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