One of those dishes that captures the essence of the avant-garde cooking you find in the Basque Country looks deceivingly simple: “squid soup”. Just a bouillon, a tiny piece of squid and a sphere made of wonton dough and filled with the ink of squid that delivers a sensational mouth feel and complex taste when bitten into. This simple dish very much makes you understand, why Joel Robuchon named Martin Berasategui amongst his favourite restaurants, it is delicious.
At Martin Berasategui’s restaurant, not far from San Sebastian, you will find many more such unique dishes. There are at least half a dozen of them, dishes that have influenced chefs from all over the world. His style is rooted in traditionalism, in his native Basque country’s rich culinary heritage, and yet, he cooks resolutely modernistic food. This fruitful alliance of the modern and more traditional elements shows in his arguably most famous dish: A foie gras, eel and apple terrine. It is a dish that doesn’t seem all that complicated, and yet it is fascinating. A more complex and satisfying flavour and texture combination is rarely achieved. You have it all in this, the creamy, rich flavour of the foie gras, the sweet/salty contrast of the eel and the sweet and sour crunch of the apple. Again, it looks simple, but it tastes of much more than you could possibly imagine.
Other dishes that are immediately recognisable are his salad of young vegetable hearts and crustaceans. Tender, vegetables are served with lobster meat and a very cleverly dosed jelly. It is the jelly that binds things together here and adds freshness to the dish, bringing the flavours alive. As most of the other iconic dishes are constantly listed on the menu, this dish does not really leave it either. The only thing that changes is the composition of the dish. However, no matter if you come in winter of summer, rest assured, this is a fine ‘salad’.
In the food world, some have complained about Berasategui. Not because of the composition of his dishes, which is generally seen as masterly. No, according to some people, he does not employ the very finest products available. In response to this kind of criticism one has to say that Martin Berasategui’s style is not necessarily focused on the product. It is not about simply grilling a prawn and serving it in its most simple state, neither is it about telling you where the carrot came from, and how much love the grower has put into it. On the contrary, this is simply food that is most delightful to eat. Food that has no ambition of creating a new philosophy to change the world, rather food that just wants to be enjoyed by those who come here.
Enjoyment is what this restaurant is all about. The restaurant room is now a superb place, comfortable, warm and full of light thanks to the large windows that offer a spectacular view on the bucolic surroundings. There is a lot of space for each table, so you can simply sit back and hear your friends or family. The service too, manages to be professional and efficient, without ever being stiff. Even, the sommeliers are unlike in many restaurants: Happily are you advised on cheaper wines. Thus, criticising this restaurant is not easy. There is simply so much that speaks for it. This is quite simply a solid, fun and most importantly, great place to eat in the Basque country.