All posts filed under “Spain

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41° Experience, Barcelona

41° Experience

There is so much brilliance I can recall about this meal, but I have decided not to put all into writing. Lazy blogger, no. Necessity, yes. The “elements of surprise” are crucial, according to FAQ. When it was first launched, 41° Experience (or 41 Grados) by El Bulli-famed Ferran and Albert Adria was meant to be just a cocktail bar for the annexed Tickets. But it has morphed.. into a 16-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant, most recently alleged as one of the most difficult to get reservations in the world.

Briefly. There is no reservation line. The booking is made via their website and partially requires payment. There are some drinks included in the €200-per-head tasting menu. You can order a separate alcoholic pairing at €45. Blah. Blah. The venue is a decent-sized bar space, dimmed and dark. There were more FOHs than diners. Above me was a nebula of eclectic images – a kind of modern pop art featuring disparate cultural items around the world – being played in slow motion. And soothing trance-like music..

Not so briefly. The fun at 41° Experience kicked off with a stubbornly square, neatly crafted “41°” ice cube which chilled a smoky liquid substance. Along came a jar containing drops of green olive, preserved in oil. Just your typical jar of olive – but the molecularised EL BULLI style. The liquid olive essence was entrapped in a gelatinous skin. Fragile, it rolled for an escape on the tongue and burst into a taste of what would have been like if I stuffed my mouth with 10 olives in one go. I have never made enough effort to be at El Bulli and I am – or was – never convinced by molecular gastronomy. BUT. That was some alchemy that I highly recommend.

Through my first 3-4 courses, I departed from Barcelona – the 41° latitude as the name of the restaurant portends- wandered through Italy, France, Russia, Asia and many more. Ferran and Albert Adria not only know so much about cuisines but also cultures, wherein lies humourous anecdotes and stereotypes. All these are re-interpreted into all the 41 dishes served at 41° Experience. Some were more successful than others. Some got me to physically interact and/or contemplate intellectually; others made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. (Something about France, of course. And Rene Redzepi might be on the menu). That said, as the concept of the menu relies very heavily on the elements of surprise, of not knowing what comes next and which country where you will end up, it is best not to do so much telling (or display any sharp and clear images). The cooking was exquisite but a complement to the concept. SO.. if you are a global character, know a lot about cuisines and cultures, you will be having a very good time at 41° Experience. If you are averse to internationalism, there is a high risk that you might not get the “jokes”, which are the best part of the meal.

Life-changing? No. But this meal reversed my eagerness in life and I felt happy, giggly.. as if I became a child again :-D

 

(Sorry. Can’t help not telling you of my most favourite dish – a re-constructed Peruvian “causa”. A thick slice of super fresh and firm yellowtail/hamachi marinated in lime, chilli and garlic was served nigiri-style on a velvety ball of spiced-infused mashed potatoes. The dish paid homage to the Japanese influences in Peruvian culinary tradition and taste-wise it was a bomb of citric umami).

PS Don’t hate me for doing this >_<

 

 

RATING: 5/5

41° EXPERIENCE

Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
08015, Barcelona
Spain

www.41grados.es


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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.

 

- L’ARPEGE -
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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Kai Pe, Getaria

I went to Getaria in search of two things, goose barnacles and Balenciaga. While I found the Museum of the latter (a full photo album of which is on Skinny Bib Facebook Page) very hemmingly informative, I did not get to suck any barnacles. “It’s so out of season”, the waitress at Kai Pe made this remark. “Out of season” always pisses me off, be it for clothes or barnacles…

Kai Pe.. a good fish restaurant in this tiny fishing village of Getaria recommended by Akelarre. Very relaxed but with a rather decent looking clientele, the restaurant overlooks a port and a fish market. I’d say, a Basque equivalence of London’s Billingsgate. I did not go. Too many seagulls. The menu prided itself in fresh fish of major portion size. On my own, I had very limited choices of fish to be caged and grilled on charcoal fire. “Haddock?”, said the waitress. It was the only asador item for a lone diner.

HELL, NO!

I did not endure flights to San Sebastian and took a bleeping taxi to Getaria to eat haddock. No matter how fresh it was and how Spanish it tasted… NO!

Crusty bread was served on the menu. Free tuna chunks with chopped onions and olive oil. As good as it got. I only went for jamon and a spider crab. The latter was served boiled. Decent jamon. A little dry. The crab came very fresh I could smell mud on its claws. Actually I could still SEE mud on its claws. As faultlessly fresh as a super fresh crab could be. It also tasted of salt, of crab and, well, of mud. Were they just not bothered to wash it off?

The bill came to €60 with water and orange juice. I lingered near the asador and daydreamed what I had just missed.

BIG FISH. BIG FIRE..


On a second thought.. I should have gone for the haddock -__-”

NEXT TIME!!!!!!!!

Walking around in Getaria was cool. Very honest-looking town. Hardly any foreign tourists. Many fish stalls. Guts, blood, carcasses, just my kinda things.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “6 out of 10″.

KAI PE

General Arnao 4
20808
Getaria
Spain

Tel. +34 943 140 500

www.kaia-kaipe.com

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Akelarre, San Sebastian

The moment I walked into Akelare, one of San Sebastian’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants, I knew I was doomed. This was a little fortress of all-glass windows engulfed by the clear blue sky and the vast multitude of equally clear water, which the sun both glared at and glazed. The décor, thanks to the crisscrossing wood beams and creamily lit lanterns, exuded warmth, friendliness and… ROMANCE.

Doomed. Akelare could be the only place in San Sebastian un-befitting a lone diner.

To my relief the dining area was quickly filled up with American gastro-tourists, undoing the romance. (THANK YOU, AMERICANS!!) Still a good vibe and I could finally move on without too much sulking.

Here there were two tasting menus: one fish-oriented “Aranori” and one meat-oriented “Bekarki”. The chef patron Pedro Subijana has long been recognised as the Basque champion of fine dining. His creations reflected the heritage of the area and focused on the purity of ingredients. Not so much molecular.

The appetisers of “Amenities” looked playfully wrong, as if one swapped Boots shopping for fine dining. Tomato and basil gel came in a pump bottle. Cooling tomato flavour with mild basil note to be taken with a piece of dehydrated onion sponge. Sea bath salts were actually crackers in an edible plastic bag. Semi-liquidised cheese was served in a tub of night moisturiser, while the fruity mouthwash cocktail still tasted much like a mouthwash. This combination, however, nicely purified my palate and when I sipped a shot of gazpacho, the only appetiser that appeared a shopping from Boots, I could taste the exuberant freshness and the sparkles of cooling heat.

Prawns and French Beans were spectacular. They arrived raw with heads and tails and to be torched with wine spirit on a bed of stones at table. It was serenity looking at the flame slowly swallowing the prawns and the aroma that permeated my table. The green beans and green bean cream as garnish were perfectly cooked, providing good texture contrast and another dimension of sweetness to the dish. I sucked the oil from the prawn head and mopped up the dehydrated roe. A touch of natural luxuries.

Less theatrical were Molluscs in Fisherman’s Net, which boast a medley of opened seashells – mussels, clams, oysters and goose barnacles!! – on charcoal fire. Served hidden under a net-like rice crisp. Honest sea flavours cleverly accentuated by refreshing borage and seaweed.

Pasta Carpaccio was a vegetarian dish with a meaty flavour. Lasagne-like sheets distilled by piquillo pepper and Iberico pork had an intriguing taste of chorizo. The simplistic garnish of girolles, truffles, rocket and Parmesan shavings complimented it well. Not the utterly creative but a good comfort.

I also found comfort in the two successive fish courses. “Desalted” Cod was a tweak in the old Basque tradition of salting cod. Here the firm miniature piece of cod arrived in an ancient-looking box and crystalised, as if salted. Not salty. The edible hay was a dry kind of pasta to be glued with a small portion of spongy cod tripe in sticky tomato water. Whole Grain Red Mullet with Fusili was the most delectable fish dish I had during my San Sebastian trip.  Delicately cooked red mullet fillets finished with a rich glazing made from ground red mullet liver, head and bones. It was a interpretative universe of flavours as if I gulped down a fish recently washed ashore. The ground bone added a sandy texture tickling my tongue. The jelly fusili was infused individually with soy sauce, parsley sauce and “ajo blanco”. Every bite, accordingly, became something different. It worked best with the savoury acidity from the ajo blanco, a kind of balsamic vinegar wine.


Lamb with Wine Lees was not as thunderously amazing. The symmetrical loin was grilled on charcoal fire and was not as tender as I would have loved. The wine extract and sediments served from a melted bottle of wine were good neighbours to the lamb. A play on lamb with red wine jus really. Intense. It merited from a non-traditional bitter-sweetness from the green tea dusted hay of sugar.

“Xaxu” and Coconut Iced Mousse was sensational. Two meringue-like pieces were indeed made from foamed coconut ice cream. Very frosty. Deliciously, intensely yolk-y ball in the middle erupted almond-flavoured, lava gooey-ness. I felt very much like eating a deconstructed, sugared egg. A dish hard to forget ^_^

I was taken back slightly when asked if I had eaten a paper before, a question which accompanied A Different Apple Tart. I did. Years ago. Edible paper, edible hay, edible many-things are no longer novelty. Nothing’s wrong with serving them now, of course. My apple tart was pleasant and arrived fully covered with the Akelare apple-flavoured paper. It was very good – the paper – as unlike other edible papers I had eaten it had a very distinctly paper texture. The tart itself was pleasant. Crusty and sweet. Amicably zingy apple puree balanced it off well.

The night was concluded with a bowl of chocolate truffle. It came with inedible paper…

Of all the three-Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian, Akelare is the most dated and not an ideal venue for those after latest culinary innovations. During my meal I did not taste much outrageously avant-garde experiment in the cooking. This explains, probably, why Akelare is also the only three-starred restaurant there that doesn’t make it into the World’s 50 Best Restaurant list. There are, however, a lot of thoughts and skills firmly and commendably grounded in the Basque tradition. Unrivalled genuineness. Despite some odd moments of gimmicks, as if you were listening to an old man trying to tell a worn-out joke, I enjoyed my evening as much as I loved many of my dishes. And surely with the breathtaking sea view, the efficient FOH and the honest cooking, this was a very, very fine restaurant.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10”.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10”.

AKELARRE

Paseo Padre Orcoloaga, 56
San Sebastian 20008
Spain

Tel. +34 943 311 209

www.akelarre.net

 

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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.

DONE..

..

I

would

like

to

prostrate (not prostate)

myself

at

ANDONI LUIS ADURIZ..

..

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 FORGOT EVERYTHING..

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″.

MUGARITZ

Otzazulueta Baserria
Aldura Aldea 20. 20100
Errenteria
Gipuzkoa
Spain

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

www.mugaritz.com

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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.

Nibbles…

“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?).

..

.. HAVE YOU EATEN ROCKS? ..

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

A ROCK

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

.. TELL ME LATER WHAT YOU THINK IT IS..

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.

.. DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT WAS? ..

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

.. DO YOU KNOW WHERE IT’S FROM? ..

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:

.. DO YOU THINK IT’S REALLY CHEESE? ..

(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.

And BINGO!

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..

turned

out..

.. 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!!

.. WHAT PART OF BEEF DO YOU THINK THAT WAS? ..

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″.

MUGARITZ

Otzazulueta Baserria
Aldura Aldea 20. 20100
Errenteria
Gipuzkoa
Spain

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

www.mugaritz.com