Azurmendi : Bizkaia, Basque Country
Beans in a test tube.
I start this post about Azurmendi, the nº 38 restaurant in the world on The World’s 50 Best, with a picture of beans in a test tube for three reasons.
1) There are beans in test tubes at Azurmendi.
2) A visit to the restaurant begins with an aperitif in the greenhouse or on the rooftop garden, so it seemed right to start a blog post off the same way.
3)These beans are exactly what Azurmendi and its chef, Eneko Atxa, stand for: sustainability, understanding heritage breeds of local products, and using them to make starry nouveau cuisine.
I went a while back, and never found the right moment to post these gorgeous plates. Today is your lucky day, and going back over these dishes only convinces me further that Atxa truly deserves his spot in the top 50.
Like I mentioned, the meal starts in the greenhouse…with a picnic.
A truly special way to start a meal, casually strolling along rows and rows of plants that hide surprises. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. I especially loved the frozen olives with vermouth, and Atxa’s famous edible cotton…can you find it in the gallery?
When we finally begin our more conventional Michelin meal around the white tablecloth, we started with the truffled egg, an egg ‘cooked inside out’ whose yolk has been replaced with truffle consommé. It provokes this ‘how did they do that?’ moment, but one that goes hand in hand with an ‘omg how delicious’ moment: a combination that is not quite as frequent as it should be in Basque restaurants of this level.
Eneko Atxa, the man behind it all, is one of the most mysterious of the three-star chefs around these parts. He was the youngest chef to ever be awarded three Michelin stars back when Azurmendi earned its third. He passed through and is inspired by all the greats around these parts, from Arzak to Etxebarri. Azurmendi has two sister restaurants, Eneko and Eneko Bilbao (which just won a Michelin star), making Atxa the proud owner of five stars, set to follow in one of his mentor’s footsteps (Martín Bera-star-tegui).
I have to admit that I went into this meal with mixed feelings: on one hand excited, but on another, more important hand, a bit jaded with this style of food and also not expecting to be wowed. Happily, I was totally won over. Atxa, more than other local chefs, has the perfect balance of technique, ingredient, deliciousness, and finesse. He doesn’t try to hit you over the head with his knowledge, but he does strive to surprise you with different flavors and, perhaps above all, textures. He dots his i’s and crosses his t’s so that every step is thought out from an ethical standpoint. And this is what really makes him stand out…it’s not that old-school (hate to say it, but, predominantly male) jockeying for bigger and flashier kitchen tricks. It’s finesse, it’s purpose, and it’s delicious.
This tomato-pepper sorbet was too good.
Atxa received the Sustainable Restaurant Award (2014), a testament that his talk about sustainability is not just lip service. His restaurant is made with environmentally friendly materials and has zero waste features like re-using rainwater, using geothermal energy to cool, and recycling. That ethos sneaks into the menu, too.
And it wouldn’t be a meal at Azurmendi without a bit of lobster:
There is no shortage of technique, but there is also an emphasis on other aspects of food creation. Atxa and his team consult with anthropologists, scientists, designers and nutritionists to create the menu.
I cannot recommend a visit to Azurmendi enough! Right up there for me behind Etxebarri. Wow, looks like Bizkaia is on their game….watch out Gipuzkoa!
Legina Auzoa, Larrabetzu, Vizcaya 48195
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