Ametsa with Arzak Instruction is a unique collaboration between Elena Arzak – voted Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef in 2012, her father Juan Mari Arzak, and Mikel Sorazu, Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutierrez. This superb one-Michelin-star Basque restaurant is found at COMO The Halkin Hotel in London’s Belgravia, and it’s a convenient and worthy home.
The Basque cuisine of Northern Spain includes lamb and fish, often cooked over coals, bean dishes, both sweet and hot peppers, and the popular pintxos (regional tapas). Ametsa and its fine chefs showcase these ingredients with flair and innovation whilst remaining true to the core of Basque food.
For a Basque-inspired restaurant this has more spice than one would expect. There is a little on the plate but a lot on the ceiling. It is carpeted (can one say that about a ceiling?) with phials of spice. Arched windows look out over a lush garden which is, in turn, reflected in mirrors. The tables are covered in white linen and are well-spaced. The ambiance is smart/casual, and surprisingly relaxed and accessible considering that this is a highly-respected Michelin-star-holder.
Like culinary poetry
Ametsa has a delightful wine list with vintages partnering the plates perfectly. Ask the able sommelier for his suggested wine pairings. And there are cocktails for every taste – enjoy one of these while considering the menu. It reads like culinary poetry. One is led to expect good things and the chef doesn’t disappoint.
Our starter was an array of small and artfully presented nibbles, representing the pintxos element of the menu. Kataifi con Pastel de Cabracho – Kataifi pastry with Scorpion Fishcake – was skewered and suspended on a bright metal stand. Empanadilla de Langostino was a pink prawn ‘gyoza’ or wonton and presented on a spring. Banana Crujiente, Puréde Piparra y Jamón Joselito – Crispy Plantain, Basque chilli pepper purée and Joselito ham – was served on shards of wood. Jamón Joselito is considered to be some of the best ham in the world and is produced by a company that was started in 1868!
The platters continued with Morcilla Crujiente – Crunchy Black Pudding. That crisp exterior is actually a birch-tree sugar coating made in the same way as maple syrup. It’s not over-sweet but provides a neat presentation of the black pudding which was fine-textured with well-balanced flavour.
Perhaps the best langoustine dish I have found in London
Vieiras con Polen – Scallops with Pollen – offered perfectly seared shellfish, and the ocean bounty continued with the dramatic Cigala bajo Rocas – Langoustine under Rocks. The ‘rock’ was a crunchy disc tasting of the coast and balanced on succulent seafood which was perhaps the best langoustine dish I have found in London.
The outstanding starter dish was Huevo en la Luna – Egg on the Moon. This was a vibrant presentation of a slow-cooked egg in a bright red pepper cloak, in a firmament of different-coloured purées. The egg, though slow-cooked, still had a creamy flowing yolk begging for a crust of fresh-baked bread for mopping. (Note to diner: Save some bread for this comforting epicurean process.)
John Dory beyond Blackberries was our fish course. The moist fish had well-seasoned skin, and flaked with hardly a breath of pressure from the fork. The berries offered both a sweetness and a tang, and swirled with a bit of colourful drama.
Lamb Lotus followed. The medallions of medium-rare meat were tender and moist with a topping of a crisp and sweet net. The trio of small fruits offered some summer freshness and some architectural interest: a beautiful plate.
An exceptionally well-crafted treat
The Passion of Chocolate, an apt title, and Intxaurtsaltsa Cube with Mutant Sauce were our desserts, although just one of these would have made a fine end to such a generous meal. Intxaursaltsa is a typical dessert of the Basque Country, where it is traditionally enjoyed as part of the Christmas festivities. This was an exceptionally well-crafted treat, with a sauce that artfully changed colour with the addition of a few drops of what the manager described as ‘vitamins’.
Ametsa with Arzak Instruction is a gem in every regard, but it’s an unintimidating oasis in London’s sea of culinary posers. This is a real food-lover’s dream. The chef combines aesthetics and artistry in the best of gastronomic taste. The dishes draw on Basque heritage and the wealth of regional produce. The food will be memorable and so will the evening.
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday: 12.00noon till 2.00pm
Saturday: 12.30pm till 2.00pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday: 6.30pm till 9.30pm
Tapas Menu: Monday to Sunday (available in The Halkin Bar only)
11.00am to 11.00pm
Ametsa with Arzak Instruction
COMO The Halkin
Phone: +44 (0)20 7333 1234