Three-star wizards in their home of San Sebastian, London is extremely lucky to have the Arzak family take-up residence at the Halkin Hotel. Through “instruction” at their restaurant Ametsa, daughter Elena is a frequent visitor to the UK to bring new menus and to ensure that standards are kept impeccably high. Basque cuisine is famous for its lightness of touch and surprising combination of tradition and modernity, which makes Ametsa with Arzak Instruction such a wonderful dining experience.
From the starters, the mild loin of tuna is carefully seared after a light smoking. Coating the fish is a cinnamon and apple sauce, which has a peppery hum. To accompany these elements, a slightly bitter tuille adds some texture and balance. It’s hard to explain how mouth-watering the tuna is and how well it goes with the woody elements.
The pan-fried scallops are a real treat too, with the sauces making this dish a triumph. A slick of seaweed emulsion sits under the shellfish, while a zing of goji berries and passion fruit adds a bit of tarty sweetness. A seaweed rice crisp is sprinkled with dill to add a fresh element. Clever, tasty stuff.
For mains, a Carrilleras con Piña (ox with pine cone) is served. Braised ox cheeks are whipped up into a heavenly cream with a hint of vanilla to fill a cabbage ballotine. But it’s the presentation which makes this traditional sounding dish modern. Drops of sweet, beef reduction create a sauce, which almost gives the dish the flavour of a dessert. Thought it’s the intriguing addition of a young, confit pine cone which keeps the balance in check with its nutty, fresh taste. This is an extraordinary dish.
Desserts aren’t neglected in the Ametsa kitchen either. A simple remix of French pain perdu (bread and butter pudding), is masterfully combined with another French classic, crème brûlée. The texture of the brioche is lightly coated with brown sugar and an orange Grand Marnier sauce. The addition of a passion fruit coulis freshens everything up. Taking things to a new level, the dish is topped-off by a slither of dehydrated spinach, which has been laced with olive oil and sea salt to give a surprising touch of sweet and sour. This dish is an inventive tour de force.
Overall, Ametsa is one of those restaurants where you are constantly being entertained and delighted by the food, with the Arzaks making sure that everything served is both gastronomic and a pleasure to the eye. Long may they continue to share their spellbinding cuisine with London.