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Review of Arzak

Certificate of Excellence
Price range: US$172 - US$197
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Restaurant details
Good for: Special Occasion Dining, Romantic
Dining options: Lunch, After-hours, Breakfast, Dinner, Reservations
Reviewed 21 August 2012

I totally agree with all those who finds Arzak fantastic! We only had lunch there and decided not to have the tasting menu because we were going for a dinner, too, and only wanted to have a starter, main course and dessert. But our friendly waiter suggested that we order half portions and by that way can taste more courses. Yes, we got 6 courses plus greetings from the kitchen before first starter and after last dessert. Very tasty food which looked like an art piece each. And we did get an explanation of each course.

After discussing with the sommelier we decided to let him freely select wines which were suitable for each course. My husband knows the wines and is very picky but everything was just perfect.

We are used to Michelin star restaurants and have also been couple of times in Noma, which has been selected now twice as the best restaurant in the world and I have to say that Arzak is the best for me so far. And not too expensive when comparing the prices at home!

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Thank Simone_7
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 17 August 2012

It is difficult to know where to start in sharing our experience at Arzak because it was one of those lifetime events that you look back on and say 'wow - did that really happen?'

The day before we were due to visit Arzak for lunch (we weren't able to get a table in the evening) we noticed a photo and article in the local paper about the legendary Juan Mari Arzak celebrating his 70th birthday on 31st July. A nice co-incidence which underlined just what an important influence this chef has had on the development of gastronomy in the region. We knew of him by reputation of course but also because a friend of ours down in Murcia had grown up virtually next door to the Arzak family and knew them well.

Our table was booked for 13.30 - actually that isn't quite right. The restaurant opens at 13.30 and that is when there is a rush of arrivals - as we found out when we tried to squeeze into the tiny reception and bar area. This is Arzak's biggest difficulty - if there are more than two parties arriving at the same time the front of house staff struggle to cope. Once we had convinced the unsmiling man at the desk that we really did have a reservation, we were left standing for 10 minutes while staff milled about and started to seat the other couples who had arrived before us. We were not offered a drink. You might think that this rather disappointing start would lead to a somewhat snotty review...but...it doesn't because the maitre, Adolfo Avilés rescued us and the situation brilliantly.

We were shown to our table upstairs and the sommelier arrived - we drooled over the wine list before settling on a José Pariente Verdejo and a Colección 125 Reserva 2005. At this point Adolfo came to speak to us - with the skill of true front of house expert he knew we weren't entirely happy with the reception we had had and wanted to make sure that everything went smoothly from that point on. He explained that the restaurant opens at 13.30 for lunch and before that at 13.00 there is a staff briefing. On this day it had gone on a bit longer than normal and therefore everyone was not quite at their posts when people started arriving. Adolfo took our order and we settled back with a glass of the excellent Verdejo.

'Arzaks Amusements' began to arrive -and they were very amusing. First scorpion fish mousse rolled in noodles and deep-fried - served on a metal stand. Yummy (the fish, not the stand).

And then something a bit odd - Strawberry and marinated anchovy. I can't explain why this worked but it did although when it first appeared we both looked askance at the waiter when she explained what it was. It probably isn't to everyone's taste but I really liked it.

Alongside this was a small bowl of a corn soup with fig and black pudding - I gave this 10 out of 10 and could quite happily have eaten a tureen of it. The flavours were perfect.

Next a bit of gastro theatre with a dish of cape gooseberries and a coconut crisp into which the waiter poured warm water to trigger a dry ice cascade. Pretty but not a tasty as I expected.

The final 'amusement' was a crushed tonic water tin with chorizo and melon in tonic - delicious.

Bear in mind we haven't started the main menu yet but have already tasted so many different flavours we were ooohing and aaahing like a couple of children at a sweetshop window.

Adolfo continued to keep a discreet eye on our service without being in any way intrusive.

The first menu course was one I had read about and was very keen to try. It is called 'Cromlech with onion, coffee and tea' and looks exactly like one of those ancient standing stones it is named after. Adolfo advised us to slide a spoon under the base and tip the cromlech over and eat by hand. The fine crisp shell shattered and the filling melted in the mouth. One of my favourite dishes if a bit messy to eat - still what are fingers and napkins for?

We had a choice for the next course so as ever we chose one each. My husband let me opt for 'Hemp's mustard and lobster' because he knows I will walk over hot coals for this crustacean. This was a fabulous dish, with the lobster succulent and sweet and the coral moulded into a tiny peg shape - to reflect the lobster claw. Adolfo was by this time our best friend and explained that the moulds were developed in the Arzak lab and that this technique was something that they were constantly evolving. The lobster came with wonderful mustard seed thins and a tangy tapioca and citrus salad mixed at the table.

Chris chose 'Fufu' balls and fish of the day. "What is a fufu ball?" I can hear you ask. The fufu ball is traditionally made from yams, plantains, cassava, or some other starchy food. To eat fufu use your right hand to tear off a bite-sized piece of the fufu, shape it into a ball, make an indentation in it, and use it to scoop up the soup or stew or sauce, or whatever you're eating. Well that's the traditional method. This dish was nice but it didn't blow us away. The fufu balls were ready rolled and the fish delicious but ..... There was also a side dish of micro salad.

We were really enjoying this meal because the flavours were all deep and the seasoning perfect. Each dish was a small and exciting adventure on its own. Cue the 'Dusted egg and mussel'. Here we had a poached duck egg - perfect of course - covered with a crisp layer of green kataifi pastry. An upside down version of poached egg on toast. Fantastic flavours again. Served with a mussel decorated with flower petals. Very pretty. There was also a tangy green dust which I couldn't place the flavour of - and Adolfo wasn't around at this stage to ask.

Fish of the day was next up and we thought we had died and gone to heaven. The fish was Tuna belly. This is a cut of tuna that you don't see very often. We have a favourite restaurant in Cartagena that serves it and it is always my first choice. The meat is very fatty but when it is cooked is soft and melts in the mouth. It has none of the density and coarseness of the more common cuts of tuna. This was served with prickly pear, a fig sauce, cinnamon and a vanilla stick. This was one of those dishes that leaves you unable to speak after you have eaten it because it is beyond words.

We were also given two choices for the meat course. My husband went for roast pigeon with violet coloured dabs, which were made from 'anthocyanins' or naturally occurring vegetable and fruit pigments. The pigeon was served with manioca and a wonderful jus. The leg had been roasted separately and was served with a hibiscus pudding. This whole dish was delicious and if we had one criticism it was that the plate was too hot and this had caused some of the sauces to go a bit sticky.

My dish was the 'Lamb with corks'. When I heard the name I couldn't imagine what was coming but in the event it was a superb piece of Basque lamb with 'corks' of potato, layered slices of pumpkin and watermelon and a topping of sweet red wine jelly. Again we were wowed by the flavours.

We were slowing down a bit by this stage as we segued into the desserts. And we also had a lovely surprise when Adolfo bought Juan Mari Arzak himself to our table and introduced us. I got a kiss on the cheek for wishing him a belated happy birthday and we spoke to him of his friend who Juan Mari remembered well. Adolfo had explained that our reception had been less than perfect and Juan Mari wanted to assure us that this was not usual.

And then the desserts started arriving. The first two were called 'Playing marbles with chocolate'. One was two balls, which had to be eaten whole, and which released a hit of liquid chocolate when you bit into them. Served with a mixed fruit ice cream and crispy milk and dark chocolate pieces.

Followed by confit chocolate balls in olive oil with a créme anglais and a scatter of tiny pearls of flavour. Again served with a side dish of lovely ice cream.

These were great but I'm not a big chocolate eater so I was looking forward to something a bit different - and we certainly got it. Our waiter laid a pretty blue oblong piece of glass painted with flowers and leaves on the table. She then returned with a sheet of clear glass on which were a 'ladybird' made of a strawberry gelatin filled with strawberry cream, sugar in olive oil, clove cream, peach and fig hiding under a gold footprint. Every element was delicious but somehow it didn't come together as one dish...but perhaps that was deliberate. It was very beautiful though.

And last - 'Stone of Beet and Pistachio' A crunchy 'cake' with a tang of lemon, crunchy sticky pistachio nuts, a sweet beetroot sauce and a side dish of what I think was cinnamon ice cream but could have been cardamom. A truly great dish.

We had taken our time over this meal because it was amazing and we wanted to savour every mouthful. We sat back and grinned at each other. And then....Juan Mari came back out to see us. We had ordered a glass of dessert wine (Moscatel M, R) and Juan Mari pulled a chair up to our table and said he would join us in the drink. He chatted about the restaurant, and his daughter and partner Elena who has been voted the world’s best female chef. Adolfo joined us and then so did Elena herself. I can't remember everything we spoke about but their pride in each other and their restaurant is evident, and especially in their lab where their ideas become reality. Juan Mari gave us a pack of information about the restaurant, CVs for himself and Elena and a statement translated below which is very important to how they want the world to see them.

"The cuisine at Arzak is led by Juan Mari with the collaboration of Elena and the team.
Juan Mari and Elena are a tandem, because without Elena this cuisine would be impossible"

They use these words to describe the cuisine of Arzak - Signature cuisine, Basque, Research based, Evolving, Cutting edge.

This always was and still is a family run restaurant, despite the three Michelin stars, the awards and the fame - back when it all started in 1976 Juan Mari's philosophy was that 'Mi restaurante es mi casa' and he still believes that to this day. Juan Mari and Elena are a great team but thanks and praise must also go to the redoubtable Adolfo who made Arzak very special for us.

Before we left we had a last fun dish ' Ferreteria Arzak' - Arzak's ironmongery - petit fours shaped like keys, nuts and bolts. What more is there to say.

Would we go back? You bet.

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2  Thank GabbyStaples
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 2 August 2012

My new husband and I have been spending our honeymoon traveling all over Northern Spain eating, and Arzak was the biggest letdown of the trip. We've dined in some pretty spectacular restaurants thus far (El Celler De Can Roca, Asador Extebarri...to name a few), and Arzak paled in comparison.

Our favorite part of the evening was the perfect positioning of our table and getting to meet Elena herself; however, it was pretty much downhill from there.

The snacks were brought to our table all at once with zero explanation on the inspiration behind them (btw NONE of our dishes were described to us in detail, and considering how abstract some of them were, it would have made a considerable difference). All of the snacks were bland (another theme of the evening), and we agreed that all of them were completely forgettable.

The next course was actually our favorite for the evening (Cromlech with onion, coffee, and tea)..even though they were difficult to eat they at least tasted great. After that we had lobster, fish of the day, egg with mussel, monkfish, squid, lamb, beef and dessert....total of 9 courses including the snacks and the little chocolates at the end. It was just so shocking how a meal with so little food (in comparison to the other Michelin star restaurants we've been to) could all just be so meaningless...I don't think we had a truly thought out composed dish all night....Again it may have helped if our waiter had given us any explanation, but it still wouldn't have made the food taste good.

We were there about 2.5 hours, both did the tasting menu, got water, wine, and coffee for 511 Euros...we spent exactly the same amount at El Celler De Can Roca in about 4.5 hours, approx 25 courses, and 2 wine pairings. I'm sorry but there really shouldn't be that big a jump between #2 and #8 in the world....save your money and stick to the high end pinxtos bars!

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3  Thank Alex V
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 29 July 2012

I have eaten in quite a few Michelin star restaurants and in my view sometimes the food is more experimental as opposed to truly amazing tasteful food. Arzak was both. The food not only looks spectacular and pleasing to all the five senses before you actually eat it but when you do WOW it is incredible. It is quite simply the best food I have eaten in my life! What made the experience truly memorable though was speaking o Arzak himself and his daughter; taking a tour of the kitchen and the lovely staff! Can't wait to return.

2  Thank IfyD
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 July 2012

I have wanted to visit Arzak since being impressed with Elena and Juan Mari's warm and friendly personalities on a cooking show many years ago. In January I reserved a table for a Saturday night in July and proceeded to book the flights and accommodation for the holiday.

We chose the tasting menu which started with 5 small amuse bouches which were all delicious. They were followed by one of the highlights of the meal, a foie gras cromlech with onion, coffee and tea. Simply divine. Other highlights included Hemp's mustard and lobster and the most delicate, tasty pigeon I have ever consumed. Thankfully we had room at the end for the delicious desserts including home made icecreams and petit fours in the shape of nuts, bolts and keys.

Wine was a reasonable price and service was friendly and helpful. Juan Mari came around to the tables a number of times and we were farewelled by the ever smiling Elena.

In summary, it was an amazing experience and thankfully didn't disappoint. Not a cheap experience but one I highly recommend for all food lovers.

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Thank bpbm
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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