As of 2012 there are five Michelin 3 star restaurants in Spain and three of them are in San Sebastian, Akelaŕe, Arzak and Martin Berasategui. Due to several reasons we chose to dine at Akelaŕe. We actually made a reservation there even before making hotel reservations and buying plane tickets like in my case. We wish we could have tried all three but we didn’t have enough time. This just means I have to go back!
Akelaŕe was a short cab ride from our hotel. We were lucky to get a Mercedes Benz van to ferry all of us in one trip.
My cousin Sidney and cousin-in-law Chee didn’t join us for dinner. They were nice enough to watch their sons so their wives will enjoy lunch. And enjoy we did.
Our table had this beautiful view.
We were given an appetizer to start our meal.
Sea Garden appetizer
Thankfully a very detailed description of our menu was placed on our table. It explained how to eat the food and what we were actually eating since nothing on this plate resembled food.
Everything you see below is edible from the prawn sand which had the texture of fine breadcrumbs but with the flavor of crushed prawn crackers. Next we had to taste the leaf and for it’s flavor and aroma. The piece of stone was actually a mussel! The sponge and the green pebbles were savory and crunchy. And last was the seaweed coral which was goose barnacles tasting tempura. We were all like kids giddy with amazement and joy exploring the flavors and textures of these ‘things’ that were food creations.
After this starter I recited this mantra in my mind – expect the unexpected.
Still high from the unusual starter we were served bread and a small container with a white tablet in it. We were all wondering what it was specially when our waiter poured liquid in the container and it grew. Watch this video. Was it space age butter?
Our space age butter turned out to be a disposable wet cloth!! We all burst out laughing at our provincial ignorance.
My ten year old niece was the only one who didn’t have a degustation menu but she did try all her mom’s dishes. She ordered a la carte.
Glazed Iberian Cheeks, Apple & Almond Cider €44
My cousin La chose the wines these are her comments.
The wines were chosen with the criteria of being off the beaten path, something that comes from uncommon wine regions that we cannot usually find on wine shelves so the sommelier directed me to Quinta Do Buble from the Monterrei region (in Spain near Portugal) and “An” from the island of Mallorca (where Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones own a vacation home).
2006 Anima Negra AN Vino de la Tierra, Baleares, Spain
Quinta Do Buble Godello
There were two tasting menus available, Bekarki and Aranori. After seeing the foie gras almost all of us chose the Bekarki menu blinded to all the other options.
Bekarki Menu (guide)
A good meal is one that tastes good and makes you happy. A great meal is one that challenges your senses and delights it in ways that you never expect.
Crab Essence, its Coral Blini and “Gurullos”
The first of nine courses was a piece of crab claw on top a coral blini served with gurullos or rice shaped pasta. I took a small piece of each and ate it together. So tasty and the crab so succulent.
The veal shank had a gelatinous texture that reminded me of beef tendon while the cauliflower looked and had the texture of white fungus popular in Chinese cuisine. It was an unusual and very flavorful pairing for the otherwise plain razor clam.
Razor Shell with Veal Shank
The much anticipated seared foie gras arrived plainly on a large plate. I was eager to dig in when our waiter started pouring a generous amount of peppercorn and sea salt. I was about to stop him since I wasn’t keen on eating whole peppercorns. Thank goodness I shut up and discovered what the salt and pepper really were. The peppercorns were actually crunchy puffed black rice and the salt was sugar flakes. It was really a tease to my brain to see something that doesn’t taste like the way it should. I loved the texture of crunchy rice with the rich buttery foie gras and sweet wine sauce.
Sautéed Fresh Foie Gras with “Salt Flakes and Grain Pepper”
The next two are fish courses. The first was fillet of turbot, the kokotxa or cheek and a crispy chip made from skin and bones. A turbot doesn’t have cheeks so a faux cheek was created by the chef for this dish.
Turbot with its “Kokotxa”
The cod was made to look like dried bacalao with salt but this fish was soft and not salty at all. The shavings were made of crispy pasta shreds and underneath was cod tripes in tomato water. At this point I was already beyond full.
“Desalted” Cod Box with shavings
For the meat course we had two choices, pork or beef. With all of us having been born and raised in the Philippines we naturally chose the cochinillo or roasted baby pig. But this was not your usual cochinillo. The pork was first cooked in Iberian broth and finished in the oven to get the crispy skin. I really liked their version with a more flavorful meat. It was also fun eating it with sweet tomato ball (bolao).
Roasted baby Pig with Tomato “Bolao” and Iberian emulsion
My nephew Kevin was the only one who opted for the beef. He gave me a piece to try and it was also good. He didn’t let me try the tail cake with foie gras though. Darn. The coppered potato and piquilo pepper crisps were yummy.
Carved Beef, Tail Cake “Potatoes and Peppers”
Our first dessert was an interpretation on the wine and cheese making. We were told to eat it from left to right starting with the grapevine made with curded sheep milk and walnut. Next was powdered fresh cream with chive and grapes. It was followed by Quark cheese with nutmeg, Idiazabal cheese with quince jelly and a strip of wine dust. Last two were brandy sirop with Gorgonzola cheese ice cream and a torts of Casar’s grape with soaked raisins in Pedro Ximenez.
This was one of the most exciting dishes to my palate. The flavors evolved from mild to bold. I admire the chef’s creativity.
Milk and Grape, Cheese and Wine in parallel evolution
Our three and half hour meal ended with a pleasant strawberry and cream dessert.
Layered Strawberry and Cream
Sharon was the only one who had the Aranori menu. It looked pretty good too with some dishes that looked better than the ones in my menu. In hindsight Rochelle and I should have ordered a menu each so we could try everything.
The first course had a really dramatic table side cooking presentation. I couldn’t comment on what the dishes tasted like since I couldn’t reach Sharon’s plate to steal a taste or two.
Prawns and French Beans cooked in “Orujo” Fire
Pasta, Piquillo and Iberico Carpaccio, Mushrooms and Parmesan
Hake in Monkfish “Habit” and Mussel’s Beans
Whole-Grain Red Mullet with Sauce “Fusili”
Xaxu and foaming Coconut Ice Cream
After the last course was served Chef Subijana came out and patiently posed with all the diners. Naturally our table took the most pictures. I just adore his red eyeglass frames.
Chef Pedro Subijana and me
The nine course tasting menu cost €145 plus 8% IVA (about $200) and was well worth it. My cousins who are based in the USA said eating at Michelin starred restaurants in the US would cost more or not have as much courses. This meal was definitely the food highlight of my European trip.
Padre Orcolaga, 56 – 20008 San Sebastián (Gipuzkoa)
telephone: +34 943 311209
Sittings and closing dates:
13:00-15:30 and 20:30-23:00.
From January to June, we are closed on Sunday evenings, all day Monday and Tuesday.
From July to December, we are closed on Sunday evenings and all day Monday. (We do not close on these days if they are public holidays or the eve of a public holiday. On these occasions we close on the days following the holiday).
We are closed for annual holidays in the month of February and the first fortnight in October.
6 thoughts on “San Sebastian: 3 Star Lunch at Akelaŕe”
It was definitely a fun 4 hrs! A great opportunity to bond with our travel mates and experience San Sebastian gastronomy. Of all my fine dining experiences, I have never encountered a more thought out menu. The food was #1) yummy, #2) pretty #3) thought provoking and #4) a fun conversation piece. One thing I also appreciated was that fine dining in Akelarre did not come with the snotty and sometimes condescending wait staff that you usually encounter in a lot of fine dining establishments…everyone from the reservationist to the sommelier. To top it off, Chef Subijana very graciously visited our table and patiently posed for pictures! At more than twice the price at the French Laundry, I guarantee you that Thomas Keller would not come out to greet you 🙂
Oh, and I love the towel video. So glad you took that video. That was such a funny moment. The waiter kept saying “towel, towel”, which sounded like “tower, tower”. We thought it was some exotic food item. Towel pala talaga – har, har, har…
I didn’t even hear the waiter say that. I was too mesmerized. 😀
WOW!!!! Everything looked good!!! What was the pink liquid that came with the appetizer?
Cant belive this restaurant is still alive and still serving good food the last and only time i was here was 13 years ago!!! 🙂 was too young to pay attention to what I was eating but i sure remembered that it tasted pretty darn GOOD!!
This is a dream! Frankly, I expected it would cost way more than $200! Thanks for sharing this adventure!