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?).
.. HAVE YOU EATEN ROCKS? ..
I was asked by the waiter who presented me with this..
.. 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.
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!!
.. 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
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″.
Aldura Aldea 20. 20100
Tel. +34 943 522 455 or +34 943 518 343