Book review: ‘Akelaŕe: New Basque Cui…

Global restaurant fashions come and go, but San Sebastián in northern Spain, with its thrilling mix of casual pinxcho bars and cutting-edge, high-end restaurants, remains a place of gastronomic pilgrimage.

It’s home to a constellation of Michelin stars, including Arzak, Mugaritz and Martín Berasategui, as well as Akelaŕe, run by legendary chef Pedro Subijana for nearly 40 years.

Occupying a commanding position west of the city centre with stunning views over the Bay of Biscay, Akelaŕe has maintained its three-Michelin-star status since 2007 for its imaginative New Basque Cuisine (the Spanish equivalent of nouvelle cuisine), which includes an amuse-bouche based around bathroom toiletries, with tomato-flavoured liquid soap, onion sponge, Idiazábal cheese moisturiser and bath salts made from potato starch, prawn and rice ‘sand’.

The book begins with visually arresting images of dishes, such as ‘zebra squid’; roast loin of hare à la royale with chestnuts; and razor clam with veal shank. Just 23 out of 240 pages are recipes in English, and methods tend to be on the sketchy side – not ideal with such technical food. Articles on the restaurant’s cookery school and associated Basque Culinary Centre and suggested wine pairing round out the book.

Spanish and Basque translations of the text occupy a significant amount of space; a tad galling if you’ve splashed out £30 on a relatively slim, glossy cookbook. Although beautiful to look at and a real pleasure to browse, the book suffers from a case of style over substance, something of which New Basque Cuisine itself could be accused.

Ingredients such as zopako bread, Beasain onion morcilla and ‘cortezas de trigo’ (wheat snacks similar to pork scratchings) may be difficult for British chefs to lay their hands on. It is perhaps best to treat Akelaŕe: New Basque Cuisine as it was probably intended; a memento of a meal enjoyed or an invitation to make a reservation at the restaurant, if this sort of Spanish sleight of hand still floats your culinary boat in 2018.
By Andy Lynes

If you like this, you may enjoy these

  • My Basque Cuisine: A Love Affair with Spanish Cooking by Ash Mair
  • Sabor: Flavours from a Spanish Kitchen by Nieves Barragán Mohacho
  • Borago: Coming from the South by Rodolfo Guz

Akelaŕe: New Basque Cuisine by Pedro Subijana (Grub Street, £30)

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Post Author: MNS Master