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Akelarre

paseo del Padre Orcolaga 56, San Sebastian, Spain

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Chef/patron Pedro Subijana initially planned to study medicine, but switched to a course in hospitality in Madrid. He worked for a time at some simple restaurants in the Basque region, then moved back to Madrid to cook at a French restaurant called Zalacain. He then worked briefly in 1974 at Estella in Navarra before becoming chef de cuisine at Akelarre in 1975.

Akelaŕe (meaning coven, as in witchcraft, also spelt Akelarre) gained its third Michelin star in 2006. It has its own vegetable garden to provide herbs and other produce to the restaurant. There were three tasting menus, priced at €155 per person. Akelarre has a spectacular view over the sea, so is perhaps best enjoyed at lunch in order to appreciate the lovely setting. When booking, try and reserve a window seat if you can, as the seats at the back of the dining room have no view.

The wine list has over 600 different choices. It had selections such as Torres Mas la Plana 2006 at €63 for a wine that can be found in a UK wine shop for the equivalent of around €43, but Alion 2007 at €65 was a bargain given that its UK retail price is at least that much, and Vega Sicilia Unico 2002 at €250 was a touch less than you could buy this wine retail in the UK.

A tray of nibbles began the meal: oyster leaf, mussel with a chocolate shell, sponge with sea urchin cream, pebbles of shallot and corn, goose barnacle tempura and prawn "sand", involving some tiny prawns. These were pleasant but not exceptional nibbles, the best being the sponge with sea urchin cream inside, which had interesting texture. Around 16/20 for these.

I much preferred the first dish of the menu, prawns cooked at the table in an iron pot, flambéed in a red wine spirit, then served with French bean puree. This was a simple enough dish, for all the theatre, but what was impressive was the sheer quality of the prawns, which had superb, sweet flavour (19/20). I also really enjoyed the next dish, pasta made with red pepper, on which was served a variety of wild mushrooms and slivers of Parmesan. The pasta had excellent texture, the red pepper flavour worked surprisingly well, and the mushrooms were superb (18/20).

This was followed by sautéed foie gras with "salt and pepper", which was really flakes of puffed rice and sugar. The texture of the puffed rice worked well against the silky foie gras, but the key to the dish was the really top class foie gras (19/20). My wife had white asparagus, with asparagus cream, mushrooms and peas, which was pleasant and pretty not particularly memorable (16/20). Turbot was served with a false turbot "cheek" of slow cooked turbot intended to hint at the local specialty hake cheek, but the turbot itself was merely good rather than anything more than that, and with such a simple dish it is hard to get excited about this. By comparison, I preferred the turbot at Elkano up the coast. Perhaps 16/20.

Grouper with asparagus was carefully cooked and had plenty of flavour (17/20), which was more than could be said for red mullet, which had a grainy texture and very little flavour. Red mullet can be a marvellous fish, but this was simply not a good example of it. It was served with its liver, which was excellent, and fusilli pasta shapes made from parsley, soy and garlic. The trouble is that the mullet itself was just not very good (15/20 at best). 

Suckling pig was better, served with tomato "bolao" (ball) and tomato jelly. This was very good, the crackling excellent, and there was some lovely confit garlic as a garnish (17/20). Crystallized cod was served with cod tripe, edible shavings made from pasta and  a white tomato. This was surprisingly salty but quite nice (16/20).

For dessert, a ball of egg yolk and sugar was served with a coconut foam ice cream that had a remarkably light texture and plenty of coconut flavour (18/20). Also good was an apple tart wrapped in edible paper made from chocolate and apple. The puff pastry was very good and the edible paper was fine, but for me there was not quite enough apple, so the overall effect was a little dry, despite the blob of cider jelly. Still, a clever and enjoyable dish (18/20).  

With a bottle of Alion between us, the bill came to €218 (£186) a head. Service was generally very good although not quite as slick as one might expect e.g. at one point we were asked who was having which dish, but topping up was well handled. This was a better meal than my previous experience here, and the best dishes were very good indeed, but it was a little erratic in standard given the high price point.   

Further reviews: 01st Sep 2002

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  • Paul Riis

    Excellent meal with perfectly paired wines. No one cares about food blogs. Michelin forever.

  • Bacononthebeech

    We had much the same meal as Andy in May 2013, and pretty much agree with everything he says. It was a good meal for us, but paled in comparison to Azurmendi the evening before. My review of Akelaŕe here: http://www.bacononthebeech.com/2013/05/akelare-san-sebastian.html

  • Name unavailable

    Sadly the reviews here seem a bit hit and miss, as I had lunch at Akelare a couple of years ago and still rate it as the best meal I ever had. As with any tasting menu a few of the dishes weren't my sort of thing (the veal tendon and razor clam for one), but some dishes were spectacular, the sommelier prepared two superb and innovative tasting flights (ice cider with foie gras for example) and the overall experience was mindblowing. We had a far better than the next evening at Arzak, though that was still a great meal. Sad if it's not kept up the standard.

  • Ian Westcott

    Was there 10 days ago and like the latest reviewer found it a very great disappointment. We had two differnet menu degustations between us , so some 16 different dishes. Even with this many chances they only managed to pull off one dish meriting 3 stars and the vast majority of them not rating a single star. Our waiter ansd sommelier were excellent. Chef only visited Spanish speaking tables. Mr Azark goes around with a staff member to translate. Agree the "toileteries" was absolutely useless from a food point of view. Set the tone for the meal. Based on our experience this should get one star at the very best. Mugaritz was far superior and it only rates two Michelin stars.

  • Ben Collins

    I'm afraid my visit to Akelare last month was a disappointment. In contrast to the previous post, both I and my partner thought it was by far the worst 3 star we had visited. We both love experimental cooking, but this was all show but no substance. For example, the amuse bouche came in the form of mock toiletries (liquid soap, moisturiser etc). Great theatre, but the taste was utterly insipid. The meal carried on in exactly that vein. The location and staff are fantastic. I wish they would serve steak and chips and tarte tatin.

  • WXJ

    I usually love reading Andy's reviews but this one of Akelare surprised me. It was the most enjoyable 3* (or any other) meal that my partner and I have ever eaten. We felt it got the balance exactly right between experimentation and classical flavour, as well as between fun and pure enjoyment in the mouth.

  • Jacob

    As my first time on a 3-star restaurant, Akelare turned out to be a bit of a disappointment - and not the divine experience, that you should expect.

  • Oliver Thring

    I visited Akelare and Arzak in July 2008. Full reviews available on my restaurant review blog at http://oliverthring.blogspot.com/2008/07/arzak.html and http://oliverthring.blogspot.com/2008/07/akelare-san-sebastin-spain.html

  • Ryan Griffin

    I've been to Akelare 6 times since 2003 and feel that Pedro Subijana fully merits his three star rating. Food and service have been consistently exceptional, and while other restaurants in the area such as Arzak, Zuberoa and Mugaritz are excellent, none can compete with the overall experience of dining at Akelare, particularly at lunchtime.

  • Alex Chambers

    3 Stars? Dear God. Quite how they feel this is in the same league as Arzak is beyond me.

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