Drink & Dine

Ametsa with Arzak Instruction – Fine dining falling short

Ametsa with  Arzak Instruction (let’s call it AWAI) is one of the newest “designed for a Michelin star” restaurants to hit London. That’s no surprise given its pedigree – it’s the brainchild of Chef Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena who boast 3 such stars at Arzak in San Sebastian. However, neither of these brilliant chefs are actually at AWAI and sadly it shows. Ametsa is good, but lacking the style and panache to become great.

Meeting friends?

The restaurant is located inside the Halkin and the location means you are a bit limited in where to meet for a drink before dinner. The hotel bar is a bit swanky but comfortable and boasts a creative cocktail list. Cocktails start at £12-13 with a few making an appearance at the £18-20 mark – not surprising given the posh digs you’re drinking in. Service is spot on although be careful if ordering a drink then moving to the restaurant. Although the hotel bar also functions as Ametsa’s bar, drink orders tend to get lost as one of our party ended up waiting almost 45 minutes before it finally appeared.

Now you’re here, what to eat?

There is an a la carte menu, but let’s be honest, you’re coming here for the tasting menu which should showcase the best the restaurant has to offer. And for £105, the best had better be just that. On paper, it looks like it might live up to your hopes and dreams with such playful yet mysterious named dishes such as “Scallops with Betacarotene” and “From Egg to Chicken” although the “Pigeon with Shot” did start to raise a few concerns. All items are listed in Spanish with an English translation below to let you know where AWAI hails from – just in case the heavy Iberian accents from the staff didn’t give it away.

We started with a trio of appetisers just barely big enough to be called bite sized. They were interesting in an usual way but I can’t honestly say they managed to pull off the role of an amuse bouche. My palate wasn’t excited by the mango dumpling with chorizo cream because although the concept is excellent, the execution was lacking with the slightly spicy cream having a very gritty texture reminiscent of unwashed mussels. This was a steady theme throughout the meal with the perfectly cooked scallops delicate flavour being marred by the strange film of betacarotene (known as carrot to we non-science folk) being as clingy like a toddler on the first day of school.

The Egg to Chicken demonstrated the power of sous-vide cooking and looked brilliant…until they poured the stock over the dish which turned the crisply looking chicken skin into something akin to that light cream skin that forms at the top of warm milk. Again, this was more clingy than my ex-girlfriend and nothing I wanted in my mouth. The dishes kept coming and while I enjoyed them, I felt a growing unease that I had paid a bit too much for this meal.

How about a drink?

The cocktails mentioned earlier are a good, but the real value lies in the wine flights (3 glasses for £15) and the wine pairing (£45). The flights will allow you to try a selection of the wine list and the sommelier is happy to come over and help you design your own (although this will most likely result in a higher price). Credit must be given to said sommelier as the wine pairing was the best I’ve had in London. The wines were delicious on their own but played off the bold flavours of the food fantastically. Plus, they keep refilling your glass until the next wine pairing comes along – bonus wine = win in my book.

Worth the dosh?

So the food is good and the wine is great, but is it worth the money? As a quick recap, my pre-dinner cocktail clocked in at £18 (Van Winkle Old Fashioned), the tasting menu was a hefty £105, and the wine pairing added another £45 for a grand total of £168 before we worry about service charge. At that level, it’s a bit of a toss up – I’d estimate the food to be overpriced, the wine under priced, and the cocktails on the higher side but not unreasonable. In hindsight, I think the tasting menu at Pied a Terre or Texture to be a better use of the money or for just a bit more splurge on the Chef’s Table at Dinner.

Find AWAI here

Halkin Hotel, Halkin Street, London SW1, 020-7333 1234.

Open all week, lunch noon-2.30pm, dinner 6.30-10.30pm (closed Sun night).

Bookings taken online for groups up to 6 people. Tables can be arranged for larger groups via phone.

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