Location: Legina Auz., s/n, 48195 Larrabetzu, Bizkaia, Spain
Date: June 24, 2016
Cuisine: Modern Basque (Michelin 3 Star!)
Rating: My best meal in years
Our final starred restaurant of the trip is Azurmendi, located about 15-20 minutes east of Bilbao in the beautiful hills of Basque country.
Azurmendi Gourmet is the only restaurant in the Biscay province with three Michelin stars.
Azurmendi is possibly one of the most unique sustainable buildings of the modern architecture. It reflects the canons of the Basque identity and integrates photovoltaic solar panels and a geothermic system to produce electricity, harvests rainwater to cover a number of operations, recycles waste, etc. A charging station is available for electric cars. For all these reasons Azurmendi was granted the Sustainable Restaurant Award 2014.
There are resteraunts in them thar hills!
It has been built into a hillside surrounded by autochthonous vineyards. Eneko´s house, and he calls the restaurant, was conceived and built prioritizing sustainability, a foundation of his philosophy.
The architecture is subdued from the outside, fitting into the beautiful countryside.
But inside is stunning and dramatic.
Mixing the natural and the sculptural.
But first, we enter in “The Azurmendi Experience” which includes a series of amuses presented in different locations. Here some of the chefs begin with…
Garden vegetables cake (upper right), eel sandwich (left) and Txakoli punch (green ball in the foreground). Everything had a smooth, rich, harmony to the taste.
For act 2 we proceed into the kitchen.
Here we are presented with a hibiscus “potion” and
Hazelnuts growing on a little bonsai tree — except surprise, they were chocolate hazelnut.
And the vegetarians received this vegetable crisp with avocado mousse.
The third act takes us to the lovely greenhouse.
The dry ice mist chills some of the amuses.
Morokil. A porridge of corn flower, formed into a sort of corn soup in this case.
Herbs, cookies, and cheese. Growing amongst the herbs.
A close up of the actual treat.
Our son received a bit of floral/vegetable “pasta.”
The in the cotton fields there was…
Asparagus cotton. Cotton candy like texture.
Mushroom leaf. A salty potato chip like thing that tasted of mushroom.
Finally the fourth act takes us to the dining room and our table.
There was a choice of two menus, we chose the Adarrak menu on the right.
And it begins with yet more amuses, frozen olive and vermouth. The yellow things tasted of olive, with a frozen ice cream bon bon texture. The little dark sticks were edible as well.
A cocktail of juice and vermouth.
Egg from our hens, cooked inside out and truffled. This gooey soft blob (eat in one bite) tasted of egg yolk and truffles — which meant it was scrumptious.
2003 R. López de Heredia Rioja Blanco Reserva Viña Tondonia. Couldn’t resist more Tondonia blanco.
Oysters, tartar, and seaweed traces. Very much in the Azurmendi style, with the different bits of sauce and the sphere.
Vegetarians received this mini squash blossom and a beet tartar.
Tomatoes… local varieties and anchovy. Even I, the tomato hater, loved this. So fresh tasting.
Garlic mushrooms. A noodle spun about and with all sorts of earthy mushroom and garlic flavors.
The vegetarians received this alternate version.
Roasted lobster out of the shell, its crunch and mayonnaise. The lobster was prefect.
And “its crunch” was like a lobster infused crispy fruit rollup.
Vegetarians received this dish of artisanal grains.
2013 Castell d’Encús Costers del Segre Acusp. 89 points. As there wasn’t the kind of Burgundy I wanted on the list, and I like to stay Spanish, the Sommelier recommended this lovely young Spanish pinot noir.
“Castanetas” pork glazed in its juice with “Etxano” cheese. Some delicious meatiness, a sweetish sauce, and nice crisp from the cheese.
Cod tripe to the fine herbs. Second or third time I had the cod tripes. Sounds gross, but the dish was amazing. Creamy, with this thick gelatinous texture. Wonderful rich flavors.
Fried Hake, roasted red pepper infusion and parsley. The green blobs aren’t avocado, but parsley mousse or something. This was a perfect tempura fish, wonderfully moist inside and crispy outside. The red pepper “sauce” (almost a gel) was amazing, with a dashi-type flavor too.
Pigeon, green beans, and duxelle. A great bit of bird.
And a bit of foie gras and sherry PX!
A dish of fava beans and herb mousse.
Chef Eneko Atxa.
Born in 1977 and raised in the Basque Country of Spain, Eneko Atxa hails from a family that always placed value in good food and good eating. At the age of 15, he embarked on his career as a chef at the Catering College of Leoia in the province of Biscay. After graduation, he honed his skills in fine dining and began his journey into haute cuisine as a cook under Chef Martín Berasategui at his eponymous restaurant in Lasarte. He then continued on with greater responsibility at locally revered restaurants Etxebarri and Andra Mari. As these early years of his career passed, he began to develop his culinary personality and style, driven by deep curiosity and passion.
In 2005, Atxa’s path led him to open his own restaurant, Azurmendi, in a tucked-away spot of dense woods just 10 minutes outside of Bilbao. Since then, the chef has garnered a number of awards, including “Best Chef” by local, national, and international bodies, including the Fourchettes French gourmet guide, along with the “Most Beautiful Dish” by Lo Mejor de la Gastronomía in 2010. Just five years after opening, Azurmendi was awarded its second Michelin star in November 2010, becoming the first restaurant in the Biscay province with two Michelin stars — then finally 3!
Watermelon, coriander, and lime. Amazing dessert with its various chilled textures. Bright and refreshing.
Yogurt, honey, and five spices. Another lovely dessert.
Chocolate, peanut, and licorice.
And our son’s slightly “simplified” chocolate dessert.
The petits fours come in a box of dirt.
Various infused flavors, gel, madeline-like pastry.
This gel and white chocolate green tea popsicle.
Ginger gels. Super refreshing and potent.
Azurmendi was a stunning meal. Everyone present agreed it was their favorite of the trip — and I place it as one of my favorites in the last decade. The location was lovely, the theatrics clever, each dish artful, but most importantly, they all tasted fantastic. The overall balance of flavors, temperature, and textures was uniformly good. Not every dish was as great as the last, but they varied from merely very good to revelatory. And even thought he combinations were often unusual, they meshed together in a delectable manner.
Really, there is a reason Elite Traveller has distinguished Azurmendi as the second best restaurant in the world this year (2016), and Opinionated About Dining as the best restaurant in Europe in 2015. This is current haute cuisine executing on all 12 cylinders, hand tuned by Enzo Ferrari himself — and it shows off the bounty, beauty, and creativity that is defining Basque Country as one of the world’s best culinary destinations.