The lovely Mexican man at the next table said it best when I asked him what he had eaten, "That is the problem, I'm not sure that I can describe it - It's like nothing I can remember - I think that Arzak must be the Dali of food" There is no reference point for Arzak - and I will suffer the same problem as my Mexican Friend here. So below is a somewhat futile attempt to describe our meal. If nothing else, the pictures convey the beauty of the plates which really were works of art.
A fish pudding on a stick wrapped in a fried noodle wrapper. - Satisfyingly tasty. White bean soup with apple. - Simply gorgeous, light, fragrant. Chorizo in tempura - which was really tempura with a chorizo flavour. No part of the texture of the chorizo remained. Crispy rice cracker with mushrooms of the area, called Hongos. - Surprising and yummy. Sardine with Strawberry - who would ever dream of putting these together? But I can tell you, this was the most memorable and divine taste of the plate.
First Course Foie gras and some roasted pepper pieces (I think?) served in a tapioca pocket. We were told to stuff the pocket which was light as air, and eat it like an ice cream cone. Sorry - no picture - at this stage, I was completely overwhelmed. Super rich but light and airy.
Lobster with a Potato Crunchie - the potato was blown into a crisp - almost like a rice chip. Very interesting texture combination. Lobster was succulent.
Egg Course Arazak always does an 'egg of the season'. Ours was called an egg earthquake. The egg was orange in colour and perfectly poached with most of the white removed. Then there were little bits of crunchy sweetness mixed in with the dish. We were told to break the egg yolk and mix in the crunchy bits. The only thing I can describe this to is when you are eating eggs, toast and maybe you have some maple syrup or other sweet thing on your breakfast plate and by accident the sweetness combines with the egg. Pure yumminess!
Fish Course Sole with Spinach and Walnuts. The walnuts were soft and were impregnated with smoked paprika. Smoked paprika is quite traditional in Spanish cooking so this gave it a comfort feeling but the combination of flavours was so subtle it made it very elegant. The sole was divine. This was my favourite course up until this point.
There was also a choice of Monkfish, which J one my companions opted for. This was delightfully playful - a veritable beach scene.
Meat Course Choice of pigeon or lamb were recommended but the Maitre D also offered choice of Foie Gras or Beef. We all opted for the lamb save for J who took the pigeon. The lamb was perfectly cooked, medium. More smoked paprika in a light oil and for the real surprise of the plate, a potato made to look like a marrow bone, complete with a lucious sauce in the centre to simulate marrow. The potato itself was coated with a white rind (like you'd see on a camembert) which completed the effect. (Quickly supplanted the sole as my new favourite of the night).
First Dessert Course It feels like we had as many dessert courses as savoury ones. The Maitre D simply asked us if we all liked chocolate, pineapple, lemon etc at the beginning of the meal and said he would bring us several things to share. For the first dessert course, I received some chocolate balls arranged in the shape of a grape vine in a strawberry soup with a basil ice. This was the truly incredible part of the meal. The chocolate ball was like a delicate pudding ball that you had to handle delicately, like an egg yolk so it would not break. On popping it into your mouth, it was like having a malteser explode and liquefy. No crunchy malteser texture but the flavour of one.
Super G had an opera cake made whose flavours included spinach and was incredible. We were also given Rosemary ice-cream and a raspberry. As with all the ice creams we received they had the most incredible texture somewhere between a sorbet and ice cream.
Second Dessert Course At this point, I couldn't believe that food was still coming at us and it seemed each course was getting more surprising as we went on. A deconstructed lemon cake which appeared to be morsels of lemon curd covered in a waxy substance that was served with a honey water and cochineal fractal. At this point, you may be wondering, what is that exactly so I will explain. The 'honey water' was placed in a small bowl. It had the consistency colour and texture of an egg white. Into that was placed a drop of cochineal (red liquid). Immediately a fractal occurred in the honey water and we watched it grow bigger. We all gazed in awe as the waiter then stirred it up and poured it over the cake.
This was accompanied with a second dessert named 'Lunatic's Dessert' which I can only describe as orange pudding explosions. They looked innocuous enough on the plate - almost like fava beans. We were told to scoop up the contents of the plate, sugar, salt and a black syrup and eat the 'bean' all at once. The result was this intense explosion in the mouth that liquefied in an instant and gave the most intense orange flavour.
Coffee & Petits Fours At this point, I could't really eat anymore but the sheer beauty of the plate was so compelling we had to sample them. A truffle covered in smoked paprika wrapped with a bow of lemon peel like a beautiful present, a white bean and chocolate ball with crunchy rice. Incredible. I think Arzak has mastered something very fundamental about how animals are attracted to the brightest flower and has designed his plates accordingly.
This is simply the meal of a lifetime. The flavours were incredible but it's as much about the experience, the creative plating, the artistry and the surprise. With all of the showmanship, I still felt like this cuisine was rooted in something more basic, and elemental. You could feel the love in this food. The other thing I will say is that the chef himself was very present in the dining room, coming in and appearing to truly connect with his guests. We had been met by him at the door and he invited us in, calling me by my first name in a way that made this fairly formal experience a warmer and more natural one. I will never forget it!