Taking its name and inspiration from the three Michelin-starred Arzak in San Sebastian (regularly cited as one of the best restaurants in the world), Ametsa with Arzak Instruction opened in 2013, and shortly after was awarded its first Michelin star. The ‘instruction’ part of the name is attributed to father and daughter duo, Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak, who helped devise the Basque-inspired concept, with Ametsa representing the first opening outside their internationally-acclaimed restaurant in Spain.
The Venue & Atmosphere
Ametsa is located on the ground floor of the luxe Halkin by Como Hotel in Knightsbridge, tucked away just around the corner from Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. On entering you’ll notice a likely-intended contradiction when it comes to the style. On one hand, it’s a typically-classic affair of white table cloths and sleek fixtures, but on the other, modernist aesthetics; the main of which are the 7,000 test tubes hanging from the ceiling, all filled with deep orange and golden spices.
Though the narrow dining space is relatively small, it does feel oddly spacious. The result is an initial lack of warmness, and in my opinion, the atmosphere slightly suffers for it. That said, we did arrive to a relatively-quiet restaurant, and the buzz picked up when the later tables were seated and the restaurant was a little fuller. The service also plays a big part here; you can tell the floor team and kitchen are well-synced, and the service was flawless. We were helpfully guided through all the dishes and wines, and the waiters displayed an in-depth knowledge, and passion, of what they were serving. It sounds like an obvious thing for a restaurant of this standard to master, but in so many cases high-end eateries fall short when it comes to genuinely impressive service.
The Food & Drink
On recommendation, we opted for Ametsa’s signature tasting menu, paired with complementary wines (£110 without the paired wines, or £165 all-in). From the first Aperitivos serving, you can tell you’re in for a bit of an adventure. Our waiter on explaining the menu told us ‘we like to play with your senses’. And play they certainly did.
We started with ‘ham test tubes’, 'kataifi with scorpion fish cakes', 'shellfish ‘salpicion’ dice', and most interestingly for me, ‘mango, beer and black pudding’, served in the curve of a crushed beer can. As expected with such a generous tasting menu, the portions were small, but packed full of complex flavours. The beer can ensemble was completely unexpected and was balanced perfectly against the other bites.
Next up, the Entrantes; a well-presented scallop dish and a ‘langoustine crunch-crepe’. The scallops melted in your mouth, and even for someone not so keen on them usually, they were up there as one of my favourite dishes of the night. For the third serving, we were presented with 'sea bass with 'celery illusion'. Why ‘illusion’? Well you can probably guess; you’re not actually eating celery, instead, a perfectly-complementary thick jus-like sauce, styled into the shape of a piece of celery, and packed with an intense flavour. It’s little theatrics like that which take Ametsa up a notch. Sure, Michelin-star food is always going to be high-grade and technical, but Ametsa aren't afraid to have a little fun, which is refreshing.
Well over half way now and I’m thankful I didn’t go too hard on the table bread, because we're onto the meatiest course yet; 'Iberian Pork on Embers'. Adorned with charcoal-like additions on the plate, you're in for a treat with this one. Though the dish is undoubtedly-beautiful, not much can detract from just how good the pork is. Tender, juicy and packed with subtle tones - even at my level-of-full five courses in, I could have eaten three more portions. (At least). But of course, I’m glad I didn’t, because, well: dessert.
First up, 'orange toast and spinach'; big flavours and a hearty portion, oozing with a warm orange sauce and well-balanced salty-dry spinach to answer the sweet pudding. For the final hurrah, we were served ‘The Big Truffle’. And big it certainly was. Usually at this standard of restaurant you’ll finish on something dainty and light; not the case here. We went out in style, with a large-chocolate, puffy, candyfloss-y ball, which melted away on pouring over the deep hot chocolate sauce, to reveal a delicious tiny truffle inside. As I mentioned before, the courses aren’t huge so it allows you to really enjoy all the different flavours, but finishing on this dessert ensures absolutely no-one leaves the restaurant hungry.
Throughout the evening, we sampled a selection of wines chosen by the sommelier, aiming to marry the complex flavours of each dish. Though obviously slightly pricier, it’s well worth it. Highlights were the powerful (and boozy) Fino Gran Barquero, produced in the south of Spain – perfectly-paired with the scallops and sea-bass, the equally as flavoursome Tierra Blanco, a full-bodied rioja, and a Valencian red wine to finish the desserts with.
It’s worth noting that though this is at the higher end of the price-scale, Ametsa also offer a ridiculously-tempting £29 lunch menu. So if you don’t want to splash out on the dinner; get involved with that instead.
Beautiful food, slick and knowledgeable service, and a creative approach to fine-dining; there’s not much not to like about Ametsa. Sure it’s a little on the pricey side, but what Michelin-star establishments aren't? So if you are planning to fork out on a trip to one of London's best restaurants; you're in safe (and creative) hands here.