Restaurant Review: Ametsa with Arzac Instruction at COMO The Halkin in London’s Belgravia
With a plethora of one, two and three Michelin starred eateries in Spain’s Basque region, it is no surprise that London’s Basque restaurant, Ametsa with Arzac Instruction is a holder of one star itself.
In its own words, Ametsa’s approach is “rooted in the traditions of ‘New Basque Cuisine,’ pairing the earthy flavours and techniques of Spain’s Basque region with modern, surprising twists featuring locally-sourced and organic produce from land and sea.” Sitting in the luxury boutique hotel, COMO The Halkin in Belgravia, the restaurant opened in February 2013 and is a collaboration between Elena Arzak (World’s Best Female Chef 2012 – Veuve Clicquot), her father Juan Mari Arzak, Mikel Sorazu, Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutierrez. A spin off of San Sebastian’s 3 Michelin Star awarded eatery, Arzak, London’s Ametsa draws inspiration from the décor as well as the food. Designed by London based Ab Rogers Design, a feature ceiling is certainly a talking point and I found out that it is created using 7,000 glass receptacles hanging at different heights, all filled with spices of varying colour, giving an overall mustard colour.
Soft grey blinds cover the windows, which sit along one side of the room, and match the colour of the walls. A canvas with spices thrown on sits on one wall while mirrored panels rest above the area where I’m sat. I’m housed on burgundy leather seating, which runs along the wall, while my guest, Nick has a simple silver armchair. It’s a bit futuristic and not the most comfortable restaurant I’ve spent the evening in but low lighting and upbeat music play to create an atmosphere. There’s plenty of chatter in the room and the waiters and waitresses are all really nice and friendly, showing their personalities as they visit the table, while being professional and making the evening run smoothly for us at the same time.
As much as I like the environment, I come to restaurants to eat so I’ll move swiftly on to the food. Nick and I had a very warm welcome at Ametsa from the restaurant manager and found, at our table, a tasting menu for our evening’s dining, signed by executive head chef, Sergi Sanz, which consisted of 4 aperitifs, 3 starters, 1 fish course, 1 meat course and 2 desserts. We were also offered the wine pairings and, always ones to please, we accepted with no hesitation.
We started the meal with some breads and beautiful olive oil before tucking into our selection of stunningly displayed aperitifs. Consisting of pumpkin and mandarin soup, kataifi with scorpion fish cake, sardine doughnut and sobrassada chimneys, the bite sized delights were an intricate selection of sweet, fishy and smoky flavours and crispy, wet and delicate textures. I loved the display of the food – to be eaten in order – on a metal stand with the foods placed at varying heights. A fun and delicious start to the meal, these were paired with a sherry from Andalucia (Fino Inocente Valdespino (Jerez)), which was justified by the stronger flavours on offer but Nick and I found a little too strong, though we’re not sherry drinkers normally.
Onto our first starter and we had ‘scallops leaving the home.’ What I love most about scallops is that they go with so many flavours and love a crispy texture too and this dish had some really warming flavours including paprika. Uplifted by a glass of refreshing Basque, almost sparkling wine – Gaintza Txakoli 2015 (Getariako Txakolina), the same drink went with the next course of Langoustine crunchy-crepe with water spinach. The ingredients were presented thoughtfully on the plate, like the previous courses, and were succulent and flavoursome with beautifully gentle flavours. I wanted to savour this lovely dish.
Our final starter was unusual but delicious. Wrapped in a banana leaf with a peg securing it closed was a poached egg on a bed of crispy chistora pieces (Basque chorizo) and a ham consommé. Aptly named ‘egg in the leaf,’ this course was smoky, meaty and very well paired with lovely light white Rioja (Tierra Blanco 2014, Viura Barrel Fermented). The waiter jokingly said “enjoy your breakfast “ as he served it, and it certainly felt different to have a poached egg half way through a meal but Nick and I are big on eggs, we loved it and appreciated the individuality of the cuisine.
Next we had sea bass on banana ‘escabeche’ and the colourful ingredients on a black plate combined with sweeter flavours and soft and crispy textures were very nice. The generous portion of crispy-edged sea bass shone for me and a crispy tube of thin, curled plantain had a gentle flavour but we both weren’t keen on the aubergine. We followed this with ‘lamb with lotus’ consisting of seared loin of lamb wrapped in a lotus leaf with coconut sauce, mint sauce and lotus roots with parsley and turmeric to give them colour. I appreciated the high quality of the lamb but I wasn’t as keen on this dish as Nick was. He said it reminded him of a Thai green curry and said the heavy lamb flavour was lifted by the coconut and mint. I really liked the wine here – a glass of red from Valencia (Olivastro 2010, Utiel-Requena).
A palate cleanser of lemon sorbet coated in dark chocolate was a Russian roulette disguised among a selection of fermented and dried lemons and limes in a bamboo steamer. Thankfully we chose the correct ones and enjoy the delicious combination of a crisp chocolate outer and the cooling, sharp inner.
The start of two desserts was mango and orange crème caramel followed by the big truffle. A glass of small wine production Basque wine – Arima 2014 late harvest Txakoli had a lower sugar content, which offset the sweetness of the mango, passion fruit and orange. I don’t love mango but I quite liked the gentle sweetness here in the dense format. The dessert wine complemented this very well and the soft texture was OK but we didn’t like the accompaniment of what looked like honeycomb but was actually something dried and chewy.
The big truffle arrived looking like far too much to handle but once a chocolate and orange liquor was poured over it the gigantic truffle disintegrated a little. Soft mousse with crispy bits was surrounded by candy floss and dusted in rich cocoa powder and the sauce sat at the bottom of the plate. It looked like a lot and a bit too much to tackle and it was! Delicious and creative as it was there was too much rich sauce to handle, even for a sweet tooth chocoholic like me.
In a nutshell
The start was pretty epic but we weren’t 100% on the wine pairings and it got less great towards the end of the meal, but still pretty good. The food is varied with a focus on flavour, texture, presentation and experience and it is easy to see why Ametsa holds a Michelin star.
Address: COMO The Halkin, London, The Halkin by Como, Halkin Hotel London, Halkin St, Belgravia, London SW1X 7DJ
Phone: 020 7333 1234