For a very very long time, I have wanted to go to Mugaritz in San Sebastian. I first read about it as a teenager in a feature on the best restaurants of the world in the Sunday Times Magazine; it stuck in my mind because I liked the look of the moody setting and I LOVED the preposterously clever things chef-owner Andoni Luis Aduriz was doing with simple ingredients.
Then more recently, working in the Mugaritz kitchens formed part of the final for Masterchef: The Professionals. Seeing it all come to life on TV rather than just described in pictures and words, I realised I really needed to be able to say I had eaten there. Along with ‘learn to break-dance’, ‘meet Gary Neville’ and ‘sail around the Greek islands whilst pretending to be in a D&G ad’, it was now firmly on my bucket list.
I never thought I’d *actually* go though. Partly because flying to Spain for dinner is somewhat extravagant, but mostly because, as a vegetarian, I figured I’d only be able to eat two or three of the fixed 24 courses. I imagined that the experience would probably be wasted on me, which is not something you want to be thinking when you’re looking at dropping a couple of hundred euros per person for the pleasure.
But then the Gran Canaria holiday came about (blogged about here) and my cunning detour via San Sebastian became a rather gorgeous reality. I’ve already blogged about the actual staying in San Sebastian side of things (here) and if you’ve read that then you’ll know that I said our meal at Mugaritz was the highlight of the trip.
But it wasn’t just the highlight of the trip, I’m still convinced it was the best night of my life. Put it this way, at one point I cried at the table because I was so overcome with happiness. I know that sounds extraordinarily dickish to say, but I was SO happy at that exact moment in time…for so many different reasons. I was in the most magical place, with a man I’m utterly obsessed with (my husband, not a fancy man I’m yet to mention on here), eating and drinking things which were so above and beyond what I already considered to be exceptional that I spent 95% of the evening questioning whether it was even real. Yes, I was also quite drunk by the time the tears came, but it was pure ‘am I actually in a movie scene right now?’ happiness.
There are no menus at Mugaritz, everybody dines from a set 24 course tasting menu, but you are given the chance to specify any particular dislikes, intolerances or dietary requirements when you book. I did triple check that it would be ok for them to do a vegetarian menu for me and a pescetarian menu for ST and they said it would be no problem at all, but I was still a bit apprehensive about going from a cost perspective. I feared I might be given a bunch of duff courses made up of the garnishes of what should be meat courses, but I really needn’t have worried. The amount of care and attention that went into my menu astonished me. I have never felt so thoroughly spoilt. (Part of me even wondered if the fact I was having something ‘different’ from the norm meant that there was actually more imagination and care put into it).
If I had to really pin point what was so exceptional about the whole evening though, it was probably the fact that over the 24 courses I was able to enjoy a whole range of textures that I’ve never experienced before. That may sound odd to say, but as I’ve been vegetarian practically all my life, there’s a huge range of ‘fleshy’ textures that I’ve simply never tasted. (Sounds dodgy, but hopefully you know what I mean). Andoni Luis Aduriz and his team have created the most bizarre and brilliant things, whether that’s an edible sugar fork (with a sweetness perfectly designed to off-set the tang of the cheese in the prettiest of pretty salads), a ‘sandwich’ of shaved ice and leaves, a ‘lactic veil’ or a canape that looked more like a hedgehog thanks to the sprouting chia seeds that surrounded it.
Some of the dishes were particularly spectacular to look at, whereas others were devilishly simple: like the three slices of cheese which were all the same cheese but aged for 3 months, 6 months and one year.
If you include the treats during the kitchen tour mid-meal (an amazing experience) and the chocolates at the end, we actually had 26 courses. We tried to decisively rank them throughout but had to give up as it was impossible, although I know my very favourite was the grilled mochi. There was only one course out of the twenty six that I didn’t like and that was the ‘pearls of ascophyllum nodosum’, which is a kind of seaweed. I have always hated seaweed (I think because in my head, it tastes like fish) but it was still an ‘experience’ to eat. Too salty for me to enjoy, but the sliminess was….interesting.
You don’t actually receive a menu til the end, almost like a souvenir, so we didn’t know what was coming next which added to the excitement. It also meant you couldn’t easily pick your own wine, but you wouldn’t want to when their sommeliers are as talented as they are. We gave our general grape preferences at the start of the meal and then let the sommelier work his magic to pair everything appropriately. The wine was the best we’ve ever had.
And is 26 courses too much food? It isn’t, actually. I don’t know how they do it but you don’t feel like you’re going to explode mid way through, everything is portioned and paced so expertly that the meal seems to end exactly when you’d want it to….and exactly how you’d want it to: with a chocolate based game!
I never felt rushed or too full or like I’d had enough of one type of food and then wanted to move on to the next. It was all just perfect, it really was.
Mugaritz has held a top ten position in the definitive “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list since 2006 and has two Michelin stars, so we knew it would be good. But we’d never expected it to have been THAT good. (ST enjoyed it as much as me by the way, although he would probably want me to point out that he didn’t feel the need to cry about it at the table).
Yes, it was an expensive evening once you included the wine, but it was a once in a lifetime experience.
Vegetarian foodies shouldn’t hold back, it really was the best night ever 🙂