps some acidity?

Textures of Coastal Fish (13). Chunks of rock fish on top of smaller chunks of rock fish. The smaller bites boast a more crispy coating. Very minimally seasoned. Salt to bring out the natural flavour and herbs for dimensions. Also scantily garnished was Piece of Beef, Grilled Steak Emulsion, Salt Crystal (14). Tenderest slices of beef. Served quite rare and tasted aggressively beefy. The colour was theatrical, too. The “Grilled Steak Emulsion” was indeed made from cartilage fat and milk. Silky texture. Quite salty and with a hint of smoky-ness. A more refined version of steak with bonemarrow.

Iberico Pork Tail, Crispy Leaves, Toasted Sweet Millet Oil (15) Best way to describe this? STICKY!!! While the condensed Iberico flavours were rushing through my mouth, I felt as if I could not force my lips apart EVER again. The sauce in which the flattened tail submerged had this deadly delicious super glue texture (not taste). The “skin” leaves were perfectly light and providing biteful contrast.

My waiter came back to signal the end of the savoury delights.

.. HOW WAS IT? ..

I said, “Very sticky! Could do with some more.” .. *licking lips*

Lemon Cream with Daikon Radish and Unsweetened Sugar (16) washed away the stickiness at first bite. The acidity was mild but pronounced, working well with the cuddling string of crunchy daikon radish. But it was Broken Walnuts (Toasted and Salted), Cold Milk Cream, Armagnac Jelly (17) that wooed me over. Not only that I liked its abstract architectural shape but also the refreshing milky-ness and the conniving walnuts that were cracklingly alcoholic.

Right. The end!

“Nails and Flowers” (18) Was there any cultural thing about nails that I missed? “Nails” also made their appearance on Arzak‘s petit four. Never mind. This one.. crystal sugar cone as translucent as a raincoat, with chocolate nails and edible flowers. Similar(?) milk ice cream as the penultimate dessert. It felt an extenuate pleasure, not a course on its own. Loved it though.







prostrate (not prostate)





His gastronomic innovations surpassed everything I have tried and tasted in my life.


Mmm… too bold a claim?

.. Let’s say I’d rate Mugaritz as highly as Noma. The experience, of course, was not interchangeable. Mugaritz was more thought-provoking and playful. (Noma more serene and peaceful). Minimalism, tangibility and the take not only on ingredients but on diner’s emotion – Aduriz labelled his philosophy as “techno-emotional” – I believe will win everyone over. I also found the transmission of ingredients and cooking – the Orient and the Basque – at Mugaritz was arguably the smoothest and most successful. I forgot L’ Astrance, Gagnaire, and whereever else I had been that attempted eastern combinations.

That’s it.. it was a flash.. I submitted..



I loved my meal at Mugaritz so much. It’s like culinary nirvana. I contemplated cancelling other restaurants I booked. I knew nothing – nowhere – would rival this experience of mine for a long time.

Cabbie back to hotel. A long nap to wake onto my living dream.

<3 <3 <3

Enough said,

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.


Otzazulueta Baserria
Aldura Aldea 20. 20100

Tel. +34 943 522 455  or  +34 943 518 343

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Mugaritz, San Sebastian (1)

I would like to state this before I start writing up Mugaritz…


I love the place. Really love it.


I also love the friendly service. Really love it.


I also bloody love the cooking. Really bloody love it!


There are two posts in this series. And now if you don’t fancy reading the description of trains of dishes, you may feel free to just browse the pictures. I know it’s a bit of hard work reading so lengthy a post. I struggle myself. BUT I really insist on looking through the post, for my meal at Mugaritz was among one of the very few gastronomic highlights of my life (wait till I publish my Part 2 if you want to know which other ones are!).

This is it.

My trip to Mugaritz – as most people would have theirs – started with a taxi ride. €20 later the driver dropped me off at this stunning house overlooking mountainous greenery. Serene sight. I was too bloody early. There was a lot of grow-your-own going on there. And flowers..  enough distractions.

Before the meal there was a pre-meal lounge in a log cabin. Lovely and calming. Almost Zen-like, though this description struck me right after I saw a porcelain Origami and many Japanese scribbles. Fingers crossed it wouldn’t be touristy like Arzak.. Two Americans walked in (I thought I was f**ked tourist-wise). Never mind.

Off to the table. Very understated dining room. Wooden decor. Broken plates at table. Ones you do not eat from. A lot of panel stopping me peeping at other people’s food. There was no choice at Mugaritz. Only two envelopes containing notes that read “150 Minutes To Feel… “. Diners submitted themselves to the ingredients the kitchen had on the day of visit. Retrospectively this was JUST an 18-course menu, priced at €140. It’s also likely you would have different dishes than tables next to you as they could quickly run out of produce. A spacious dining room it was.


“Bulgar” Drink with Cucumber (1) Told a typical Basque drink. Bulgar – not “vulgar” or “vulva” – is a kind of wheat. Here diluted with a little gin. Very mild, rice-y note to it. Not making much impact yet. Starch & Sugar Crystal Spotted with Pepper, Praline and Corals (2) kicked off the meal to the level of Noma. Oh did I forget mentioning that Mugaritz is ranked 3rd in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants? Back to the crystal, this was a paper-thin, glass-like sugar with drizzle of brown spider crab meat. Oozy and creamy! Another note of mayo-like peppery cream. The combination of sugary sweetness was interesting and not often seen in Western cooking (it is prominent in Asian). Here it was so well-balanced and countered the savoury-ness of the crab. I had to pick the piece up with both hands. So weightless and delicate. Texture perfect. It did not feel like food but tasted very much more crabby than my whole year’s eating of crab put together! Grilled Pueraria Focaccia (3) followed suite. A sheet of pueraria with intense passata-like tomato. Also delicate and exploded into nano-crunches in my mouth. As the texture had been thoroughly transformed, I wasn’t sure if this was the same as Thai pueraria (kwao kreu), a bulby plant that was thought to rejuvenate. (I didn’t look any younger now, so probably not?).



I was asked by the waiter who presented me with this..


.. with mayonnaise (4) (was it garlic?)


The guy said. I dunked it in the mayo, which had this marvellously glossy veneer and custard-y texture. I licked it.. the mayo. SO SO yolk-y and fresh. ..

First bite into the rock.. aha! It was potato!! Coated in edible white clay and baked to puff perfect. The “rock” was so heated as if readily prepared for a hot stone massage. The taste? It tasted of potato (silly me!). Superb quality ones. The refined grain erupted as I was chewing the potato creating a sensation that was oddly and immensely enjoyable.


I was again asked. Potato. And clay. I replied.


Hell no. You should just tell me it! This edible clay is called Kaolin. It absorbs toxin and helps with diarrhea. Is also believed to help with weight loss (I didn’t look any slimmer now, so probably NOT?)

Fake Saffron Rice Just Rested (5) Looking like pumpkin seeds but tiny sacks filled with juice. Submerged in rich saffron sauce and toppled with white bread crouton. Comforting flavours. I found texture of these little things that burst more exciting. Daily Flower Stewed with Cod Fish (6). Simplistic dish. Flowers of unknown species that were grown in Mugaritz garden. Very lily-like in shape but not in colour. Simplistically seasoned. Stringy flowers with a mixture of sweetness and bitterness; beautiful lightly salted succulent cod; delectable grease from olive oil. ‘Tis a real case of innovative pairing and natural ingredients best utilised.

Fresh Herb, Mortar Soup of Spices, Seeds and Fish Broth (7) There came a heated mortar and a waiter who told me to slow grind the seeds and spices clockwise. Some Sichuan peppercorns, some sesame seeds, some other ones.. As I was slowly cracking the seeds, I could smell the gush of fiery aroma mingle with sweet nutty-ness. The mortar seemed to hum (or maybe I did that myself unknowingly) according to my movement.


My waiter came back with a pipe of herbs. Spotted Shiso leaves. In they went into the bowl and the clear broth smelling very much like dashi. I tasted a bit of nuts and bit of Sichuanese kick and a bit of Spanish fish essence. Not so fishy to allow the herb and the nuts to become stars. It was a bit of the West and much of the East, subtle and wonderfully paired.

Line Cheese with Coprinus (8). When I finished eaten, I was shot a question:


(Reluctant) I said I didn’t think it was. This “thing” did not possess a foul, fermented smell of cheese. It was polite and milk-like in taste, half way between gummy and gelatinous, and wobbled as if a (good) panna cotta, though it did look like gooey Camenbert.


It wasn’t cheese. It was milk miraculously transformed into “cheese”. Went well with the flavoursome garnish of sautee mushooms and samphires. Also texture perfect.

Shhhhh.. Cat Got Your Tongue (9). The idiom was well quoted as the waiter refused to tell me what it was.. When I saw this brown bush (don’t overthink innuendo please) with purple petals, I couldn’t help thinking “bloody similar to Thai beef floss”.




.. it was really beef floss. Almost weightless. Had some crisp to it and a batch of caramelised perfume and taste from shallot jam. Interesting cultural intersection there!!


The question game started again (if you don’t notice I really enjoy answering questions!!). I didn’t know.. Thais use some low-quality cut hence not quite achieving this no-weight marvel. Tongue, as it was revealed. Slow cooked, shredded and caramelised. “Done Thai food justice,” I told him with a grin :-P

Half way through the meal.. my tummy was half packed with sporadic excitements. So far I loved the flavours, the simplistic way of cooking rarely used ingredients, the interactive playfulness, the inquisitive service that proved a challenge to my taste bud and … EVERYTHING ABOUBT MUGARITZ!!

There were 9 more dishes to come in Part 2.. please stay tuned ^_^

Enough said (for now),

My head rating says, “10 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “10 out of 10″.


Otzazulueta Baserria
Aldura Aldea 20. 20100

Tel. +34 943 522 455  or  +34 943 518 343

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La Cepa, San Sebastian

The truth was that after Arzak my belly was only half filled.

Not because I was not not served enough food but that I had not eaten anything all day up to my dinner. A late night stroll in San Sebastian’s old quarter therefore concluded in a quick supper at this alluringly carnivorous place called La Cepa..





An old jolly place and an institution in itself, La Cepa opened doors since 1949 and is still creating bustles with their hanging legs of Jabugo!! Pintxo bar + restaurant, in other words. Depending on your mood where you’d like to be seated. If at the bar, you’ll need to scramble through the board menu written in Spanish.. eekk! but after 3 hours of no English at Arzak and all those complicated cooking terms this board showcased a language most elementary.

My basic Spanish must-eat.. Jamon de Jabugo. Acorn fed. Thinner than a piece of paper. Melting in my mouth.. and a medium portion of, well, more ham to follow!! Assorted ham AKA Sortido Iberico including Lomo, Chorizo and Jabugo. Fatty but not as orgasmic as the Jabugo platter.

Felt guilty as I had just devoured 10+ courses at Arzak. And it was already near midnight.


I tried.. not to over-order here.






one foie gras a la plancha (grilled foie) served with many kinds of chutney, (was it?) reduced PX and crispy bread. The foie piece was almost steak-like. Massive and delectably caramelised. Grease gorgeous and well balanced with the intense sweetness from chutney. It was pretty much food that everyone gets and will love.

I also called for Callos – ox’s tripe cooked in light tomato sauce. Homey taste also. Spongy. No smell. I could have given it a miss but I did not mind mopping up the bowl either.

That was it.

I successfully vanquished my greed seeing this marvellous looking steak on chopping board.

Yes, if only I could eat a little bit more…

I called it a night (€50 or so, a morsel of my proper dinner).. and my “highly recommended” verdict for the Jamon at La Cepa. Soaringly delicious as at Meson Cinco Jotas in Barcelona last year ^_^

PS For Jamon lovers in London, you should head to either Jose or Capote Y Toros for the best and most reasonable ;)

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “9 out of 10″.


C/ 31 De Agosto, 7
20003 San Sebastian

Tel. +34 943 426 394

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Arzak, San Sebastian

There are so many things you can say about Arzak.

The father-and-daughter team of Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak. The daddy is the pioneer of Basquese gastronomic innovation. Three Michelin star since God knows when. The place holds the 8th spot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. Juan Mari has recently won the lifetime achievement award from the said list. The accolades gather gourmet-tourists from all over the world (myself included).. yes pretty much everything you can say.

All I want to say is I don’t enjoy my experience at Arzak.

A smart reception room I was led into. Quirky wall decor. A bartender that mistook my orange juice “naturelle” for a fizzy one but he couldn’t quite speak enough English, nor I enough Spanish, in order that I could rectify my order. Then a sleek dining room. An Asian corner (as I was seated next to Singaporeans)? A courteous guy who kindly explained me the tasting menu in detail IN ENGLISH. A slim, elderly lady who were so mumsy that I would love to give her a gentle hug (and perhaps to ask if she could lend me a Spanish-English dictionary as everything – all the descriptions of the dishes – coming out of her mouth was Spanish). I could understand perhaps half.. and for such a place as Arzak (and the €€€ I paid) I would have loved to understand more..


The Tasting Menu.. it was. 9-course or so and with a terrain of amuse bouche. Ham and Tomato Smoke (1), Marinated Tuna and Strawberry (2), Kabraroka Pudding with Kataifi (3), Corn Figs and Black Pudding (4) and Yellow Crispy Rice with Mushroom (5). I liked the corn soup with pieces of Morcilla. Layered sweetness complimented by the black pudding and many crunches from the meringue-like toppings. The Yellow Crispy Rice with Mushroom was a Wow of the five. Tapioca-made wings of crispiness encasing intense mushroom paste. The tuna+strawberry was awkward – tender tuna on strawberry with a brush of reduced sweet Sherry (I think) – while the Kabraroka which turned out cod-like mousse in deep fried Spanish vermicelli wrappings was underwhelming.

Cromlech with Onion, Coffee and Tea (6) delivered at another more superior level. Stonehenge pillar-like parcels made from crispy tapioca and dusted with molecularised squid ink contained .. well. . pieces of foie gras. There was more dust around – green tea, coffee. To eat this you’ll have to insert the spoon under the “cromlech”, flip it over (so the thing doesn’t fall out), hold and eat it with your hand. Having a Spanish-talking waitress didn’t help me much with this. For all her kindness she did walk over and demonstrate it! Miraculous taste and texture. Savour-licious sweet and jellified foie gras with degrees of bitterness from coffee and green tea dust. All biteful, mellow-y, grainy (from the dust). It was a sensation I’d love to reprise.

Lobster Coralline (7) appeared a plate of art (an Impressionist one which you have to look at from a distance to make out what’s what). One chunky claws and few lobster bites immersed in a polychrome of jus – lobster roe jus, mango and onion cubes. Sesame wafers resembles crackling lobster tails. I didn’t like the combination. While the lobster was well cooked, there wasn’t enough acidity in the dish to soar above the rich jus and make the dish balance. The side salad of tapioca (again but not in a crispy form) had this sharp balmy sourness that (for me) did not pair well with the lobster main.

Dusted Egg and Mussel (8). A poached egg yolk lay hidden under a disc of crispy kataifi. On the other side of the plate was a brightly orange mussel under a flowery bush. It was a sight to behold. And the taste? Gorgeous. Runny yolk turned very saucy and gelled all elements. Texture perfect. Many bursts of kataifi. Velvety with an essence of eggy-ness (the egg, the roe). It could do with more scattering of mussel meat (in any form perhaps), for I found slowly dissecting a tiny piece of mussel quite tiresome.

Smoked Cinnamon and Tuna (9). A dish that could be a sensation. Seared prime quality tuna belly arrived in a cloud of burning cinnamon cigarette. I was utterly excited. As the lovely waitress uncovered the lid, the smoke gushed out. BUT.. I couldn’t really smell much. Tasting the dish, it was very good tuna. The drizzling of soy and many elements, however, became a dysporic experience of eating a seared tuna belly with sour soy sauce – Otoro Tataki as the Japanese would have it. No more, no less. It’s not bad – fatty tuna melting in my mouth plus relatively refined (but not brilliantly so) sauce – but it’s not THAT special. Oh, the tuna skin was oily and full of scales.

Lamb with Rosemary and Tumeric (10). A simplified dish but it delivered full flavours. Beautifully pink lamb in tumeric coloured jus. A skin of roasted pepper and dots of rosemary puree. Pretty, so pretty! A wonderful combo of peppery sweetness, herbed bitterness (which at times tasted like wheatgrass) and lamb-y flesh. It didn’t need the side of (quite stringy) Asparagus Tempura of Black Sesame and Ham, though.

First dessert “Mead and Fractal Fluid” (11) and I did hold my breath observing the waitress pouring this red flavourless thing into an infusion of honey, water and anise. The red crept through the very molecule of the fluid creating an ever expanding flactal shape…


The extra-terrestial piece of gastronomy was then abrasively poured onto this Lemon ice cream. The ice cream was coated with something rather wax-like. The fractal fluid tasted very much, as described, like diluted honey. Together they became too sharply contrasting flavours.

Then came the Playing Marbles with Chocolate (12) “Marbles” of chocolate lava with a garnish of soft chocolate dish and white chocolate sauce. A well-executed dish with childlike richness and playfulness. I loved it – that sensation of warm chocolate exploding everywhere and the tingling delight of toasted popping rice in my mouth. It came with a sorbet the detail of which had successfully escaped my notepad. I faintly recalled orange or grapefruit.

The meal concluded with “Nuts and Bolts” (13) Chocolate of many kinds. Marshmallow. Coke jelly with popping rocks. Very memorable :)


Marvellous ingredients but risky innovations. In other words, many dishes at Arzak were oddly complicated; accordingly, flavours did not leap out distinctly enough for my liking. Simpler dishes – the foie gras, the egg, the lamb, the choc balls – worked wonders. Others were too pretty to be eaten.. WELL and once eaten they did not taste as memorably as they looked. In their defense I had never seen such a miracle as the red fluid forming a fractal shape.. a serene sight. Thinking about this meal a few weeks after (where I had eaten at other places in San Sebastian too) I still do not feel Arzak is the San Sebastian in-town destination. I would not discourage you from trying (as I had been by the ever reliable GT) but I would not recommend it…

Bill paid.. (€219 something with a bottle of water, one glass each of wine and Cava)

A very bustling dining room. But. I left very quietly.

No one seemed to care..


Enough said,

My head rating says, “6 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “5 out of 10″.


Avda. Alcalde Elosegui, 273
20015 Donostia/ San Sebastian

Tel. +34 943 278 46