Most foodies will have heard of Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. Owned by the Arzak family and a restaurant for more than 100 years, it has held it’s 3 Michelin stars since 1989. The kitchen is now run by father Juan-Mari and daughter Elena Arzak and is at the forefront of gastronomy the world over. It is my dream to visit San Sebastian where there are more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world, but in the mean time I will have to settle for a visit to Ametsa with Arzak Instruction – a London based off-shoot of the San Sebastian original. The simplest way to describe it is that Arzak consults on everything from the décor to staff training and most importantly the menu, but check out Arzak Instruction for a more detailed explanation.
So with that pedigree in mind, it is fair to say that Ametsa with Arzak Instruction is something quite special and being something special usually comes with a fairly hefty price tag! Not so if you use ‘Bookatable Star Deals’. The Better Half (TBH) and I managed to get a deal for £38 per person for a set menu including a glass of cava, which is just incredible value for the experience we had. Located in the Halkin Hotel in Knightsbridge, when you walk into the restaurant you’re immediately hit with the subtle smell of spices from the thousands of test tubes hanging from the ceiling; a nod to their dedicated spice room in Spain that holds over 1400 different spices! It is formal dining, yet feels relaxed and even though we had booked using an online deal, we were made to feel like truly valued guests.
We started with a gazpacho amuse bouche of tomato and strawberry. It was well balanced and only the slightest back note of strawberry, it was a refreshing and enjoyable start. Next we had a selection of tapas. Vieiras en casa – scallops at home: were perfectly cooked, giving them a nice bite. The fish skin adorning the scallop was crisp and added a lovely fishy flavour to the dish. Jamón Iberico sobre almohada de pan – Iberian Ham on a bread pillow: was deliciously nutty and the bread pillow was as light as a feather. Our last tapa was chipirones en abstracto – squid abstract. I loved the garlic crisps that gave the dish another texture and the squid was really well cooked so that it wasn’t chewy.
There were two choices for the main course – Merluza con…Apio? Hake with celery illusion or the Carrilleras con piquillos en llamas – ox cheek with piquillo flames. As TBH isn’t much of a fish lover, I went for the hake, even though I absolutely abhor celery! (How’s that for taking one for the team?) The waiter said that it’s just a celery illusion so to trust him and I did. In my experience, in a restaurant of this calibre, a dish is never what it seems on a menu. It arrived and there was a huge stick of celery on the plate and I thought “oh great, maybe the illusion is that it’s not an illusion after all”. I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in anyway and I am so glad I did. The minute I cut into the celery stick, I knew it wasn’t celery! Calling our waiter over, I had to know what it was, but he was coy and asked what I thought it was. Potato or apple perhaps and I was right on both counts. It was a mixture of potato, flour and apple – much to my relief. The likeness to celery was uncanny though and the only thing on the plate that tasted of the dreaded celery was the deep fried leaves acting as garnish. Swiftly removed, I got on with enjoying the rest of the dish. The fish was succulent and juicy and I loved the slightly tart apple element to the dish. The illusion was magnificent and I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours it took to perfect that.
TBH’s main was equally as enjoyable. He was in awe at how tender the ox cheek was and commented that he could’ve probably eaten the dish without a knife. The sweet piquillo peppers cut through the richness of the meat and the jus added just the right amount of seasoning. A really well balanced and delicious dish for The Better Half.
We shared desserts which was Torrija de mango y coco – French toast with mango and coconut and Leche “tostada” con helado de piña asada which was clove custard, toasted milk and pineapple ice cream. Both of them were outstanding and not overly sweet for me, which I loved. As with all the plating of the previous courses, the food was beautifully presented and they all looked too good to eat….almost!
Service was really charming and relaxed but professional. We had great rapport with our waiter Manuel and I loved hearing about the history of Arzak and the future plans of Ametsa from restaurant manager José Godoy. In fact, the interactions we had with the whole team was excellent. José and his team are a real asset to the group.
Our total bill came to £102.40 which we felt was an absolute bargain when you consider the location, gorgeous food and wonderful service we received. The star deal with Bookatable is excellent value for money and there are loads of different options on there. It’s a great way to experience a variety of restaurants without blowing a massive hole in your wallet.
Until we eat again!
On this occasion, we dined as guests of Bookatable.