Sunday, 29 November 2015

Martín Berasategui’s “Eme Be” – Garrotte, San Sebastián / Donostia

When planning my trip to San Sebastián / Donostia I was advised by Guardian writer Tony Naylor to leave my trusty Michelin guide at home and instead eat my way around the pintxos bars (see here) – for the most part I took his advice, which proved to be sound.

That said, I couldn’t resit the lure of some if the region’s many multi Michelin starred establishments and booked meals at Azurmendi and Mugaritz – budget would not allow meals at Arzak, Akelare, Etxebarri or Martín Berasategui, which also featured highly on my shortlist.

Then I came across Eme Be – the “new” (its been open over a year) restaurant from Martín Berasategui, on the outskirts of San Sebastián / Donostia. I liked the fact that it’s housed in a former sidrería (cider factory) and that the menu, promising refined versions of some of the region’s traditional dishes, seemed affordable. On our visit, Mr. Berasategui was himself dining in the restaurant.

In the large dining room, huge cider barrels hinting at the buildings previous use were the most striking feature. Upturned apple baskets had been made into stools in the reception area and used as lampshades. Light fittings also made use of giant barrel hoops. Overall, the refined rusticity gave the place an essence of a good “gastropub” in the UK.

One of the main reasons I was there was to sample the Basque country’s famous “txuleta” steaks. My understanding is that there are two types of steak commonly referred to as “txuleta”.

The first, the Rolls Royce, comes from the Rubia Gallega (Galician Blonde) breed of cattle, which is native to Galicia. These cows are bred purely for their beef and often live well into their teens. As always with premium beef, such as Wagyu, grading is based on the type of fat, colour and marbling.

The second, originating in the Basque country, comes from retired dairy cows, such as Holstein Friesians. This is also known as “Basque Cider House Steak” as dairy framers and cider producers would commonly offer their respective produce in exchange.

Eme Be serve a ‘tasting menu’ but we opted to create our own by mostly selecting ‘media ración’ sized portions (half servings), with a full sized (ración, 500g) of the txuleta.

Following some chilli infused olives, croquetas de Jamón and crusty bread, an amuse bouche consisting of mini pickled vegetables set into an anchovy cream came served in anchovy tins. A great idea that I’m nicking for my next dinner party.

Ensalada Txangurro (1/2 ración) – a light flavourful herby salad of shredded spider crab meat, served in a hollowed tomato, topped with a “mollusks air”.  

Ostra (1/2 ración) – oysters lightly pickled with cucumber crushed ice and “sea pearls”.  

Kokotxas al pil pil (1/2 ración) – bacalao (salt cod) is a popular dish all over Spain but this is especially so in San Sebastián / Donostia. Making use of the gelatinous ‘chin’ from the codfish, kokotxas pil pil is one of the area’s most iconic dishes. Flavoured with garlic and a hint of chilli, the emulsified sauce is made with olive oil and the natural gelatine of the kokotxas.

Arroz Meloso (1/2 ración) – this dish of honeyed rice with spider crab was not entirely unpleasant but neither was it really to my taste. I found the honey a little overpowering.

Txuleta – cooked over flames “a la brasa” and served with a silky smooth chuleta chop with potato purée.  Whereas my wife likes the texture of a fillet, I don’t mind having to chew a little or wrestle with some gristle as long as the beef has flavour and boy, did this old girl have some flavour!

Callos (1/2 ración) – I’m a huge fan of callos and tripe dishes in general but I’ve only ever had it in typical local restaurants. This refined version had real depth of flavour; I wish I’d ordered the full ración.

Soufflé de Chocolate – my choice for dessert was a chocolate soufflé, served with vanilla ice cream and cocoa pearls. It had a good chocolaty flavour but, in a picky mood, I’d grumble that I wanted more rise.

Tarta Mascarpone tembloroso – my wife’s choice of dessert was what translated as “trembling cheesecake”, I’m not too sure why but she seemed to enjoy it.  

To drink we naturally ordered some of the local Sidra.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Mugaritz, San Sebastián #2MichelinStars

Like any restaurant with 2 Michelin stars and a ranking in The World’s 50 Best (No.6), Mugaritz was always “on my radar”. Then I met and shared a meal with Per-Anders and Lotta Jorgensen. Together they founded FOOL “the best food magazine in the world” (my quote).

As well as editing FOOL, Per-Anders is probablythe best (food) photographer in the world” (his quote), and it’s his photography in Chef Andoni Luis Aduriz’s cookbook that helped Mugaritz move to the top of my list.

Many times I’ve said how ‘expectation’ can play a role in my enjoyment of a restaurant – too high may result in a let down; conversely, low expectation can lead to being pleasantly surprised. I’ve read many mixed reports of Mugaritz but somehow I just knew I’d “get it”.

Mugaritz seems to have a reputation as a love it or hate it kind of place. When eating a tasting menu with an excess of twenty dishes, it's reasonable to assume that there may be one of two that will not "hit the spot" but I loved every mouthful. 

Lacquered duck neck with herbs from the garden (Cuello de pato locado con su jugo, hierbas de la huerta) – I loved this one, for something so light it had deeply rich and sticky umami flavours which were contrasted by the freshness of sprout, nasturtium and radish leaves from the Mugaritz garden.  

Blue bread and anchovy (Pan azul y anchoa) – made to resemble a blue cheese, this dish was essentially a mouldy anchovy sandwich. As delicious as it was, I wouldn’t recommend trying to recreate this dish at home with a tin of anchovies and some rotten Warburton’s.  

Walnut omelette (Tortilla de nueces) – more intense, woody flavours came on the form of a light walnut omelette with indulgent oozing centre.  

Caesar’s Mushroom with sesame (Amanita Caesarea) – Amanita mushrooms are the kind that the Smurfs live in; this one came halved with a crust of pine nuts and red pepper powder. A citrusy cream added an acidity which balanced the earthiness.

Tiger nuts with caviar (Chufa con caviar) – I’ve not come across tiger nuts before, however a little research tells me that they are in fact not a nut at all but a tuber. They are most commonly used to make Horchata. In this instance they had been used to make a wafer like tile, topped with caviar.        

Stewed and aromatic lamb’s tongue (Lengua de cordero guisada y perfumada) – another corker of a dish for me (I got to eat my wife’s too as she’s squeamish about tongues, from animals). More rich, umami flavours comong from another glossy glaze; this time lifted with a little mint.

Vegetal bestary (Bestiario vegetal) – served alongside a garlic and almond crumb, this dish consisted of shrivelled aubergine skin with smoky and peppery flavours.  

Vegetable tiles: A handful of Highland grass (Teselas vegetales: Un manojo de semillas y brotes de teff) – resembling a Furby, this was one of the most delightful things I’ve ever been served. A creamy hazelnut centre lay within the tufty outer, made from a species of African ‘lovegrass’ called teff.

At this point in the meal, I accepted the invitation into the kitchen but only because one of the dishes was to be served there. My wife declined the offer so they served her portion of fermented rice at the table.

…decadentia… another extraordinary dish. A smoked eel mousse came festooned with petals from hibiscus, mallow, dahlia and basil flowers – the brilliance being you could actually eat the fork! It’s certainly one way of cutting down on the washing up.

Chestnut, truffle and garlic (Castañas, trufas y ajos) – after the previous dishes, the next dish disappointed in its creativity, fortunately what it lacked in this area, it more than made up for in flavour! Along with the crispy garlic and and ultra thing shavings of truffle, the appearance of fermented acacia leaves particularly pleased.

A thousand leaves… (Mil hojas) – served with a cube of the region’s famous Idiazábal cheese, the “thousand leaves’ referred to the layers and layers of chard leaves cooked in a beef stock and glazed in a lustrous beef reduction.

Oily fish, beetroot and horseradish (Pescado azul, remolacha y rábano) – a truly vibrant dish in terms of both colour and flavours, a tranche of oily fish came blanketed buy a shocking pink fermented beetroot emulsion, pepped p by a shaving of fresh horseradish.  

Pigs tails and squid (Rabitos y chipirón) – pork and squid are always happy bedfellows. Whilst we’ve all heard of nose to tail eating, tentacle to tail is probably a new concept to most. Here generous portions of tender squid meat came enrobed in a sweet, salty porcine sauce with bitter notes from the accompanying herbs. Crispy Iberian tail scratchings added more salty goodness and crunch.

Garlic glazed in lamb juices (Ali glacé) – served with slice of toast and some fresh chickweed leaves, roasted garlic bulb steeped in a sticky lamb jus reduction was a true delight! Umami flavours, toast and garlic… an absolute stunner!

Grilled fish and beef essence (Prescado a la parrilla y esencia de chuleta) – a beautiful piece of grilled fish with a sauce made with beef fats. It worked for me.  

Sea anemones and vegetable touch (Ortiguillas y acentos vegetales) – a speciality of Cádiz, I’ve had breaded sea anemones before but this one had been elevated to another level.  

Veal, radishes and vine shoot (Ternera, rabanitos y sarmientos) – a Mugaritz classic, I’m so glad the milk fed veal was served as part of this menu. The meat was so juicy and sweetly flavoured, which contrasted perfectly with the bitterness from the charred vine shoots and sharpness of radish.

The cheese (El queso) – served in a folded piece of muslin, I loved the simplicity of the cheese course. A sheep’s cheese similar to an Idiazábal, the pieces came from cheeses matured for 3 months, 6 months and 12 months respectively. This allowed for their individual nuances to be appreciated; such a simple, yet great idea.

Whiskey pie (Tarta al “güisqui”) – texturally light with subtle caramel and malty flavours.  

Grape & brioche (Uva y brioche) – another light desert with simple harmonious flavours.

Peanut shortbread (Polvorón de cacahuete)

Jasmine & hay (Ovillo de jazmín y heno) – I love Japanese mochi sweets so this was a pleasant surprise. The jasmine flavour was distinct with a considered use of hay.

The seven deadly sins of Mugaritz (Los siete pecados capitales de Mugaritz) – having to guess which of the petits fours represented each of the seven deadly sins was a fun (and tasty) end to a faultless meal.

We’ve booked to return to San Sebastián / Donostia in May and Mugaritz will be on the itinerary again!

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