El Mirador de Ulía*

Browsing through the Spanish equivalent of groupon (oferplan) I came across a discounted voucher for a tasting menu at the one-Michelin-starred restaurant, El Mirador de Ulía. To celebrate having survived my first month here in the Basque country I decided to splash out. El Mirador is perched overlooking Zurriola beach and boasts panoramic views over the whole of San Sebastian not to mention stupendous modern Basque cuisine. Unfortunately I didn’t pick the best day weather-wise. Somehow though  the threatening clouds and torrential rain just added to the experience…

The aperitif, which the waitress called a ‘(e)snack’, consisted of a jamón ibérico breadstick (or grissini) and waiver-thin crackers, one flavoured with ham as well, another with seaweed and the third with squid. It was accompanied by a saffron emulsion and whetted the appetite beautifully.

The first course consisted of a reconstructed egg – the yolk made of chorizo juices and the white out of a bacalao concoction. Accompanying it was a chickpea broth, small cubes of bacalao tripe, irresistibly crisp strips of fried potato and a reduced sauce that resembled the flavouring of ‘patatas bravas’. I wasn’t overly keen on the aftertaste of the bacalao in this dish though all the delectable accompaniments made it too good not to eat.

This was followed by mild green chilli peppers stuffed with anchovies. They were accompanied by spheres of liquid olive resting on a spinach sauce. As you may have spotted in the photo, I was a bit too eager to get stuck in and forgot to take a photo before taking my first bite.

By far one of the best dishes these mushrooms presented ‘in their natural environment’ just blew me away. The fried egg emulsion they are sitting on has to be one of the tastiest sauces I’ve ever tried – it could make anyone overcome their worst food phobias. It was accompanied by fried onion and sesame seed crumbs and micro herbs.

Thinking I’d tried the best dish on the menu I tucked into this duck breast only to be even more astounded than I was by the mushrooms. Slow-cooked duck is drizzled with an almond praline glaze and accompanied by a tart apple sauce with sunflower seeds and a coil of melon. This dish had it all – meat so tender you had to question if it really was meat, delectable nutty sweetness, sharpness from the apple to cut through the richness and a refreshing bite of melon to finish it all off. Really, this dish alone deserved three Michelin stars!

To refresh the palate a citrus-fruit sorbet with a nutty crumble.

And for dessert a mascarpone ball with a hazelnut ice cream centre  Perhaps you’re wondering what that sack-like thing is containing it all? To my surprise it was toasted milk skin – yes the skin skimmed off milk and toasted. Not something we’d usually consider appetizing but it brought a toasty, caramelized flavour that really did work. And to set it off, a raspberry coulis and a sprinkle of mint sugar.

Before the petits fours below were brought out another plate appeared before me. The waiter said it was a special dish just for me. In my excitement I failed to take a photograph but I will describe it. The plate had on it : a red berry (a little like a cranberry), a dusky red powder and three slices of lemon. I was told to eat the berry, then the powder and then to wait 1-2 minutes before eating the lemon. To my astonishment when I braced myself for the acidity of the lemon all I could taste was sweetness. The berry, I later found out, is known as the miracle fruit (synsepalum dulcificum) because it contains a natural sugar substitute, miraculin, which causes sour foods to taste sweet.

Finally, some petits fours washed down with a tea infusion. Despite the threat of thunder and lightning over San Sebastian the real sparks were coming from the kitchen – I certainly was ‘struck down’ by some of the dishes on El Mirador‘s tasting menu.

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