Monday, July 20, 2015

Ametsa with Arzak Instruction

I thought part of the reason why our lunch at Dinner by Heston didn't fare as much as the hype was because it's overshadowed by our lunch at Ametsa the day before. Similar to Dinner which was backed by a chef who owned a Michelin 3-starred restaurant, behind Ametsa was Juan Mari and Elena Arzak, who owned the 3-starred Arzak in San Sebastian in the Basque Country (of Spain), which we had a chance to visit a few years back. This London outpost of theirs was rated as one-star in its own right in the latest Michelin guide.


Ametsa is housed inside The Halkin by COMO, a boutique hotel in the prestigious neighborhood of Belgravia not far away from Green Park. The small but spacious dining room featured a clean, bright decor just a few steps off the hotel entrance, with the window overlooking a garden outside the hotel. Their set lunch was of tremendous value, featuring a trio of tapas plus the "Principal" course for just 27.5 pounds, with the option to add a dessert for 7.5 pounds extra - a regular lunch in a half-decent place in Hong Kong would have been of similar price, let alone in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Cooking was uncompromisingly Basque style. Even though the Arzaks weren't involved in the day-to-day cooking at the restaurant, I could see some influence from the talented father-daughter chef team, with bold flavors being used with fancy presentations.

After a simple amuse-bouche of a cold tomato-strawberry soup in a shot glass, the trio of starters were served tapas style for us to share. First was a couple pieces of toasted bread "pillow" were wrapped in Iberico Ham. Even though the bread was described as "Pan con Tomate", but the tomato flavor was hardly noticeable but we definitely couldn't miss the iconic rich flavor from that of the Iberico ham slices, plus the puffed-up bread pillow was tasty. The Foie Corn Cob was a playful dish, with foie gras terrine "stuffed" inside the corn replacing the cob, and served with bits of pop corns. The combination of sweet corn and rich liver terrine was interesting. The Black Ink Squid looked like a piece of art, with squid stuffed with the diced tentacles and braised in the black squid ink sauce with lava of the grassy Basque Salsa Verde. I never knew black and green colors match so well! All of the tapas were very impressive.

My Principal course of Muddied Pork Terrine was another beautifully-presented course. The thin slab of pork - the knuckle meat - was slow-cooked and gave an almost melt-in-your-mouth texture, garnished with micro-greens and edible flowers, and served with a thick pork jus reduction spooned on top providing some extra flavors. And the side of pickled vegetable salad was served to counter the richness of the meat with some tart acidity.

The dessert of Clove Custard, Toasted Milk and Pineapple Icecream sounded more cool than it really was, though there's nothing wrong with that combination. But C's dessert of Orange French Toast and Spinach was definitely the more interesting one, pairing the French Toast with a piece of dehydrated spinach on top. Both were super sweet.

It's not a bad place to stick around for a lazy afternoon. After the meal we just made a short stroll over to Hyde Park for our time relaxing in this gorgeous day in London under the sun, one of the rarity for this town we were told.

More pictures on my Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/sets/72157655279207520

When? June 25 2015
Where? Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, The Halkin by COMO, Halkin Street, London
Menu Highlights? Muddied Pork Terrine
Drink? Txomin Etxaniz Txakoli D.O. Getariako Txakolina 2014
Web: www.comohotels.com/thehalkin/dining/ametsa


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