Spanish Wine Tour - Day 6, Tuesday 2 June

Tuesday June 2

Today was a free day in San Sebastian and it began for Virginia and I with a light breakfast knowing the sensational degustation dinner that lay ahead tonight in ‘Arzark', the world's No.8 rated and 3-Star Michelin restaurant. After breakfast we took a short walk around to the edge of the old city and found a café serving good takeaway coffee. We slowly ambled back to our room and settled in for 4-hours of catching up on my Spanish blog (more like story book), while Virginia scoured through tour arrangements for the next 7-days and double checked menus. At 2pm we headed out to the old city for lunch at Grandaria Restaurant (on the recommendation of the female concierge) where we inadvertently stumbled across Alan & Barbara Peters, Roger & Ruth Spooner and Pat Williams & Dave Bond who were 3 restaurants into a 5 restaurant Pichas tour (Tapas tour – one plate in each restaurant), organised by the hotel and hosted by a local guide Suki (an ex air hostess who was very gregarious). They were thoroughly enjoying themselves and we shared a small glass of red with them before adjourning into the restaurant proper for a meal accompanied by a 2010 Pintia red from Vega Sicilia. It was clearly a hugely popular restaurant as getting a table was a 40-minute wait, which was halved to 20-minutes for us when Suki whispered in the owner's ear.

The food was of exceptional quality with great flavours, only we over ordered once more. The entrée of red peppers stuffed with crab was a gastronomic delight but the second, more simple and equally beautiful dish of fried squid rings was enough for 2 persons at least, so we only ate half the serving between us. Virginia's main course was suckling pig and it was magnificent, with fine crackling over a roasted backbone of meat that could be parted with a fork it was so tender… she did not partake in the generous helping of French fries that accompanied it. My rather large T-Bone was perfectly cooked to medium rare and the flavours were stunning, like Virginia I gave the tasty looking French fries a wide berth.

We decided to pay the piper for our lunch and set about climbing the hill on the headland that overlooks the Bay of Biscay and protects the entry to the inner harbour. Atop of the hill was a well-fortified castle complete with many turrets and several cannons (now dormant of course) that in earlier times had protected the harbour city from invasion from the sea. Although the largely wooden built city of San Sebastian was raised to the ground by fire in 1849 as the British troops fought alongside locals to free the city from invading forces. It was subsequently rebuilt with stone buildings, many of which still line the inner harbour today. It was a sizable ascent followed by several circling's of the hill as we descended back to road level returning to the hotel some 3-hours later; we had definitely paid the piper. Two hours of relaxation followed by a shower and change and we were boarding our coach for a short drive up the hill to Arzark for our much anticipated gastronomic experience.

We arrived at Arzark at 8.45pm (Spanish dining time, which we were well used to by now) and were directed to a private room, perfect in size for our group of 16 seated around a single long table. Right from the start the service was prompt and perfect. Our group had been excited for days in the lead up to this special dinner at one of the world's Top 10 Restaurant, so the buzz was audible indeed. The menu was separated into 8 courses with the starters consisting of 5 tiny, delicate dishes. The first wine was a Cava called Torelló Brut Nature Gran Reserva DO Cava was served as an aperitif and to match the sample starter dishes of…

Gyoza of prawns and moringa
Black pudding and beer
Lentil cookie with samjang
Anchovy and strawberry
(extraordinary flavour combination)
Scorpion fish pudding with Kataifi

A DOCa dry white wine called Predicador from Rioja (Viura grape) accompanied the next two dishes of…

Beetroot blood apple – Apple injected with beetroot accompanied by creamy foie gras and potatoe “mother of pearl”
Black pudding and beer – Sautéed lobster with fresh pollen, sweet and acidic flavours with blue honeycomb

A 2009 vintage red from Ribera Del Duero called Aster Finca El Otero was served from magnum with the next three dishes as follows…

Red space egg – “red” egg cooked at 65 degrees centigrade for 45-minutes (still with a runny but properly cooked yoke), red peppers, cereal ferments and crispy pig trotters

Monkfish with rhubarb – Grilled monkfish filet with rhubarb and lilies

The 3rd of this trio of dishes was a choice of lamb or pigeon and the majority of the group elected to try the pigeon as follows…

Pidgeon with guitar shavings – Roasted pigeon breast with nuts and Armagnac served with manioc and “guitar” shavings enveloped with light cypress aromas

A 2012 Moscatel Gran Fuedo (sweet, but very clean and in a late harvest style) accompanied the delicate trio of dessert dishes as follows…

The big truffle – Large cocoa and sugar truffle with a creamy chocolate and carob filling
Black Lemon – Crispy black lemon image with a sweet citrus cream interior sprinkled with the same fruit
Ice cream assortment – an assortment as the name suggests

It was a large number of dishes, but as a great degustation dinner should be they were all small to tiny portions and mostly very delicate, so when the dinner was complete you did not get an uncomfortably full feeling as the depth of the menu offering might suggest.

A round of tea and espresso ended the evening and we were back in our hotel beds around 12.30-1.00pm, depending on whether you went straight to bed (the sensible ones did), but not I, Virginia or Roger Spooner. We enjoyed a nightcap (Virginia a Cava and both me and Roger a very nice cognac), fortunately the bar was serving last drinks so we could not be tempted to stay longer. It had been a wonderful day, with a mesmerising and memorable dinner and should not be spoiled by one too many indulgences.

Continue on to day 7 here.