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Friday 29 August 2014

Michelin Accomplished - Martin Berasategui Revisited

Where:  Loidi Kalea, 4 - 20160 Lasarte-Oria (Gipuzkoa). San Sebastian, Spain, http://www.martinberasategui.com

Cost: The 12-course Grand Tasting Menu was priced at €195 per person (not including wines).

About: Martin Berasategui is the chef at his eponymous restaurant which opened in 1993, and has held three Michelin stars since 2001. Martin Berasategui was reviewed for this site in 2012 by one of our contributors (see review here), and having read it, I could not wait to pay it a visit in person.

Berasategui has nearly 40 years experience in the industry, having trained at cookery school in France in 1977, he worked over the next four years in several prestigious kitchens, including those of Michel Guerard and Alain Ducasse in Monaco. In 1981 he took charge of his family restaurant, el Bodegon Alejandro, earning its first Michelin star in 1986.

Paying my respects to the man himself - Martin Berasategui at the end of service

The restaurant occupies a large building in a quiet suburb 20 minutes drive from the Old Town of San Sebastian. Surrounded by lush green grass and shrubs, the dining room is situated on the raised ground floor. It has an elegant and sober decor, with a tiled stone floor and widely spaced tables, each covered with a starched white linen tablecloth.

Views of Martin Berasategui's restaurant grounds
On each table was a large bowl of tall white orchids, and there was no music to distract from anything else but the food.  Service was discreet and very efficient, all the waiters dressed in black suits and speaking perfect English.  It was truly impressive that our waiter (Wander, from the Dominican Republic) noticed that I am left-handed and without prompting, reorganised my cutlery and glasses throughout the duration of the meal.

What We Ate and Drank: We opted for the 12 course Grand Tasting Menu, comprising 10 savoury items and 2 desserts. Each dish is described on the menu with the date of its first creation, giving an idea of the evolution of Berasategui's culinary style and inspirations from 1993 to the present day.

We also decided to have the 100% Spanish matched wine flight.  This started with a classic Cava - Subirats Parnet Brut Nature – crisp, with refreshing acidity, this was a really good palate refresher, and an ideal start to our lunch.

The tasting menu during our visit started with "1995 Mille-Feuille of Smoked Eel, Foie-Gras, Spring Onions and Green Apple". This was exquisite, with very fine layers including crisp caramel and microns-thick slices of bright, crisp and vibrantly green apples to contrast with the unctuous foie-gras and eel.

Next was "2001 Squid Soup" - creamy squid ink ravioli served with squid crouton.  The raviolo must be eaten whole, because it "explodes" in the mouth! This was an intensely rich and clear lobster consommé, with a ravioli filled with squid ink, and a crispy wafer of rice and squid ink that brought another layer of texture to the dish.

To follow, we had "2011 Oyster with Cucumber, Kafir and Coconut". This had the addition of chlorophyll extract for a vivid green colour. Two plump poached oysters were perched on a cucmber and oyster jelly, with a flavoursome coconut cream infused with kafir lime leaf, and a judicious scattering of shiso leaf. Magnificent.

With the oyster, we had Picarana 2011, made near Madrid from the rare Albillo grape. This grape is only used in the Madrid D.O., and this example came from 60 year old vines. It had intense stone-fruit flavours, richness and minerality, and great length.

With the following two starters, we had the Trio Infernal 2011 – a delicious blend of Garnacha Blanca and Macabeu from Priorat.

The "2013 Sautéed Black Garlic with Beet Ceviche, Ice Radish and Raifort Cream" had mounds of purple beetroot foam, set over a puree of black garlic, with horseradish cream. This was visually stunning, and delicious with earthy notes from the beetroot and black garlic, lifted by the light acidity and heat of the raifort (horseradish) cream.

The "2009 Little Pearls of Raw Fennel, Risotto and Emulsion" was a clever dish, with fennel served three ways. Fennel in tiny pearls as a risotto, finely sliced for pasta, and in an intense emulsion.

Next was the "2013 Roast Foie Gras with Seaweed”. Resting on horseradish curd, with a fermented soy broth and hazelnut salt, this resembled an intense Japanese dashi stock, spiked with a hint of ginger. It was one of my favourite dishes.

With the foie gras, we had a glass of El Rocallis 2008, made from the rare Incrozzio Manzoni grape in Penedes.

To follow, we had the "2011 Gorrotxategi Egg Resting on a Herb Liquid Salad and Dewlap Carpaccio". This paired creamy egg yolk with paper thin pork chin, and a jade green herb liquid salad - stunning both to the eye and palate.

With the Garrotxatgei, we had a glass of Pagos de Galir Crianza 2009, made from 100% Mancia - a Pinot Noir like grape from Galicia. This had intense damson-fruit characteristics, and a herbaceous nose that stood up well to the creamy egg and pork.

Next came the "2001 Warm Vegetable Hearts Salad with Seafood, Cream of Lettuce and Iodized Juice". Almost too beautiful to eat, this was like a work of art. Myriad vegetables, baby leaves, herbs and flowers of many colours were served with lobster, prawns and scallops, over an intensely flavoured, colourless tomato jelly.

The "2013 Red Mullet with Edible Scale Crystals, Soybean Sprouts, Wheat Semolina and Cuttlefish” was also a delicious dish, with varied textures and flavours that was skilfully partnered with a glass of Quinta Quietud 2005 from Toro.

Made from Tinta de Toro, this had an intense red-cherry quality on the nose and palate, with well integrated tannin and great length.  I spent a week sampling the wines of Toro over ten years ago, and judging by this wine, they have made huge improvements since then. It was an unusual but inspired choice for fish, but complemented the savoury notes of the cuttlefish very nicely, without overpowering the red mullet.

For our main course, we had the 2013 Pigeon with Mushrooms, Caperberries, Manchego Cheese and Asparagus. The ballotine of pigeon was meltingly tender, with just a hint of gaminess contrasting with the crunchy asparagus and caperberries, in a rich jus.

The first dessert was  a very refreshing "2013 Blood-Orange Ice Cream and Slush over Liquified Tubers, Muscovado Sugar Jelly, Yogurt and Pepper", partnered with a glass of Casta Diva 2009 from Alicante, made from 100% Moscatel, which worked well with the ice cream.

The second dessert and last course was a more robust "2013 Mist of Coffee and Cacao over Banana with Whisky Sorbet and Slush". This had some of my favourite flavours – coffee, chocolate and banana, and was my preferred dessert. With it, we had a glass of sweet red Olivares Dulce  2010 from Jumilla, made from the Monstrell grape.

Likes: The food is outstanding in skill of execution, presentation and flavour. An elegant and beautiful restaurant and gardens with the most impeccable service. The 100% Spanish wine flight was also exceptionally good.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: Martin Berasategui’s grand tasting menu was one of the most memorable meals of my life. This is an outstanding restaurant near the beautiful seaside town of San Sebastian. With superb service, setting, food and wine, it is in my opinion one of the best Michelin starred restaurants in the world, and worth a trip to Spain in its own right. Very highly recommended.

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