I have just returned from San Sebastian the city with the highest number of michelin stars per square metre after Kyoto. If you want to eat well there are few better places to be and not just because of the michelin overload. I ate the most incredible Pintxos I have ever tasted, there was sea urchin, lobster, beef cheek, octopus, a mini vegetable stew to name a few – of everything I ate there was not one bum note and each one was between £2 and £3, it is dining heaven.
Once I had worked my way around the Pintxos bars I headed to Mugaritz, which is currently voted the 6th best restaurant in the world, and got stuck into a tasting menu. Eating at Mugaritz is an incredible experience and I understand why they have received all the accolades, however it is quite academic cooking. I can best describe it as like watching a slightly tricky foreign film – it’s enjoyable, you appreciate the experience, you admire the work and skill that has gone into creation of it, but when it ends you don’t feel like you want to watch it again.
But why am I banging on about the delights of Spanish culinary magic on a blog that normally talks about Katy Perry’s crisps and the like, there are hundreds of better blogs than this for that sort of thing. I’ll tell you why, it’s because to get to San Sebastian I had to go via Stanstead Airport and when I was in Stanstead Airport I had the pleasure of visiting James Martin Kitchen to get me in the mood for all the high quality food to come.
James Martin Kitchen is like a celebrity version of Pret a Manger. It sells sandwiches, wraps, fruit and yoghurt pots, coffee, pastries and granola bars (coming to this blog soon). As it was 5am when I got there I wasn’t much in the mood for anything too exciting so I went for the basics and ordered a coffee and a pain au chocolat. When I had tried them both I wasn’t much in the mood for them either.
The coffee was horrible. It tasted like it had come from one of those machines you get in a Kwik-Fit reception area. The only advantage of the Kwik-Fit coffee is that it tends to be free. I ordered a latte and it had no discernible flavour, it was way too hot and was extremely milky even for a latte. It wasn’t a nice smooth creamy milkiness but a watery frothy bland milkiness. Were it not for the fact that there was an unpleasant lingering aftertaste I would have thought there was no coffee in it. It was the coffee equivalent of Mrs Doyle’s cup of tea.
Still, places can screw up their coffee but come good in other areas and so it was that I started to eat my pain au chocolat. According to James himself it is made from pastry which “is freshly made on site every morning at 3am” and as it was only 5am I should have been in for a real fresh pastry treat. Oh dear. I suspect what actually happens is that James makes the pastry at 3am, freezes it for 6 weeks, rolls it in mud, dries it out with a hair dryer, steeps it in oil, sends it to a warehouse in Slough for a couple of days before baking it for a few minutes less than it needs to be baked for and leaving it on a shelf for 3 weeks. It was nasty, it was worse than one of those Tesco ones that has a use by date 6 months in the future. It was raw and for a man who recycles the same joke about using too much butter every single week on Saturday Kitchen he had not let butter anywhere near the pastry I ate. So all in all it was a failure.
So whilst I may have had a weekend of food luxury it did not start off so well. My advice to you is do go to San Sebastian. Do not go to James Martin Kitchen for your pre flight snacks.
James Martin Kitchen Latte – £2.50 (ish)
James Martin Kitchen Pain au Chocolat – £2 (ish)