The boyfriend and I spent a foodie few days in San Sebastian at the end of June, intent on smothering ourselves in pintxos and lolling about between meals, digesting in the sun like greedy reptiles. We had promised ourselves a blow-out meal at one of the city’s star-studded restaurants – San Sebastian boasts an impressive 16 Michelin stars at the last count – and we chose the 3* Martin Berasategui. As a bear of very little brain, 3 Michelin stars is a bit like £1 trillion – it’s so far from my reality that it just sounds completely made-up so I wasn’t sure what to expect…
The restaurant is discreetly tucked away on a residential street in a suburb of San Sebastian, just a few minutes from the city centre by taxi or inner-city train (you’ll need to take public transport once you’ve paid for this meal!). Once inside, the dining room is spacious and light and airy, with floor-to-ceiling views of the region’s lush, rolling hills. With an army of staff and no music to soften the mood, this place means business.
You can choose from an à la carte menu but we went for the aptly named “Great Tasting Menu” comprising 12 courses – 10 savoury and two sweet (full seasonal menu here). If you’re going to go crazy, you might as well go completely crazy, right? We gave the sommelier free rein for our wine (as I said, we were feeling crazy) and were not disappointed – he paired wines perfectly to the dishes and our palates and we were pleasantly surprised by the very reasonable price tags (maybe we were poorly dressed? I’m not complaining!).
To start, I was expecting a cheeky morsel of something frivolous to serve as a warm-up. But Martin had other ideas – the mille-feuille of smoked eel, foie-gras, spring onions and green apple was exquisite and bold. The rich, velvety foie-gras and firm, smoky fish were brought alive by the sharp and crunchy caramelised apple slivers. A fabulously punchy first dish to awaken the senses! Our third course of oyster with cucumber, kafir and coconut had similarly beguiling textures. The plump oysters reclined on a refreshing cucumber jelly (silky and just-set) with coconut and kafir cream pooling around them. A Thai-inspired triumph, pleasing both on the eye and the tummy!
Roasted pigeon served with its juices mixed with olives, liquid tubers stuffed with truffles and cucumber pickled in white vinegar and curry.
For our seventh course (fast-forwarding past perfect, slick bisque with shrimp, and unctuous sea urchin curd with seaweed cream), we were served “gorrotxategi” egg resting on a herb liquid salad and dewlap carpaccio (pictured top) which is, in other words, a very slow-cooked soft egg yolk with crispy cow’s skin (specifically from the neck fold, I am told). At this point, my boyfriend lost it slightly, struck with euphoria: “It’s just so creamy. But also meaty. And so smooth but also crunchy.” Definitely one of the stars of the meal! The next course of vegetable hearts salad with seafood, cream of lettuce and iodized juice (pictured below) was visually spectacular with a mind-boggling number of elements to it. Crunchy leaves and peppery flowers, creamy avocado and rich lobster, all on a jellied lake of clear tomato juice which tasted more strongly of tomato than an actual tomato. Crazy culinary sorcery.
Whilst the menu focused in large part on fish and seafood, the tenth course of roasted pigeon served with its juices mixed with olives, liquid tubers stuffed with truffles and cucumber pickled in white vinegar and curry (pictured above) was suitably carnivorous. The pigeon was daringly rare and yet meltingly soft, and the creamy spheres of truffly liquid were extraordinary when they burst open in your mouth. The pickled cucumber cleanly cut through the uber-richness of the dish but, for me, the taste of curry was a little incongruous (but I probably have no idea what I’m talking about).
And finally, on to dessert(s). It’s often that chapter of the meal where either haute-cuisine goes mad and delivers you flavour combinations that you would rather not put in your mouth, thank you very much, or an over-sized, over-sweet, crowd-pleasing apology of a number attempts to overcompensate for teeny tiny earlier dishes. But not here! Both dishes were balanced and fun and neither too sweet. The blood orange cream with saffron gelée, champagne slush and tea ice cream was fresh and light, the champagne slush the ultimate last word on posh palate-cleansers. And the smoked sponge with cocoa crunch, frozen whisky cream, crushed ice, green beans and mint was an imaginative and grown-up take on chocolate cake – the aerated smoked sponge had a malty savouriness to it which paired excellently with the (very) potent whisky cream.
Vegetable hearts salad with seafood, cream of lettuce and iodized juice.
We had been forewarned that the portions were ‘petite’ so we gorged with abandon on the delicious bread from the start. However, be warned: you will not go hungry! I got to course 9 and then had to start donating half-full plates to my delighted boyfriend. He held up well until we left, at which point he confided in me that he was exceptionally full and then slumped into a three-hour food coma.
So would I recommend it? The flavours and textures were exciting, the presentation was flawless, and each new dish was tastier than the last. It’s not my usual homely scene but for pure wow factor, this has got to be on every foodie’s list. Yes, there were deconstructed dishes, yes there were foams and jellies, and yes there were 5 waiters for every diner, but on this particular lazy Sunday afternoon it felt just right and added to the intrigue and drama and extra-ordinariness of it all. Martin himself, pint-sized and twinkly-eyed, even appeared at the end of our meal to greet each table. After all, this isn’t supposed to be food for everyday – it’s an exhilarating culinary tour de force and all yours for…well, less than the price of a car.
Flavour: Exciting molecular gastronomy. Once-in-a-lifetime experience (for most of us!).
Make a day of it: No really, make a day of it. We dined for three hours, slowly ambled home and then napped for another three. For the perfect snooze spot in summer, hit the wondrous city beach Playa de La Concha – sheltered by the natural bay, the sea is as calm as the Med. If you’re eager to walk off your meal, stretch your legs on the impressive promenade and enjoy the sea air or climb up (there is also a funicular…) to Monte Igeuldo for sweeping views of the city and bay.
Make a night of it: We stayed at Astoria 7, a cinema turned movie-themed boutique hotel. It’s sleek and fun with a touch of retro. They also have a huge selection of classic films at reception that you can watch in your room.
To book: Call (+34) 943 366 471 / (+34) 943 361 599. Closed Sunday evenings, Mondays and Tuesdays (all day).
Source: Pip & little blue.