This time the dishes were very different. The trademark egg course remained, but the style of the cuisine seemed to have moved on. A touch of Danish/Noma influence perhaps? Overall I'm not sure if it's a case of gastronomic nostalgia always winning out, but we felt our first visit had greater momentous impact.
We sat at the Chef's Table this time, under rainbow shards of coloured glass and facing the brightly lit main pass. Elena and her father Juan Mari Arzak both came to say 'hello' but were otherwise rarely seen, leaving explanations of each course in the hands of a waitress whose heavily accented English was often difficult to understand.
The language barrier weighed heavily on my appreciation of dinner, as it was often impossible to understand exactly what we were eating nor to appreciate the flavours and technical skills woven into each dish. While some dishes stood alone in being delicious, others were lost on us.
On my first visit to Arzak the dishes seemed complicated at first, with foams and pastes and other forms of kitchen wizardry very much in evidence. But in fact simplicity won out as the tastes and compositions were classic, easy to understand and often locally inspired. We could relate to what was on our plates. This key aspect of our dining experience was sadly missing this time.
Dinner was still enjoyable, certainly, but disappointingly not the tongue tingling sensation I remembered from my first experience. Perhaps three time's a charm?
|Beans, bacon and chestnut. I tasted black beans and the thin crisp of iberico fat floating on top. Chestnuts added a subtle sweetness.|
|Anchovy and strawberry. Served on a slick of fruity balsamic flavoured something. Fragrant, salty sweet and delicious.|
|Red codfish. On a spiral of crisp pastry, with onion seeds I think? Some kind of emulsified sauce. Salty fish really. With crispy bits.|
|Kabrarroka pudding with kataifi. Local fish mousse wrapped in fine kataifi hairs and deep fried.|
|Chorizo with tonic. A purée of chorizo wrapped in a thin slice of mango and bathed in tonic water. Rather recycled presentation, but a lovely little mouthful.|
|Oysters with a sea crust. The alternative to lobster. These were browned on one side giving them a half cooked texture and served with paprika fronds. The whole effect was rather too salty.|
|Monkfish green witch. Or monkfish served in a green balloon.|
|Following removal of the rice cracker balloon. The monkfish was beautifully cooked - soft and juicy, meaty without any rubbery bounce. Served with cloves of confit garlic and a parsley seaweed sauce.|
|Alternatively, there was white sole served white seaweed and a green sea vegetable sauce. The firm and flavourful sole fillets became the highlight of dinner for those who had it.|
|Served alongside the Kobe beef, a dish of sweet leek cake and deep fried leaves. Again, nice but not really much of note.|
|The alternative to the ladybird dish - Black apple. Sautéed apple finished with an aspect of truffle and apricot. Served alongside a basil sorbet with sweet seeds.|
|Chocolate ironmongery petit fours.|