Last month I was lucky enough to get a table at the much anticipated Ametsa with Arzak Instruction.
This restaurants spanish parent is regularly lauded as one of the best in the world and holds 3 Michelin stars, so I was in anticipation of some serious high class dining.
The interior of the restaurant is very striking, a bright golden sea of tubes dripping out of the ceiling which give colour to an otherwise austere and minimalist looking room.
The atmosphere that evening was lovely, lots of chatter and laughter filled the room, all of the table were crammed with eager diners and plates of food and the waiters glided around in a silent dance filling glasses before they were emptied.
And so on to the food!
We decided to go for the tasting menu with wine flight, to get a feel for what the restaurant was about and to educate us on the taste of basque food- having never had it before. As usual we were asked for our preferences- no lamb for the pescitarian, sans foie gras for me, all accommodated for happily.
Amuse bouches were delivered to the table first, all very artfully displayed on a selection of shiny metal prongs and plates that made them look a little scary.. but enticing!
Cheese puzzle with turmeric
Rice with fish mousse
Kataifi with scorpion fishcake
Cheese puzzle looked like a little lego piece in the shape of a crown, Rice with fish mousse looked like one of my rice crispy cake creations aged 5, and the scorpion fish had more than a passing resemblance to a shredded wheat. So far, so weird! Unfortunately the puzzle and mousse creations were quite a bland mouthful, my bouche was only a little amused. I was really hopeful for the cheese puzzle- surely something so strange looking would make up for its looks with taste! It was basically a posh, slightly spiced dairylea triangle in fancy dress. The scorpion fish however was a wonderful blend of textures, crunchy on the outside and smooth inside, with a delicious savoury fishiness that was reminiscent of a great fish finger. Yes, fish fingers can be great!
There was a slight feeling of urgency as the next courses & wine were brought out as we were still finishing off our last glasses of vino. With a tasting menu of 6 courses or so, I really think taking it slow is the way forwards. You need a lot of time to savour, appreciate and digest such a lot of different flavours, and such a large amount of food.
Scallops with Betacarotene
Scallops with betacarotene was next, and this was my firm favourite of the night. The scallops had been whipped out of the pan at the perfect moment, leaving them almost sashimi like, tender and juicy! The betacarotene sauce was fresh and zingy, and along with the petals and leaves, delicate enough to let the subtle flavour of the scallops to shine through.
From egg to chicken
From egg to chicken was brought out with much fanfare as the waiters theatrically poured the stock to melt and reveal a soft boiled egg. Again, this was a dish I had my fingers crossed for, I imagined the most comforting and flavoursome chicken soup, jazzed up to michelin standards with a little sophistication. Sadly this was another disappointment, this dish should have packed a much bigger flavour punch, but was lacking in strength and depth, and strangely considering what it was, it lacked salt. Great seasoning is usually something you can rely on at a restaurant such as this, and its the first time Ive found myself looking around for a salt mill! The textures of the runny egg, stock and chicken skin also did it no favours. The yolk was slightly separated from the soup instead of enhancing its creaminess, and the crunchy skin soon lost its bite at the bottom of the bowl.
Monkfish with red onion
Monkfish was next to the plate, fabulously cooked, juicy, tender & well seasoned. The red onion was very artfully placed on the plate, but lacked the zing you normally associate with onion. Monkfish can be accompanied by some pretty heavy flavours and something a little stronger on the plate would not have gone amiss here.
Lamb with macchiato
Thankfully another beautifully cooked piece of meat arrived next in the form of Lamb macchiato. This time the sauce worked beautifully in enhancing the flavours of the lamb without overpowering it or being drowned out as background noise itself. You would not have known macchiato was one of the flavours without being told, it was deliciously delicate and subtle.
At this point, I had gone past the point of being full. This was only my second tasting menu, and despite starving myself since morning, I was absolutely full to the brim!
There is however, always room for pudding!
Onto the moon rocks!! Aren't they a looker hey? We all sat around looking rather amused at the stange creations in front us, almost reluctant to disturb this little bit of art! Chocolate coated 'pebbles' filled with orange and cointreau on sesame seed 'sand'. I am a massive chocolate orange fan, so this was another dish I had already built up on a great big pedestal in my mind! Popping the little rocks in our mouths and cracking open the shells to release the orange centres produced only a few 'mmm?'s instead of the usual sigh of contentment that usually accompanies a chocolate pudding. And lets just say the sand tasted interesting… Ah well, it looked great didn't it!
Well maybe I set my expectations to high for this evening, there were some great stand out dishes and the service was impeccable (if a little rushed to start for my liking) but I don't think I will be going back there in a hurry.I know of many restaurants where every mouthful is a little bit of heaven and sadly Ametsa won't be getting added to this list.
Ametsa is located in The Halkin Hotel