Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Note: Ametsa was awarded a Michelin Star in September 2013.

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

Ametsa by Arzak Instruction

As the name suggests, Ametsa by Arzak Instruction draws its culinary inspiration from the famous three-Michelin starred Arzak in San Sebastian, Spain. Arzak made its name by introducing Nouvelle Basque cooking to the world. By taking the traditions of this fine food region and overlaying it with an inspired modern touch, the imagination of Arzak caught the world’s attention. In 1989 it attained its three-Michelin star status, an accolade that it continues to hold to this day.

And so it is that the philosophy behind Ametsa is also one of ‘New Basque Cuisine’, a matching of the traditions of the Basque region with modern techniques. It opened in March 2013 at the Halkin Hotel, taking over the space that was once occupied by David Thompson’s Nahm. A quintet of chefs from Arzak consulted on Ametsa including Mikel Sorazu, Igor Zalakain and Xabier Gutierrez, and most notably the famous father and daughter pair of Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak who was recognised by the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards as the World’s Best Female Chef of 2012.

No expense was spared on the interior and it looks expensive. The most eye-catching aspect of Ametsa’s décor is the ceiling that was created from 7,000 dangling glass receptacles filled with spices. It’s impressive, but the overall feel of the restaurant is quite cold with whitewashed walls and furnishings that give it a rather stark effect. In some respects, it was difficult to warm to the atmosphere of the restaurant.

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Codorníu Cava’s Great British Tapas Project at Pizarro

I love José Pizarro’s food. Spanish tapas through and through, his cooking is soulful and delicious, simply yet refined. My favourite of his restaurants is his flagship self-named José on Bermondsey Street. The food is not only fabulous and reasonably priced, but the restaurant also has a wonderful intimate feel to it. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed his second restaurant Pizarro as well (also on Bermondsey Street), but the original is a pretty special place. And it’s not just me who enjoys José’s food. His restaurants have also won a string of awards including Newcomer of the Year 2012 and Restaurant of the Year 2012 from Food and Travel Magazine, and Restaurant of the Year 2012 from The World Food Awards.

Chef Pizarro recently teamed up with Barcelona’s renowned cava brand, Codorníu, to launch a special Great British Tapas Project. A nationwide survey was commissioned by Codorníu cava to determine the UK’s top five most-loved dishes. José was then to transform these much loved British dishes into tapas with a Spanish twist.

So in order of preference, the top five dishes most loved by the British are roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, apple crumble and custard, fish and chips, a full English and shepherd’s pie. With these results, José managed to come up with some amazing gems at the launch of The Great British Tapas project at Pizarro Restaurant earlier this week.

The roast beef, placed in a mini Yorkshire pudding, was cooked medium rare. It had a wonderful flavour, was incredibly succulent and had been touched some with pimentón for added flair.

Roast beef Yorkshire mini puds

Roast beef Yorkshire mini puds

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Donostia

There are some incredible Spanish tapas restaurants in London at the moment. The ones that immediately spring to mind are José, Pizarro and Barrafina all of which are fabulous in their own way. The latest tapas restaurant to burst onto the London scene is Donostia, named after the Basque word for the Spanish foodie mecca that we all know and love as San Sebastian. Head chef is Tomasz Baranski who use to run Barrafina and Fino, both of which are owned by the hugely successful restaurateur brothers Sam and Eddie Hart.

Situated on trendy Seymour Place, just down the road from Vinoteca, Donostia has a canteen look to it, albeit a very stylish one. Dark wood floors provide a contrast to the restaurant’s long, sleek and white interior. Donostia rings with a comfortable and contemporary casualness.

The menu is designed for sharing of course, and there is a range of pintxos (smaller plates) plus larger ones that cover a range of meat, fish and veg. First up were the tempura prawns (£4.20) with Bayonne ham and mango. The prawns were well cooked and firm, but was let down by the fact that it was very, very salty. The batter was neither flaky nor airy in the way that proper tempura batter ought to be, but was quite crispy nevertheless. The ham and the mango was a nice contrast for the prawns.

Prawn tempura

Prawn tempura

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Copita

Copita Restaurant takes over from the site that was once Bar Chocolate on D’arblay Street. This is another tapas offering to hit London with a no reservations policy, but luckily we had no problems securing a spot for two on a Friday night. The vibe is chilled, relaxed and very Soho.

We kicked off with ajo blanco and beetroot (£3.95) which was lovely. A creamy dish, the sweetness of the beetroot pieces provided a lovely contrast to the runny garlic sauce.

Ajo blanco and beetroot

Ajo blanco and beetroot

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Opera Tavern

I recently went to a bloggers dinner with Greedy Diva and Gourmet Chick, and Gourmet Chick’s MR who was an honourable blogger for the evening. We went to Opera Tavern, not as guests of the restaurant, but as Aussies who love food and who just wanted to have a fun night out.

Opera Tavern is located in the heart of Covent Garden and has a prime spot close to the Opera House. The restaurant is relaxed and inviting with a light airy feel and specialises in Italian and Spanish influenced tapas. There is also a charcoal grill and headlining the grilled selection is the mini Ibérico pork and foie gras burger (£5.95) which was beautifully satisfying with its rich, fatty goodness. The bun was also enjoyable as it was light and airy. Overall this was a resounding success if a little salty.

Iberico pork & foie gras burger

Iberico pork & foie gras burger

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Barrafina

The thing that has always put me off about going to Barrafina, a Spanish tapas restaurant owned by Sam and Eddie Hart (the brothers who also own Quo Vadis and Fino), is the fact that you have to queue for a seat. Whenever I’ve walked into Barrafina and asked them about the waiting time, the standard response has always been 40-45 minutes. This is why I have never eaten at the restaurant even though it has been opened for a number of years.

Well I finally decided to brave the queue. Even with an early 6.15pm arrival, the wait still ended up being an hour, the boredom of which was alleviated only by the fact that you can order drinks as you stand in line. By the time we were seated, not only was I starving, I was also a little irritable after having stood for so long. But eating at Barrafina made it all worth while. It was like an epiphany, and I now understand why the crowds come back again and again and endure this exercise in patience. It’s simply because the food is so damn good.

To get us going were ham croquetas (2 for £3.50). The filling was made up of a decadent, runny béchamel sauce with ham that oozed deliciously as you broke into the crispy breadcrumb casing. These were scrumptious. Gambas al ajillo (£7.70), prawns with garlic, were moist, tasty and aromatic from the garlic.

Ham croquetas & garlic gambas

Ham croquetas & garlic gambas

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