Venetia van Kuffeler samples world-famous Basque cuisine at Ametsa with Arzak Instruction
Few people seem to know that hidden just yards from the embassies and high commissions of Belgravia lies one of London’s most desirable Michelin starred restaurants. Ametsa with Arzak Instruction is the restaurant’s (complicated) name, and refers to the unique collaboration between Elena Arzak – voted Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef in 2012 – and her father Juan Mari Arzak. The restaurant is located at COMO The Halkin, one of London’s most discreet hotels, found on a quiet, tree-lined street between Belgrave Square and Hyde Park Corner.
Ametsa’s approach is rooted in traditions of ‘New Basque Cuisine,’ pairing earthy flavours and techniques from the region with surprising twists, and featuring locally-sourced and organic produce from land and sea. The décor – modern, artistic and futuristic – has a mesmerising ceiling created from 7,000 glass test tubes filled with spices. Quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. The restaurant’s interior takes inspiration from the raw aesthetics of the original Arzak restaurant. Regularly referred to as one of the best restaurants in the world, Arzak is a Spanish restaurant in San Sebastian with three Michelin stars. With such a wealth of accolades, you can imagine the excitement when the Arzak family announced the opening of this London venture in 2013.
Guests can choose from the à la carte menu or, as we did, the tasting menu for the ultimate Ametsa experience, with wines specially paired by Ametsa’s sommelier. The menu is extensive and inspiring. Aperitivos of Sobrassada chimneys and sardine doughnuts were bite-sized taste sensations, and rolled into Entrantes of ‘scallops leaving home’ and langoustine crunch-crepe. Beautifully constructed, these were the starters that came before seabass on a banana Escabeche, and Iberian pork ‘presa’ on embers. An astonishing range of complimentary flavours.
After so many courses came the unthinkable: two puddings. These turned out to be the stars of the show. El Limon Negro (The Black Lemon) looked rather unappealing on arrival – blackened lemons on a bed of leaves – but revealed the most soft and zingy lemon curd I have ever tasted. The prize for theatre went to Trufón (The Big Truffle). As the waiter poured chocolate sauce over the shell, a large truffle dusted with cocoa powder disintegrated into a pool of molten chocolate lava. As spectacular as it was decadent.
This is interesting and brilliantly tasty food, perfect for a special occasion. Furthermore, Ametsa’s private dining room can be reserved for a gathering of up to 30 guests. While the tasting menu at dinner time is on the pricey side, you can try the set lunch menu for just £29.
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