Open for lunch Tue–Fri midday–midnight, Sat 12.30pm–2pm for tapas Mon midday–2pm and 5.30pm–9pm and for dinner daily 6.30pm–10pm
The Halkin by COMO hotel, nestled a few streets behind Hyde Park tube is where you’ll find Ametsa with Arzak Instruction restaurant. Admittedly, it’s not a restaurant name that rolls off the tongue, but it’s based on the founders: renowned Spanish chef Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena, who has been voted Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef. Hailed as one of the leading talents in ‘New Basque Cuisine’, Juan Mari Arzak is celebrated for his 3-Michelin star restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain, and while neither him nor is daughter are physically present at London’s Ametsa, this one-Michelin star restaurant comes, by design, with a reputation to uphold.
As you walk into the Halkin Hotel, a quiet and elegant destination, Ametsa’s entrance is directly ahead. Equally elegant with white walls, touches of grey and large windows flooding the room with natural light, the atmosphere may feel a little subdued, if not serious. We settled in our seats along the left side wall and soon forgot about the smattering of muted diners and enjoyed our own, quiet, conversation. My dining partner, Eva, and I were impressed with the striking ceiling decor: hanging test tubes filled with ground spices in autumnal tones. A clever mirrored back-wall tricked our eyes into thinking the room was bigger. It’s actually quite intimate, with just 40 covers.
After scanning the new set-lunch menu (£24.50) inspired by Basque cuisine, I had to politely tell the waiter I was vegan, which is the point in restaurant dining I often dread. But instead of the typically awkward response, the waiter offered me appealing alternatives, some off-menu and some a la carte, almost without hesitation. Top points for dealing with dietary requirements. The waiting staff were attentive and brimming with knowledge. The sommelier was especially good at pairing wines for my vegan dishes, directing us to Silencis by Raventos i Blanc, a stylish organic white from biodynamic, vintage vineyards in Catalonia.
To start, I was served breaded spring onion, grilled peppers, and pumpkin soup with mandarin (minus the flaked mackerel) and my friend had black ink squid, Iberico ham and flaked tuna with figs; all were small, delicate servings aiming for a big impact. Only the little squares of jellied squid stole the show.
I had a medley of lightly-roasted seasonal ‘vegetables and roots’: bite-sized beetroot, squash, artichoke and more, tumbled together and topped with a light strawberry and radish foam. I thoroughly enjoyed this, but it did feel a little like I was eating a large side dish. Eva chose the traditional Basque dish of cod ‘pil-pil’ style, a staple from the region. The salted cod is pan-cooked until its gelatine forms a jelly-like sauce, which is the pil-pil sauce. It was a great choice, complimented by black trumpet mushrooms – softly sweet and lightly chewy in texture – and fine flakes of black seaweed.
For desert we chose the ‘chocolate wooden board’ and ‘passionate’ – both were creative and nothing like we expected. The chocolate board was a Jenga-pile of chocolate-coated wafer thins, except instead of wafer crunch, there was a slightly soggy softness – we weren’t quite sure whether this was intentional or not. The accompanying pumpkin, passion fruit and mango sorbets and ice cream were deliciously rich in flavour, but unfortunately too much to finish.
Coffee and petit fours in The Halkin Bar was an effortless way to finish lunch at Ametsa, a place that’s perfect when a clattering restaurant with loud, bolshie food is not what you’re looking for. Sometimes you just need a bit of quiet time.