Tag Archives: Spain

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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Spanish Surprises!

Last weekend we hosted our very first lunchtime event at the Manor! Using our forthcoming holiday as inspiration as well as some of our favourite Spanish cookery books, including Rick Stein and Claudia Roden, we served up a delicious array of pinxos, tapas and other flavoursome dishes. A wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

A welcoming glass of cool, crisp Fino sherry was swiftly followed by our canapés. First up were Dan’s mini salt cod tortillas, made with his home salted bacalao. Creamy egg bound together onions, peppers and salty fish, served atop a dollop of spicy Romesco sauce.

Pinxos swiftly followed, in the form of a mini pork skewer marinaded in Moorish spices – think cumin, fennel and coriander, griddled and served with mojo picon, a fiery sauce consisting of chillies and paprika.

Onto the starters and to cool things down a notch after the pork was a deliciously cooling bowl of gazpacho. The usual vegetables in a gazpacho were blended, seasoned and chilled until ice cold. Served in chilled bowls and topped with an array of vegetables and herbs, this was light clean, cleansing. Perfect to kick off the rest of the bigger dishes.

The next dish was Dan’s beautiful baked crab in cider, which isn’t actually baked at all! This is a surprisingly simple dish with deep and complex flavours. White and brown crab meat from Leeds market was simmered in a dry cider with garlic and tomato. This created a bisque like stew, without all the hassle! It can be used as a stuffing for spider crabs, or served up in bowls like we did!

Following on from the crab was a Spanish peasant dish of polenta with fried meats. Dan used different pork cuts from our favourite pork producer, Tancred Farm in Wetherby. Creamy softly cooked polenta came with bits of Yorkshire chorizo, deliciously smoked bacon, spicy black pudding, and a punchy sauce of smoked paprika and red wine vinegar. We do recommend Tancred Farm, they can be found at the Briggate Farmers market every first and third weekends of the month.

Almost full, but with still three more courses to go, our guests were served the final savoury dish, platters of crispy chicken thighs served on top of romesco sauce and then topped with a salsa / gremolata of almonds, onion, parsley, vinegar and olive oil. The salsa added a fresh, earthy dimension to the sour, sweet and salty flavours of the chicken and sauce. These were accompanied by lemony green beans, a Manor staple!

To perk up those tastebuds was a scoop of Dan’s luscious Malaga raisin and Pedro Ximenix sherry ice cream. A Spanish take on the classic rum n raisin, this was creamy and heady with rich sherry flavours.

And finally, wedges of apple cinnamon and cider cake were served accompanied by vanilla cream and pistachios. A cinnamon sponge, baked with layers of apple and soaked in a cider glaze. The juices of the apple created a sweet sauce to the cake, which I likened more to a baked sponge pudding, rather than a cake – soft, sweet and satisfying but not at all heavy and too stodgy.

Full and happy, this was, we think a very enjoyable and successful afternoon! We had a lovely bunch of guests and it was nice to have a mix of new and returning faces round the table. We hope they left full and happy. We’ll definitely host another lunch soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

Later that evening we even managed to get out to The Greedy Pig’s Swine that Dines supperclub event they host in their cafe, which we’ll share soon. A foodie day indeed for us!

June Menu – A Spanish Lunch

Hot off the heels of our American afternoon tea, we’ll be hosting our next event. Where does time fly? This will be another afternoon event, but this time in the form of a wonderful tapas lunch! In homage of our upcoming Spanish trip, we’ll be bringing the flavours of warmer climes to the Manor.

We think our guests are in for a treat and we’d love to know what you think!

June 2015

June Event – A Spanish Lunch

SOLD OUT

20th June 2015, 1pm-4pm
We’re off to Spain in July so we want to bring a little bit of Spanish flair to the Manor. Instead of our usual afternoon tea events, we’re putting on a lunchtime Spanish feast!

Think Pintxos, tapas and other wonderful delights washed down with a crisp cold Fino sherry. Perfect!

There are 12 spaces round the table, so book on now using the link below, cost is £30pp.

Sorry this event is now fully booked

Wonderful Welsh Fodder

I had an impromptu trip to the North Wales coast this weekend. Without going into too much boring detail, I was all set for a holiday to the Basque country (I was packed and everything) when I realised my sodding passport had gone AWOL. I am now probably the leading expert in replacing passports in the whole of West Leeds. Needless to say travel to Spain had to be cancelled. Having said that I was all hyped up for a trip away and had no intention of returning to work, and so we picked a destination that was pleasant and close enough to the Liverpool passport office! The small saving grace was that the weather in Wales was actually far nicer than what was being forecast in our foreign destination, what a relief!

So, North Wales… land of castles, Anglesey salt, slate (for using as plates) and BLACK BOMBER CHEESE, mmmmmm. An unexpected foodie paradise I am sure you will agree. We kick started our weekend at the newly opened Welsh Farm Food Centre, housed in an old farm on the edge of Colwyn Bay. Beautifully renovated, it’s home to a massive farm shop, bee centre, tea room, restaurant, cookery school and overnight accommodation – lovely! I rinsed the farm shop buying local ales, mustard, honey, cheeses, biscuits, fudge and reasonably priced crockery. The meat counter also looked first class, but sadly we didn’t need any meat and so there seemed no point in browsing further if I couldn’t buy any.

Their Hayloft Restaurant is a bit of a destination dinner spot. It won’t get much footfall and so will rely on those who know that the farm shop exists. We decided to book for later in our trip after we’d visited the shop. As it’s all newly renovated the spaces are absolutely gorgeous and dripping in luxurious fabrics and furniture that reflect the colours and shapes of the natural world.  We perused our menus whilst sat in the quiet bar area. I ordered a local Welsh white wine to slurp as I chose. Unfortunately this was sold out so I went for a French counterpart, which was a bit disappointing. In hindsight I guess it’s the wrong time of year to expect local wine – especially after last year’s summer.

The Hayloft Bar

The Hayloft Bar

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Spanish Sun Brightens up the Manor

Amidst torrential rain showers we brought a little bit of Spanish sunshine to Dinner at the Manor, courtesy of the hit cook book from Rick Stein. Susie had been raving about his series last year and the book caught my eye at Christmas when he did a ‘best of’ Spain as a Christmas special.

I promptly wanted to eat everything he made. This colourful book features all of the different regions that make up Spain, highlighting the diversity within the country and the reliance on seasonal local ingredients within Spanish cuisine. Stein freely admits that his recipes are his ‘take’ on Spanish cooking, but this perhaps makes it a bit more accessible to a British audience.

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Dinner at the Manor’s Spanish Menu

We are bringing a taste of Spain to the Manor in just over 2 weeks’ time! We’ve thought long and hard about the menu and we think that these dishes, selected from Rick Stein’s Spain showcases an array of Spanish regional foods.

Expect bold flavours, tasty offerings and fabulous surroundings!

Let us know what you all think!

Dinner at the Manor Rick Stein Menu