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Mar 1, 2013 03:15 PM

Which two of Martin Berasategui, Mugaritz, Arzak, and Akelarre?

Our first trip to Spain, mainly for great food and art in Barcelona and San Sebastian. Will dine at El Cellar de Can Roca while in the Barca area but not sure where to dine near SS. We can visit two high end places while at SS.

Out of the four high end restaurants in the thread title which two would you favor? We like both classical cuisine (Per Se or French Laundry) and also molecular (Alinea), and are pretty experienced at Michelin 3* and 2* dining.

If I go by the Pellegrino “World’s 50 Best” list then it’s easy ... Mugaritz is # 4 and Arzak # 8 in the world (and we would have dined at 6 of their top 10 after this trip). But I don’t agree with their rankings of several places we’ve dined at, including one in their Top 10 that I feel is wildly overrated, so I’m leery about just going by their list and including Mugaritz.

If I go by the Michelin ratings, sub-ranked with Andy Hayler’s scores for the three stars, then Berasategui (7/10) and Arzak (7/10) would be slightly favored over Akelarre (6/10) and Mugaritz would be left out because it lacks the third star. {edit: I found a Mugaritz review by Hayler and he gave them 4/10} Yet there are many internet articles like this pair that enjoyed Akelarre more than Arzak ...

So anyway, what do you say? Right now I’m leaning Arzak and Akelarre (or Arzak and MB) but am willing to be swayed.


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  1. First –you really can’t go too far wrong with ANY of them!

    Second – check Andy Hayler’s ratings with your own assessments. I’ve met (and dined at the same restaurant at the same time as) Andy, and his tastes are so different from mine that I actually seek out the places he gives the lowest ratings to (sounds like a joke, but I’m NOT kidding!). In which case Akelarre and Mugaritz would be the choices.

    I’m guessing you have a car (otherwise Berasatugui is a very long commute), and as such I suggest you add Etxebarri to your list as it’s totally different from any of the others, and my guess is you’ll need a change of pace.

    My rankings (of all the above) are

    1. Akelarre – particularly for the two different tasting menus – so you can each have separate dishes – doubling the number you can try

    2. Mugaritz – for me the most ‘challenging’ – but most interesting. Some of the stuff will bewilder you (possibly) but the hits are huge. The chef has a passion that makes Mugaritz unique. Quirky in the extreme.

    3. Etxebarri – the finest ‘grill’ restaurant I have encountered – magical, except the one style of cooking lowers my overall ranking.

    4. Arzak – I didn’t like the room or ambiance here and also found the cooking ‘safe’ rather than inspired. Still very good – but outshone by the others.

    5. Berasategui – very fresh and seasonal but I found the cooking style repetitive (for my visit anyway). For example we had 3 different smoked fish courses (all different) – each one was good – but 3 times was overkill. Also he seemed hung up on gels/jellies. Even our salad came in a jelly.

    And to confuse you even more – if you are at Can Roca, you are VERY close to Sant Pau (which IMO is now doing the finest Catalan cooking anywhere – it’s modern but not molecular/modernist).

    Whatever you do – you’ll have a great time.

    2 Replies
    1. re: estufarian

      Thanks ... really wanted to go to Sant Pau but she closes the first three weeks in May and that's when we'll be there :(

      I know what you mean about Hayler, he gave El Bulli a 0/10 at one point, but here in the US my tastes and his seem to be pretty similar, with both of us rating Alinea and Per Se as the best.

      So right now, after your post, I guess Akelarre is a 'go' but I am rethinking Arzak vs Mugaritz ... if this trip goes smoothly we'll likely return next year and visit 2-3 of the ones we skipped this year, making sure we time it so we can visit Carme's restaurant in Sant Pau.

      Anyway, thanks for the input.

      1. re: willyum

        Too bad about Sant Pau; but in Barcelona you might want to try Moments in the Mandarin Hotel - she supervises it very closely (her son is the chef). I recommend lunch there as it's a bargain - around €45 for 3 courses or €55 for 4 courses. It will whet your appetite for the 'real thing'.
        I'm still batting close to (-)100% with Andy's recommendations. Per Se for me was a disaster - not wanting to make a scene I quietly asked the Maitre d' to step outside and explained what had already gone wrong in the first 45 minutes.(MULTIPLE items, including wrong info on the menu options, wrong wine being poured, one wine missed) and to his credit, from that point on, there was a dramatic improvement.
        Alinea (or rather Grant - as I dined multiple times at his previous restaurant) has beeen full of ups and downs - with the most recent down being so severe I may never return. Only 15 courses (not the 23-26, or more, I was used to; in and out in 2½ hours; wines ridiculously priced ($250 per person for tasting flight) and when I returned one it WASN'T replaced or substituted and I was still charged. So well over $1000 (for two) and a very disappointing experience.

        So I can still (mis)use Andy's recommendations!
        And, as I said before, you can't go wrong with any of your choices.

    2. Of these, I have only been to Arzak and Akelare. Not to say anything bad about Arzak, but between the two, I would choose Akelare. It's an unforgettable experience.

      1. I'm kind of in the same boat. Will be in SS from a Monday to Thurs early afternoon. Looking to do Asador Etxebarri on Tues for lunch, then a pinxtos sampling at night (TBD).

        For Wed, I have Akelarre booked for lunch. I'd like to fit in Mugaritz for dinner. Is it recommended to do two tasting menu meals in one day? I would try spreading them apart as much as possible (earliest time for Akelarre, latest time for Mugaritz).

        2 Replies
        1. re: deepfry7

          I would not recommend doing 2 tasting menus in a day unless you really can eat a ton of food. I can eat a fair amount and I did Akelare and Arzak on the same day last summer, and it was probably the most full and drunk I've ever been. I was doing okay until I got to the desserts at Arzak but it definitely got rough. My friends said I looked like hell when I met up with them later, and it made for a very unpleasant next morning.

          1. re: DougOLis

            Thanks for the feedback!

            I wouldn't really drink during lunch. Also, I don't have a sweet tooth so I can really just do a bite of each dessert, saving the petit fours for the next day, and be happy.

            I'll have to think about it further.

        2. I would recommend . Akelarre and Berasategui, in that order. We had a very disappointing meal at Arzak. The chef was away and his daughter was supervising. First time I ever sent food back at a Michelin-starred restaurant. The espresso lobster at Akelarre was amazing (no espresso in the dish, FYI). Both meals were excellent and watching the exquisitely choreographed waiters at Berasategui was a show in and of itself. No matter what, be sure to do at least one pintxos crawl. Wonderful experience.

          1. As many others have said found Arzak not overly impressive, but thought Akelarre a wonderful experience. they not only allowed us to have the two tasting menus but also to substitiute any ALC items we wished for a course or two off the tasting menu.
            Highlights for me were the razor clam and veal tendon, called veal shank on the menu, and the finest piece of bacalao ever encountered. Their wine list is very fairly priced and had a few vintages of Lopez-Herredia La Todonia Blanco with the meal.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              Went to some of these. Etxebarri was by far the best, totally different, memorable experience partially due to the effort getting there and location. I advise getting the 2 hour train and the bus!

              Mugaritz was below average. Everything looked perfect but nothing tasted great. Arzak was a bit above average. If I went back I wouldn't even bother with arzak. They seemed to be trying to be youthful and innovative just for the sake of it. They served a dish on an iPad with flames playing. There was absolutely no reason for them to do this except as a gimmick.