Monthly Archives: July 2015

Basque Beauty

I was originally booked into Arzak, in San Sebastian, over two years ago. But having lost my passport I had to forego this trip until a new passport was in place. As a result me and this restaurant had some unfinished business! Before I launch into the Arzak critique, I will simply say this – if you love food and drink then you need to get yourself to San Sebastian. A pretty, sedate little town with about 10 restaurants and bars per resident here! Need I say more, it is a foodie paradise! Also a very mild micro climate means that it’s not overly hot in summer and never freezes at winter. Combine that with humidity and you have the perfect conditions for growing beautiful produce, all year round!

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I was initially intrigued by Arzak when it appeared on Masterchef UK back in 2009 (the year Mat Follas won). Run by an enigmatic father and daughter chef combo the colourful and wacky looking food had me hooked! As well as three Michelin stars it’s also been in the top 10 of the best restaurants in the world for the past decade or so, although it’s slipped out this year, replaced by San Sebastian’s Murgaritz (which is next on my list).

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Nestled in a residential suburb of San Sebastian (technically a different village in the old days) – to say our journey to Arzak was epic is a slight understatement. A lot of walking and an overground train later and we arrived slightly sweaty and pink faced to be greeted by our calm and professional waiting staff. When I come on to the food you’ll see that I found it hard to differentiate what 3-star Arzak is doing compared to 1 and 2-star eateries I’ve been to. However if anything gets them the third star then it’s the staff. Warm, friendly, professional and always in control.

We went for the tasting menu as that seemed to be the best value for money way of eating, plus there was still an element of choice within this menu. I started will a cool, crisp Fino sherry which was served in a nice, large portion. Our snacks, as ever, were the treats which highlighted the most innovation from the kitchen, and created opportunity for the chef to show off. They included beer marinated mango, served in the bottom of beer can and scooped out with the world’s longest spoon; a little bottle of gazpacho with a ‘cork’ of melon and ham; and a bright red prawn wanton that was crunchy and sweet. What was evident from this course was Arzak’s style of playing with colour and subtly confusing the brain about what you are actually about to eat.

Arzac gazpacho

Arzac mango

The first starter was foie gras – this is fairly popular in San Sebastian given that it’s part of the Basque Country. This was a play on a popular pinxtos dish that we’d had earlier in the day but much more refined. The pate was smooth and rich and came with sweet apple and crispy potato.

Arzac fois gras

For the fish course we had a choice of mackerel or lobster. I, of course, went for lobster. When an ipad was placed before me I was very confused! It had images of the sea playing. The beautifully presented lobster dish was then put down on top of it on a glass tile. This was a fun way of serving and the sea scene quickly turned to a roaring fire when I had finished the lobster! The fish itself was served with sour ‘acidic’ flavours to cut through the sweet flesh. I thought you got a lot of lobster for a tasting menu which was pleasing.

Arzac lobster

The next interlude was a wacky ‘space egg’ which was a slow cooked egg surrounded by dots of brightly coloured sauces. For me, this was more style over substance but it was fun nonetheless and a bit of a two fingers up to very formal dining restaurants, who probably wouldn’t serve something so zany!

Arzac egg

The last fish course was seared tuna belly with a purple corn sauce. This was stunningly beautiful on the plate and almost a shame to eat. I was expecting a miso style sauce, which would have made this dish perfect. However, as with a lot of Basque cooking, the sauces are all quite sour which can take a bit of getting used to.

Arzac tuna

The meat dish had a number of options – lamb, pigeon, beef or anything else we cared to dictate to the kitchen! I went for the beef as it was charcoal cooked and I had seen the charcoal oven in the front yard on my arrival. This was a healthy chunk of beef cooked very rare but lovely and soft. It was speared with a ‘bone’ of liquorice root that I enjoyed chewing down on and sucking. The hop sauce that the beef came with was a little watery, however when green tea dust was grated over it an intriguing smoke was created. All very visually stunning!

Arzac beef

Desserts were fun and actually left us not knowing what to expect at all. First up was a chocolate course. This included a giant chocolate truffle that had a chocolate sauce poured on it to dramatically melt away the outside. This wasn’t the prettiest of dishes however the richness of the chocolate was perfectly naughty. Also brought out was ‘square moon’ – a cube of chocolate filled with fruity sauce and a passionfruit pouring sauce. We thought that was it until yet more cutlery was put down! This time the offerings were even weirder! A chocolate shell was made to look like a black lemon, which is a tiny little dried lemon, and filled with citrus cream. Finally there were little ring donuts which were actually carob shells filled with an anise cream. The style of the restaurant seems to be to create hard shelled desserts that break open to reveal soft interiors – it got a little bit samey by dessert four, but fun nonetheless.

A picture of San Sebastian as my dessert pictures were particularly crap

A picture of San Sebastian as my dessert pictures were particularly crap

And so that was it! Interestingly our waiter came to ask if we were full enough or whether we wanted more. I was actually perfectly full, without being nauseous as one can sometimes be after a tasting menu. However the Britishness in me immediately said that I was full and it would have been interesting to know what would have happened had I required more food – what on earth would have come out?! We did have the obligatory coffee and petit four. These came in a pretty little bird cage. Although disappointingly these were yet more hard shells/ liquid centres, as experienced in the desserts. The mousse filled chocolate was very moreish though.

Arzac petit four

Spanish restaurants don’t do tap water and so we had bottles of still. These were very reasonably priced however, so not really an annoyance. Wine-wise we opted for a light local red which came in the form of a 2012 Rioja Crianza – Predicador to be precise. This was perfect for the majority of our courses. Bizarrely it seemed to be the magic porridge pot of the wine world as it lasted for the whole 3 hours of our meal!

This is probably the third most expensive meal I’ve ever had, after Noma and L’Enclume. If I’m honest then I think the food at Noma and L’Enclume is superior to Arzak – in terms of innovation, taste and presentation. Perhaps this is why Arzak has slipped out of the top ten of late? However the service at Arzak was second to none and I’d go back again just for that. What’s more, on the way out our head waiter was disappointed to hear we’d not met the chef and swiftly brought out Elena Arzak to meet us. We discussed Masterchef and then she walked us out to our taxi, which was all rather lovely! Personally I’d hate to be featured in the world’s top 50 restaurants as it opens you up to a world of scrutiny, critique and expectation. When you’re a little provincial taverna you probably just want to get on and make good food without the world watching.

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Leeds’ best new restaurant

I’ve got a major tip off for you all and I’ve agonised for ages about whether to go public with this, as if I do then it probably means I’ll struggle to ever get a table again! I concluded that I’d be selfless and let you all know that I’ve found Leeds’ best new restaurant…

The Greedy Pig is an unassuming greasy spoon on North Street (near the Reliance and Hansas). By night it becomes the Swine that Dines. The Greedy Pig has been independently run by Scots Jo and Stu since 2011. They started to dabble in a monthly supperclub last year, which I attended the other week. They’ve taken the plunge to start the move away from bacon sandwiches and lunchtime fare to establish their Friday evening small plates club.

How it works – they open between 6pm and 9pm every Friday. There’s no bookings so you just turn up when you’re hungry. A giant blackboard displays the plates of the day. There are about 10 tapas sized plates to choose from, which includes desserts and bread from Leeds bread co-op. You order what you want, settle down with your BYOB, and await the tasty treats to arrive at your table!

Our menu

Our menu

We greedily ordered everything on the menu, except the bread and the tabbouleh salad, and shared it. Now I’ve had the pleasure of eating Stu’s food before so I was expecting good things. However the standard and quality of what was presented to us last night was out of this world. The plates were generously portioned, expertly presented, full of clean and clever flavours and all extremely exciting. Here’s a quick overview of each one:

A summer salad of crunchy green beans and radish was bound together with a deliciously creamy and piquant duck egg dressing and toasted sourdough bread. This was veg at its most exciting.

Swine beans

Salt hake came firm and fleshy atop a generous mountain of buttery potatoes and greens.

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The pork ribs were so meaty I failed to find the rib bones for the first few bites! They were perfectly cooked with crusty bits of marinated meat to chew down on. Sour tasting mushrooms seemed an odd accompaniment but extremely moreish and tasty.

A leek, walnut and feta croquette was an unexpectedly large rocket (roquette?!) of crispy outside and soft and tasty filling. This had a clever salad with sesame oil which really contrasted against the creamy filling.

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The kid faggot I nearly didn’t order as I’d had similar at the supperclub the other day. However I am glad I did – this was my favourite! A giant dumpling of smooth kid goat meat and offal (it was shoulder and heart last time I believe) came atop sweet and creamy carrot puree and oozing with a rich and meaty gravy. Not the best dish for a hot day but comforting and full of flavour – gimme more!

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Our final dish was the majestic porchetta. A beautifully coiled piece of pork was beautifully marinated and cooked to perfection, it truly was melt in the mouth. The flavours were so complex I needed to have them explained to me. Apparently the meat is given both a wet and dry rub in a myriad of herbs and spices that include sage, garlic, coriander and chilli. It was served with soft braised fennel and shavings of raw fennel to give different textural elements. This was another favourite dish.

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And so we took a pause here, absolutely astounded at how good the food was but yet in disbelief that the dining room was still so quiet. A steady stream did arrive and leave as we ate but there was room for more. In summary, you need to get yourself here, we cannot let this fantastic food go to waste! I really don’t think Jo and Stu appreciate how good they are, it’s the tastiest food I have eaten in a very long time.

As we enjoyed our wine I reflected a bit on the venue, which probably wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very no nonsense, humble, honest venue. I personally love this as it means all focus and attention can be on the brilliant food. The informality is such a contrast to the fine dining style food, I love it! It truly is Leeds’ ultimate casual dining venue.

Desserts were not advertised on twitter so I was excited to see them added to the blackboard on arrival. We stuck to our trend and ordered both to share. A prune and Armagnac tart was bitter from chocolate ganache and sweet and sour from the prunes. It had a light and creamy ice cream and salted caramelised almonds for texture. Jo’s pastry was almost like a crumbly shortbread biscuit.

Swine tart

An elderflower posset was perfectly set and creamy. I couldn’t get much elderflower if I’m honest but the stem ginger shortbread biscuit was out of this world – buttery and crumbly. I loved spooning the posset onto the biscuit for a perfect combination.

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And so at this stage we declared ourselves full, having eaten nearly the entire menu! And now for the biggest shock of the entire night. Our bill came to less than £20 each. Now I know this doesn’t include booze, as we brought our own. But this meal was by far better than the one I’d enjoyed at Heston’s last week and was a fraction of the price. I love a bargain but the guys could easily charge more for the top quality food they serve. I’m guessing the low prices won’t be around forever, which is another reason to get yourself down there!

So I hope I’ve been able to convince you to get yourself down to North Street next Friday and every Friday after that. You won’t regret it. I just hope Jo and Stu save me a seat when everyone’s queuing out of the door! They don’t have a website yet so I recommend giving them a follow on Twitter – @SwineThatDines. You can thank me later!

Christmas Lunch at the Manor

Saturday 5th December 2015, 1pm to 4pm

Yes it may be July now and the hottest day of the year so far but we know how diaries can start to fill up in December, so we have decided to get in there early 🙂 . This event will be a decadent Christmas lunch, using Yotam Ottolenghi’s new book, Nopi as our inspiration. We went to Nopi for lunch a couple of years ago and you can read our review here.

Tasty small plates, with a festive twist. £30pp will get you 8 small plates and a welcome drink! If you want to celebrate Christmas with us, then book on using the link below.

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A Middle Eastern Afternoon Tea – November

Saturday 14th November 2015, 2pm to 4pm

In November we’ll be bringing some beautiful spice to the Manor for afternoon tea! Using the stunning book by Anne Shooter, Sesame and Spice.

For £25pp, we’ll be serving up a range of savoury and sweet delights plus a welcome cocktail. If this takes your fancy, book on using the link below.

ONE SPACE AVAILABLE – email dinneratthemanor@gmail.com to book

4th Birthday Party – Nanban and Beer!

Saturday 10th October 2015, 7pm to 11pm

We’ve been running our little supperclub now for almost four years and we’ll be celebrating our birthday with a real treat!

Using the beautiful book by Tim Anderson, Nanban is a celebration of Japanese Soul Food. We’re super excited to find out more about Japanese cuisine! However, not only will you get a relentless onslaught of food in the form of 8 delicious courses, we’ll be pairing the food with beer from one of our favourite breweries…. Beavertown!

Beavertown

8 courses, 4 cans of Beavertown’s finest all for £50pp. There are 12 places around our table, so get in there quick by clicking on the link below.

BOOK NOW!