Akelarre is hidden up a hillside on Monte Igueldo, a beguiling place where people come to gawp and swoon. It doesn’t take long to get there from the centre of San Sebastián, about 20 minutes by taxi. When our driver dropped us off, he revealed that the name ‘Akelarre’ is Basque for a place where witches congregate? I’m not sure why the restaurant is named after where witches huddle, but feel free to share if you do. What is immediately striking about the venue is the view of the lush green landscape – the Bay of Biscay is right before you as you look on from colossal decking areas. The views left me wobbly knee’d, but I wasn’t sure if it was the beauty or my vertigo. Perhaps both. The same scenery can also be seen from the airy dining area. The architecture is one of the treasures here, with great use of space, and the art along with labour intensive perfection you will see in the interior design. There is wow everywhere. Pedro Subijana is the long-standing chef of Akelarre, he’s been in charge since 1975 and is classed as one of the trail blazers of modern Basque cuisine. Akelarre received its first Michelin star in 1978, the second in 1982 and the 3rd in 2007. We came from London to eat here, but I’m certain there are patrons that have come from further afield.
First up from the amuse bouche’s was the re-imagined Bloody Mary served on a crisp white plate with a concave centre. What we got was a foamed topped melange of vegetables with a sigh of Bloody Mary flavour.
Pickles with faux olives were interesting little bites of olive gel, one filled with strident anchovy cream and the other with ham. The former was so salty and intensely pungent, it could have seasoned a whole leg of lamb! I couldn’t wait for the taste to leave my mouth sharpish and found myself glugging water.
Pasta carpaccio, piquillo with Iberic and parmesan shrooms. This dish of homemade pasta that almost looks like a piece of jerky was infused with Iberic and was created with the ethos of it tasting like cold meat. I’m not sure if I agree, but it was certainly clever and it tasted great.
The came the beautifully constructed souffléd kokotxa with white garlic pil pil (Basque sauce of olive oil, garlic and chilli) with a crown of codium seaweed. The crisp white cracker that sandwiched the kokotxa was as light as air and tasted intensely of the sea. The kokotxa was the sought after morsel that nicked the show, a piece of fish under the jaw of the cod – the chicken oyster of the fish world.
Foie sautéed with “salt flakes and grain pepper” is the chef’s secret weapon. I’m not a foie fan at best but this dish, but I found myself fingering the last bits of sauce and sucked it off my finger tips. The little shards of salt are actually a sugar/salt combo and the pepper is actually crunchy puffed rice, together they provide textural fun that tricks the mind – but also make the foie taste compelling.
Then came the whole-grain red mullet with sauce “fusilli”, conceptually I loved this dish being a huge advocate of using the whole beast and here they do it to a tee. The fillet is cooked expertly and comes with a “head and bones praliné” which is a cook of the fish’s liver and onion that is smartly quenelle’d on the plate. The cork-screw fusilli are stuffed with parsley, soy and “ajo blanco” sauce, sadly they were too small to really make a lasting impression, but you can’t help to marvel at the technique involved. The dish is so called “whole-grain” as the whole fish is used, bones and all.
Being a swine lover, the roast sucking pig, “bone” with Iberic emulsion I had high hopes for. I didn’t exceed expectation though, as although the dish had some highlights, like the edible sugary bone (I thought it was only decorative at first), and the stunning emulsion etc, the pig was a bit of an anti climax as the skin was lacking in essential crispiness.
The broken jar of yogurt, “Gatzatua” and berries is another way for the chef to play mind tricks as everything can be consumed, including the the broken jar which is made of sugar, edible ink and paper.
“A Different Apple Tart” is a glorious piece of work in insanely crispy puff pastry, toasted apple cream, praline and house made edible apple paper. It’s a pudding that makes me drool and swoon every time I think about it.
Whisky and petit fours of deftly done macaroon, nougat, biscuit and pralines.
When did I go? September 2017
The damage: €285 per head (£250ish).
The good: There were some glimpses of Jedi level cookery to be had that hold a special place at the bottom of my belly, like the standout foie and puddings as prime examples. Then there are the attention garnering surroundings and galvanising service from our maitre’d that’s worth a mention. Oh and without sounding like a big headed over privileged git, I can now proudly say that I’ve eaten in all of the 3 Michelin starred restaurants in San Sebastian.
The bad: With the colossal heritage of the restaurant and colossal price point, it does warrant colossal expectation doesn’t it. Sadly though the food was too understated to permanently tattoo itself in my memory banks and doesn’t land in the “I’ll be back list”. I do understand that with the chef’s 40+ year pedigree there will always be a place for this kind of institution in San Sebastian.
Would I go again? The box has been ticked.
Address: Padre Orkolaga Ibilbidea, 56, 20008 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain