Martin Berasategui, San Sebastian
For such a challenging and impenetrable language as Basque, there’s a certain irony in the fact that for decades this verdant corner of northern Spain was defined by just three simple letters - ETA. But earlier this year the Basque separatist group finally turned its back on years of bloody struggle and now it’s terroirism – not terrorism – that’s taking centre stage.
The Basque country - or more particularly the beautiful bay city of San Sebastian - is right at the top of the culinary tree when it comes to fine dining. With San Sebastian’s nine Michelin-starred restaurants, there’s only Kyoto in Japan that can boast more stars per square metre. In all of Spain there are just seven three-star venues and three of them are here: Arzak, Akelarre and Martin Berasategui. And even if fine dining isn’t really your thing, the city’s old town is home to the best tapas bars in all of Spain, which are worth a visit in their own right.
Martin Berasategui is one of the holy trinity of three-star venues and the eponymous restaurant, which first opened in 1993, has held its three stars since way back in 2001. It’s actually in Lasarte-Oria, a rather nondescript suburb of San Sebastian which is a short taxi ride from the city centre. And despite the tranquil rural views, the purpose-built venue does seem to lack a little soul. It feels just a touch too corporate.
The menu choice is between a la carte and tasting menu and there’s a marked seafood bias in both. The 15-course tasting menu checks in at 225 euros whilst if you go a la carte there’s a choice of six starters (44 euros), ten mains (71 euros) and six desserts (32 euros). Expensive on the face of it but by three-star standards not exorbitantly so.
The menus are also something of a homage to years gone by at Martin Berasategui with each dish annotated with the year of its creation. So you might start with Lightly marinated oyster with iced cucumber slush, K5 and spicy apple (2005), follow with Grilled hake loin, coconut, red curry and liquid and crunchy razor-shells (2017) and finish with a rather familiar-sounding Vanilla apple pie with granny smith sorbet (1993). Service, as you would expect, is both formal and exemplary. And as is often the case at this level, dishes offer no more than three or four mouthfuls of intense and sometimes challenging flavours and textures.
Martin Berasategui in 2017 is as much brand as restaurant. There’s another three-star venue in a Barcelona hotel, a two-star at the Ritz-Carlton in Tenerife and no less than nine other outlets sprinkled around Spain, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Success breeds success. Martin Berasategui and his contemporaries are carving out a bright new culinary future to replace the dark and none-too-distant days of ETA.