The new and the old of high-end Basque cuisine

Saturday, June 08th , 2013

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Akelarre is one of a trio of three Michelin star establishments in San Sebastian and the least molecular in style. I had only been once, many years ago, so it was interesting to try it and compare to my recent meals at Arzak and Martin Bersategui. This Akelarre meal was a little better than my previous experience and there were a couple of really lovely dishes. However there were one or two relative duds in the meal as well, which at this sort of price point is a problem, though the magnificent view over the bay compensates.

Just along the coast near Bilbao is the latest Spanish three star restaurant, Azurmendi (pictured), and one that I knew little about other than noting its meteoric rise in the Michelin rankings. It was quite a revelation to me, set in a striking ultra-modern hillside building. Most vegetable and herbs are grown on the extensive property, and the quality of these in the dishes was superb. The cooking itself, though it certainly used some modern techniques, was impressive because the cooking wizardry was there in support of top class ingredients, rather than seeming to be the focus of the meal, as can often be the case these days. As well as the superb vegetables in various forms, the squid would have passed muster in a top restaurant in Japan. The service was superb, and the price point very fair indeed. The meal here was priced lower than at, say, Gordon Ramsay, with the wines pretty much UK retail price as a bonus. This was the best meal I have eaten in Spain.

The Petersham had an off-day on my most recent visit, probably not helped by the absence of its head chef. The view from Richmond Hill is still one of the finest in London, and my main course was very good, as were desserts. However one of the starters and a simple grilled Dover sole main course were distinctly sub-par, which was disappointing. Given my previous good meals here I hope this was an unrepresentative experience. I have nudged the website score down a point as a result of this evening.

The Terrace on Holland Street was a nice surprise, cooking a meal definitely above what one might reasonably expect from a neighbourhood restaurant, yet at a moderate price point. The restaurant is in a quiet side street off the Kensington High Street, has a few tables outside on its terrace, as the name suggests, and as a bonus has a fairly modest corkage charge if you bring your own wine. I will happily return.

I am pleased to add two new chef interviews to the website: Dominque Crenn of Atelier Crenn and Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi.