• The most amazing food experience I have ever had: Vegetarian Degustation at Akelaŕe (San Sebastián, Spain)

I apologise that this post is about a meal I ate a while ago – before I even started blogging in fact – but as a blogger, friends often ask me “what is the best meal you have ever had?”  Until last year, I would have pondered over the question and after many ‘ums’ and ‘arrs’ I still wouldn’t have had an answer.  This changed when I went to visit my dad who was on exchange in northern Spain.  This viaje included the most amazing food experiences.  This is only one meal of many I enjoyed, so if you happen to be travelling around the area, let me know and I can recommend lots of other places too.  And, yes... I always took food and wine notes even before I started blogging.

It is lucky that my dad and I both like food and wine – or maybe it is because of him that I do.  We had enjoyed an outstanding meal at Extanobe in Bilbao, and within the same week found ourselves at another Michelin Star restaurant, Akelaŕe in San Sebastián.  Despite being willing to spend hundred on a meal, we were too frugal to catch a taxi.  The bus was late and with proper luck it began to rain.  So in a dishevelled fashion, we arrived at this beautiful restaurant drenched from head to toe with smiley faced.

Thankfully our first impression did not distract the professional staff, and we were seated by the window, overlooking blue water that we would just take for granted in Australia.

As each dish arrived, I was in awe of the artistry.  Whilst the photos below look impressive, they still don’t do this meal justice.

White wine to begin  - Castillo de Monjardin Reserva, Navarro, 2005 100% Chardonnay.
This wine smelt wooded and creamy and was extremely enjoyable.  The strong wood settled as it opened.  There was not really any acid but a slight lemony taste on tongue and more wood at the back.  I was told that they night harvested the grapes grown at a height of 650m.  The juice was fermented and matured for 6 months in new Allier oak.  This wine was delightful, and undoubtedly my style of Chardonnay.

Red wine with heartier dishes - D.O. Bierzo, Bodegas y viñedos gancedo, Xestral Mencía 2005.
This was a dark red wine with lots of sediment.  It had strong flavours with fruit and wood tannins and the taste of cherries.  It was a nice, strong wine that went well with the vegetable rice and bean stew.

Course 1
Not only did the immaculate presentation inspire me with this one, but the flavours were so original and delicious.  This was an egg pasta with almonds and almond milk.  The orange on top was capsicum caviar.  The little parcels were filled with a soft cheese and garlic.

Course 2
Asparagus with lettuce – ok so may be this doesn’t fully describe the completeness of this dish.  The asparagus was slightly salted and char-grilled perfectly for flavour.  It seemed that the stalks had been blanched first giving them the perfect crunch and freshness.

Course 3
This one had amazing textures presented like a playful lunchbox; a parmesan lollypop with rocket and a bon bon wrapped potato chip.  The parmesan had been hardened (just like a lollypop) .  To achieve this, apparently they fried and melted the parmesan then left it to cool. It was softly flavoured with paprika.  The chip was crumbly like an almond biscuit, dry with salt and a crispiness on the outside.

Course 4
This Italian salad looked like a work of art – which indeed it was.  A begonia was in the centre, there were also St George mushrooms, tomato and green bean paste.  It was topped with a herbed creamy dressing.  The vegetables were cooked but crispy.  The mushrooms were slightly char-grilled.  There was also ice plant which I was told is like a cactus that grows in sandy areas.  It tasted like star fruit with a bit of a tang and was in shaved strips like a pasta linguini.  Baby peas topped it off (so tiny they looked like pips).

Course 5
Mushrooms (cetas) con pasta de huevos.  This was a highlight for food science.  The egg white and the egg yolk had been made into separate pastas.  Wow!  I was so amazed by this dish that I had to ask my chef friends at home how it could be made.  I was later told that you can buy a machine for about $20, 000  that keeps water at a constant temperature.  The chef could then use a syringe to drop the egg into the water and it would cook perfectly in a tube.  The salsa was a mayonnaise and the whole various mushrooms tasted like they had been softly barbequed.  The texture was interesting with the yolk firmer than the white, and the white being slightly transparent whilst holding.

Course 6
This was a potato truffle with acelga (we think this was chard), mashed potato, fried with egg in the middle and a soupy sauce of acelga and slices of summer truffle.  The egg yolk oozed out as I broke the potato.  It was smooth but the potato was firm.  The edges of the truffles were black and crispy like a skin.  In the middle the texture was softer like a cooked carrot.

Course 7
I loved the look of this dish with the pretty green, white and yellow.  It was a warm baby pea risotto (i.e. peas instead of rice).  This was in a soup with a white asparagus coil, egg white and yolk separated, and pea juice as ice.  Before eating, we were told to mix it altogether.  The texture had fresh peas bursting in the mouth and the thickish soup/salsa.  The yolk pieces were fried and crispy, the whites were soft and I suspected they had been boiled.  The asparagus coil was sweet but salty.

Course 8
Getting onto heavier dishes, this was a hearty vegetable rice with baby peas, carrot, mixed mushrooms, char-grilled mini artichokes and beans (like broad beans but smaller green).  This was very hearty but less salty than the other dishes.

Course 9
Next was a red bean stew with sautéed cabbage and cured green chillies in vinegar.  The cabbage was done with garlic into a soft texture.  The red beans were really soft and sweet but slightly salty.

Course 10
Dessert started with a cake of egg yolk and soft sugar, fried with coconut like whipped ice-cream.  This disappeared very quickly.  The cake was presented like a gulab jamun, and had a slight coconut taste.  I was very tempted to lick the plate with this one.

Course 11
This dish was called “Another apple tart” but was another tour de force for food science.  The edible paper was made from green apple with the writing in chocolate.  It was amazing because it looked just like paper, but it really tasted like apple and chocolate.    A cider jelly decorated the moat.  The apple tart inside had perfected pastry (buttery and very crisp) and  pureed apple.  This dish was magnificent.

Course 12
The petit fours, were hidden by a pear like a drum skin, that tasted like a roll-up.  Inside were candied hazelnuts, dark chocolate filled with raspberries and  banana sugared clusters.

The meal was absolutely outstanding.  Not only were the flavours original, complimenting and well-thought-out, but each dish was an art in its own right.  The egg pasta, the apple and chocolate paper and the pear drum skin had me in wonderment.  Not only this, but I was not disadvantaged in any way by being vegetarian.  My dishes had as much gusto as any other.  With exceptional service, chats from the chef, knowledgeable and passionate staff and the perfect view, it is no wonder that this was the best food experience I had ever had.

Paseo Padre Orcolaga, 56
20008 San Sebastián
+34 943 311209