It was a 1-Michelin star restaurant headed by a 3-Michelin star chef, but the overall impact of the seasonal €75 tasting menu at Martin Berasategui @ Restaurante Kursaal in San Sebastien, Spain, felt like one of those boys you meet at a party whom you can't fault but at the same time can't feel any real spark for.
While each of the dishes were well executed technically, with flashes of creativity from the school of foam-this-and-jelly-that molecular gasto chefs, there just didn't seem to be that one true act of chutzpah, or one solid punch of witty humour to anchor the meal.
Or maybe it was an unfortunately over-active night out on the waterfront surrounding the Congress Hall and Auditorium, where the restaurant is located. The din of megaphones and new-age percussions on the performance stages outside jarred heavily with the piped jazz in the restaurant. The grand fireworks display for the visitors outside sadly showed more smoke than light to the diners inside. Molecular gastro chef giant Heston Blumenthal is a strong believer that eating is an experience of ALL the senses, so the cacaphony could well have distracted and destracted from the meal at hand.
Ultimately, you realise that these things are subjective, so you take said boy to one of those "pot luck" parties where your other girlfriends also bring boys they like but ultimately can't date, in the hope that chemistry will be found somewhere on the carousel.
So goes this write-up.
Perhaps you too have a executed-well-but-missing-a-spark dining experience to share?
By the Book
Trio of pre-starter starters: grilled green chili-peppers with sea salt; a shot of tomato consomme; and white anchovy sections with a creamy cheesy custard.
Spider crab in anchovy sauce, with crudites, salad leaves and flowers, and cauliflower cream.
Grilled white asparagus with pod-juice foam; and the first real trick of the evening -- peas and beans in beef-jus jelly.
Pan-roasted fish of the day in fish-skin sauce, with baked aubergine
The main event (at least to us): Crispy-skin roast suckling pig, with gravy made from the pig's ears, and apple cream.
I admit that Melf and I set impossibly high standards for this dish -- we both hold a deep bias that no one can roast pork like the Chinese (the next closest might be the Filipinos). But I held out hope, since I increasingly believe that no one raises pigs like the Spanish. (As I found out later, pigs in the Andalusian countryside at least, get to root around in figs and pomograntes, both of which grow wild and like weeds.)
The result?: Again, respectable, but not quite like the big-league suckling pig purveyors in Singapore or Hong Kong. The gravy was a bright spark, however -- talk about making a silk purse from a sow's ear, eh.
And then a seemingly endless stream of desserts. French toast with licorice ice-cream; spicy peach gnocchi (very reminiscent of Jelly-Belly-style concoctions) and coconut ice-cream.
Pistachio custard with coffee syrup; Berries and cream; and little almond cakes.