The notes below are from my first visit in 1999 and from a later one in Setember 2002.
This 3 star Michelin restaurant specialises in Basque cooking. It is a family-run affair, with Elena Arzak now sharing the cooking duties with her father Juan Mari Arzak. The original Arzak, always in the same family, opened as far back as 1897. The restaurant is on the outskirts of San Sebastian (a five minute taxi drive), the dining room spread over two floors. Service was attentive and friendly. Breads were of good quality, and as we perused the short menu we are presented with amuse-bouche. On our first visit here in 1999 we had a little, very fresh sardine on a thin pastry base, garnished with tomato and herbs. This was excellent, but even better was a stunning tortilla pancake on a tapioca base; this may not sound appealing but the warm potato melted in the mouth; a remarkable dish (20/20).
I started with langoustine salad, several perfect langoustines sautéed and then served in a little bowl with perfect green salad leaves and a light sauce of the langoustines (20/20). My wife had “potato accordion”, slices of fried potato, served with tender prawns in a saffron sauce (18/20). For the main course sole was served as several baby fillets, with a creamy sauce that supposedly had baby beans in, but which were hard to discern; there were some excellent walnuts as a garnish (17/20). I had pigeon, several tender medallions with a rather oddly matched light stock that was jellied, with a few baby carrots and beans. The pigeon was excellent, but the sauce tasted like a chicken stock and did not stand up well to the pigeon (16/20).
Cheeses were entirely from the local area and were in good condition. For dessert a chocolate fondant was reasonable (15/20) rather than stunning. Coffee was good, served with capable petit fours. The wine list was very deep in its coverage of Spanish wines, plus a selection from abroad, and very fairly priced. Vega Sicilia 1981 was around £100, which was retail price in the UK, if you could find it. It is nice to see a restaurant cooking regional dishes rather than trying to mimic French, though the limitations of Basque cuisine show in the sauces and the desserts, which do not match the best in France. Still, an excellent place: very good value. The food (including service) was less than £50 for four courses.
At a 2002 meal the food was still lovely. The price of the Vega Sicilia had sadly risen, but only to a mark-up of around 50%. At this meal a starter of tuna with “blue” potatoes (stained with red onion juice) was cooked rare and was excellent (18/20) while a dish of prawns with prunes was interesting but perhaps 16/20, as was a salad of crayfish. A roast lobster main course was cooked well enough but was very plain (16/20) while sole with a sauce of garbanzo peas was better (17/20). This time desserts shone out as the highlight, with a very fine chocolate fondant (unlike the previous visit) and a perfect lemon ice cream.
Further reviews: 03rd Oct 2012