Mugaritz is an avant garde restaurant that not only uses cutting edge cookery techniques, but is looking to develop new ones. The kitchen is a laboratory for the exploration of new flavours, combinations, textures and produce. They want the diner to experience something unique, to feel challenged and leave the restaurant feeling like a new experience has been had. The problem with being a restaurant like this is walking that tight-rope between challenging the diner and delivering great dishes. The truly great restaurants are able to do both - push boundaries in the pursuit of ultimate deliciousness. However, Mugaritz doesn't always do this.
The dishes in Mugaritz focus around a few ingredients - many dishes having just one or two components. The food also feels regional, showcasing the produce of the Basque region. Some of the dishes on our tasting menu were excellent: grilled fennel with a creamy goats cheese was moreish; 'Bovis maxima' delivered a light but intense beef flavour; Mackerel, beetroot and horseradish was sweet, almost candied, but perfectly balanced. The best dish of the meal was a dessert of toffee and parsnip cake - a beautiful gelatinous cake with the little bit of spice from the parsnip was great with the toffee.
Mugaritz will present dishes that will divide opinion - not every serving will be to everyone's liking and even on our table of two our verdict of some dishes was polarised. A perfect example of this was 'pearls of ascophyllum nodusum (an alga) and fava beans'. The flavour was pleasing enough to both of us, but the stringy and gooey texture was not. There is nothing wrong with dishes that create debate and conversation though - in fact Mugaritz gives the impression that is what they want to do.
On some dishes Mugaritz feels like they have got their priorities wrong and that the technique in the creation of the dish has taken their attention away from the flavour. Some are just not that pleasant, such as 'marine cold cuts' - a very pungent trio of smoked seafood. Others just didn't deliver the flavour that the should - they were slightly dull and less than the sum of their parts. Servings like: suckling pig and wild sorrel; walnut omelet; crab with macadamias and pink peppercorns; oyster and wild garlic omelette, despite being quite pleasing, just didn't deliver on taste.
The service was, on the whole, quite good and the dining room was beautiful and comfortable. Value-wise it isn't too bad - €185 for a 20+ course tasting menu, but maybe for that price you want more dishes that are pure delight.
There is a lot to like about Mugaritz. It is a progressive restaurant on the cutting edge of food innovation and the food still feels deeply rooted in the Basque region. It is intriguing, thought provoking and if you have an open-mind, don't mind being challenged and are prepared to have the odd dish that may not be to your liking then Mugaritz is definitely worth a visit. Despite leaving feeling that maybe they are a bit too kitchen focused and now and again they forget about the diner, there was enough good food, enough intrigue and plenty of originality, we certainly wouldn't rule out a return visit.
See Mugaritz in our World Restaurant Ratings