To finally dine at toÂ Mugaritz was a foodie dream of mine coming true and on the big day I was excited like a little child on Christmas Eve.Â You have never heard of Mugaritz?Â Let me share some key facts with you first before proceeding to THE meal.
Mugaritz is located in the little village of Errenteria, a 15 minutes scenic drive away from Europe’s culinary capital San Sebastian in the Spanish Basque Country.
It has been voted 3rd best restaurant in the The San Pellegrino world’s 50 best Restaurants rating 2011 (5th place in 2010) and holds 2 Michelin Stars.
Type of Food:
The food at Mugaritz could be described as tapas style Spanish fusion which arrives in the form of 20 dishes (or more if you are not sated) over the period of 3 hours at your table. Expect a mix of fish, seafood, vegetables and meat, find influences of science and nature alike, and experience fun, creativity, zeal and passion.
Food on the menu changes every day (even though when looking at other peoples’ posts dishes do repeat frequently) and sometimes even from table to table. Ingredients used are local and seasonal.
*sigh* â‚¬180 excluding drinks. Wine list reasonably priced though.
…Andoni Luis Aduriz has learned from the best. Taken from his biography on the Mugaritz website: …” He did his time in the kitchens of RamÃ³n Roteta, Neichel, Arzak, Zuberoa and Akelarre. He worked at El Bulli when few knew who Ferran was and along with Bixente, he inaugurated the R+D workshop. “It was magical”. He learned that values are always more important than money.” He also worked at MartÃn Berasategui.
I don’t like the white table cloth atmosphere at posh restaurants. It can work sometimes, but mostly it just feels old fashioned and restrictive. Mugaritz has white table clothes too, but already with the table decoration made out of broken plates you realise that something more interesting is going on here.
The dining room is huge with room dividers in form of wood and white cloth screens. The large round tables are so far apart that you feel very private and undisturbed in your gluttony.Â Mugartiz appears distinctivelyÂ low key and relaxed while at the same time providing the perfect stage for the show…
I rarely say this, but the service was spotless. Apart from being very efficient, professional and knowledgeable, the waiters were fun and charming. It felt to me as if they loved working at Mugaritz and we enjoyed chatting to them between courses as they had opinions and were not afraid of sharing them with customers.
Before I start to indulge in sweet memories, I want to share 2 major criticisms:
- of the 20 dishes there were only few that were truly exceptional. Most of them were good, all of them were exciting, different and inventive, but I would have expected more WOW factor.
- we got food poisoned. I had a mild variant and was fine after a sleepless night, but poor S was more severely hit, lying flat for almost 48 hours. I don’t think I will get him back to Mugaritz…
I had a long discussion with S who also likes his food but might not be equally obsessed as me. For him, Mugaritz is a place for a ‘food voyeur‘ (as he describes me) rather than someone who just wants to have an exceptional meal (that would be him).Â I feel however, that over-constructed food like you find it at many of the top restaurants is like a difficult piece of classical music or a challenging novel. You need the right state of mind and openness to understand what the chef wants to convey.
We agreed in one point though and I am sure you will agree with us too:Â the most important thing is flavour and even though Mugaritz did not score all the points, it scored quite a lot for me.
Mugaritz appears to know that their food causes controversy – at the beginning of the meal we were handed 2 envelops…
which contained the following messages:
Which one are you?
An evening at Mugaritz has little to do with conventional dining. To me it felt like a performance, culinary theatre, a play with my senses and my expectations. I was constantly challenged to redefine my understanding of flavours, textures and appearances. Nothing is what it seems… If this sounds terribly stressful to you, Mugaritz might not be the place for you.
20 dishes, here we go:
6 tapas like pre-starters were served at the same time:
The Toasted legume beer, olives, beans and thyme was a good start: I expected beer and got deliciously flavoured vegetable broth. My favourite of these tapas was the Starch and sugar crystal spotted with pepper praline and corals with its stunning combination of sweet and tangy, crunchy and creamy. The Grilled pueraria focaccia was nothing more than ok.
I admired the fragrant fruit in paper wrap which was not a sophisticate dish but simply and pretty – an apple seasoned with cumin (I think) prepared the palate for things to come.Â Â Â And then the edible stones… so smooth and handsome! I was rather disappointed that they turned out to be just potatoes…
From then on, the dishes came one after the other in quick succession:
One of the best courses of the evening was the Curd cheese in its own rind, mushrooms and coastal herbs. The cheese was creamy and mild and tasted fantastic with the selection of perfectly cooked wild mushroom combined with the salty flavour and crunchy texture of the sea purslane and samphire.
I thought the Spoons of Bechamel and cauliflower was interesting, but this dish was hated by my dinner companion.Â The foamy thing on top tasted of cauliflower, and the consistency to be fair was a bit like wet powder. I am sure a lot of food science was applied here! I was not blown away by the hazelnut and bean stew as it tasted mainly of onions.
We are not even half way through….!
The pork noodles reminded of gelatinous and gooey udon noodles (even though I am pretty sure they were made of some part of the pig) and were swimming in a fish-flavoured broth made of local seabream. Lovely.
The first sea food dish was also delicious: Silky bread stew with crab was my first experience of eating anything flavoured with leaves of a balcony flowers, who would have thought that this works so well?Â The slender slivers of swear crab meat melted soothingly and pleasantly in my mouth.
My favourite dish was not necessarily the prettiest or most sophisticated one (at least not at the first glance). BreadÂ loaf with 3 flavours revealed to me the wonders of my palate. I was explained to eat one spoon after the other (first one – bitter, second one – sweet and third one- salty) after having dipped each of them into the middle of the gorgeous fluffy and light loaf. Wow! This was a firework of taste sensations!
Portion of hake and milky reduction with daikon was a winner too. The fish was, as expected, perfectly cooked – moist and flaky and was beautifully complemented by the creamy milk based sauce seasoned with daikon – the Japanese white radish.
Then the dish which I expect was the culprit for our food poisoning as I still can’t even look at the picture without feeling slightly nauseous.Â I did not like the Textures of Coastal Fish as they tasted too ‘fishy’ and somehow wrong and I only finished half.Â S. ate the whole portion…
After this dip, things were looking up again and big flavours where about to hit.
The Piece of Beef was a revelation. The last time I had beef that succulent, moist, tender and delectable was when I savoured wagyu beef in a Michelin starred restaurant in Kobe.
I was so full then that I couldn’t quite appreciate the Iberian Pig Tail. Too fatty and chewy for me.
We just about managed the cheese, but then I fortunately got a second wind when we arrived at the desserts. I am still dreaming about the Broken Walnut, tasted and salted, cool milk cream and armagnac jelly. The ‘walnuts’ were actually made of delectable chocolate shells filled with armagnac jelly. The ice cream was spectacular and only after a while I realised that it was made of goat’s milk.
The crisp flax seeds and whiskey parfait was less convincing, particularly after having Launceston Place’s stunning Lagavulin ice cream in fond memory.Â Nice but nothing to write home about.
I enjoyed the one bite creamy and indulgent dessert in the form of Nails and Flowers, served on a bed of chocolate seeds and nuts.Â I actually asked for ANOTHER dessert after this, which was something lovely and steamed.
Enough! The bill please! And we rolled home, happy, stuffed, tipsy and broke.
- Food: 7/10 (-2 for food poisoning and I am being nice here!)
- Service: 10/10
- Ambiance: 8/10
- Value for Money: 8/10 (it is expensive but you get A LOT of food!)
- Chances of Returning: 80%
- Verdict: I am not sure this is the world’s 3rd best restaurant but it’s pretty damn good!
Otazulueta Baserria, Aludura Aldea 20, 20100, Errenteria, Spain
Telephone: +34 943 522 455
Web Site: www.mugaritz.com