Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Barrio Legina s/n
This meal took place in 2018, well prior to COVIT travel restrictions.
Eneko Atxa is a chef who is deeply rooted in the regional traditions of classic Basque cookery; his culinary inspiration were the dishes of his mother and grandmother, yet his current dishes reveal an inventiveness and imagination that goes well beyond any constraints of regional or even national gastronomy. The three Michelin stars garnered by his main restaurant Azurmendi, and the single star given to his less formal one ENEKO in the same location, are given for a very good reason: they both deliver exceptional cuisine that is well worth a special journey.
His new restaurant, ENEKO, in Lisbon, also has now a Michelin star.
The restaurants, located atop a hill in Larrabetzu, just 10 minutes outside Bilbao, are in a stand-alone glass-walled building with a garden on the upper level where most of their vegetables and aromatics used in the kitchens are grown and is surrounded by plants and grapevines. There is also a txakoli (white Basque wine) winery on the premises. The experience begins the moment you enter the spacious indoor garden. The food at Azurmendi is honest, unique and sublime; an experience offering cutting edge creativity in a unique bioclimatic building. Sustainability seems to be as important to this chef as quality ingredients and seasonal/regional specialties.
I have dined at Elkano, Berasategui, Can Roca, 11 Madison-Park, Noma, Ciel Bleu and many other 3-Michelin starred restaurants and have never experienced a meal quite like what I have experienced at Azurmendi. The kitchen is Eneko’s laboratory and the results of his and his staff’s labors and inventiveness prove to me that gastronomy can be spirit-elevating as well as nutritional. At Azurmendi, eating well is no trivial matter.
Each plate becomes an empty canvas where tasty and visually inventive masterpieces are created. As far as I’m concerned, Azurmendi is at the top of the European restaurant firmament and certainly one among the very best 10 in the world; and chef Atxa is the Willem de Kooning or Joan Miró of the Spanish culinary world.
I usually meet chef Atxa during the annual Gastronomika conferences in San Sebastián, where all of the top Spanish chefs participate. He always has new dishes to offer as well as informed opinions and ideas as to where Spanish gastronomy is headed and why. But, eating in his restaurant reveals much more about his thinking, knowledge and passion for food and great ingredients than a short interview would ever reveal.
If I seem gushing… yes, I am! Every meal at Azurmendi has turned out to be an exploration of unchartered culinary territory; a journey in time to tomorrow. Chef Atxa’s tasting menus revealed to me an authentic conviction that there can be a better, more sustainable world, teaching us to differentiate the natural from the absurd and being appreciative of the fact that science does not have to be at odds with common sense.
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