Sunday, 6 June 2010


It goes without saying that as soon as we had booked our flights to Bilbao, I then spent many an evening on the web figuring out which restaurants we would eat at during our holliers. Having seen the restaurant on an episode of "No Reservations", I had previously said to JD that he could take me to Arzak if we ever found ourselves in the Basque Country. Strangely enough, now that we were heading there, I was in two minds as to whether we should go or not? After a bit of hmm-ing and ahhh-ing, I finally put in a request for a table at Arzak via their website and a bizarre series of events followed.....I sent an additional email to Arzak requesting a non-smoking table should our reservation be successful. My first response back was that there were no tables.......I decided to ring the restaurant direct and ask about alternative dates but unfortunately, there was still nothing suitable....a day later, another email response saying that yes, we did have a table but it would be in the smoking section. Amidst mild confusion, I could not believe my luck!!! However, after reading a horror story on the net about a whole table lighting up cigars at Arzak and chatting to JD (who didn't want to be shelling out 200 yoyos a head for dinner to be sat in a roomful of smoke), we decided to relinquish our table and not go to Arzak. 

In contrast, there was no hesitancy with me trying to secure a reservation for Etxebarri, a restaurant a little outside Bilbao which specialises in grilling everything over charcoal, which is made by the proprietor himself. I had first read about this restaurant on Chez Pim a few years ago and had always dreamed of going to eat there one day myself. Since then, Etxebarri has achieved global foodie pilgrimage status, and was awarded its 1st star last year. Getting a table was pretty straightforward, we decided to go for dinner which is only served on Saturdays (Etxebarri is only open for lunch on other days, other than Monday).

After a day out in the Urkiola National Park and surviving a tough ascent up Anboto, we headed out to the small village of Axpe for dinner at Extebarri at a relatively late time of 9pm (the Spaniards like to eat late). We both decided to go for  the tasting menu (120 yoyos per head) but asked if JD could change his course of prawns to something else, which they were more than happy to do. So, what was on the menu?
Some home-made slices of chorizo - very good, sliced more thickly than normal and had a great meatier taste.

Smoked butter on toast with grated fresh local mushrooms - an unusual first course but very tasty.

Red prawns - super fresh, sweet and tasty

JD's alternative dish of oysters - he liked them :)

Clams - served on plates with customised indentations for the shells!

My favourite dish of the night - las espardeñas (sea cucumber) with mini broad beans. To be honest, I was a little worried when I saw sea cucumber on the menu - the species that Chinese people eat is quite thick and rubbery so was pleasantly surprised to be presented that tasted of tender squid instead.....sooo good!

Baby squid

Egg yolk served with purple potato mash and garnished with fresh, local mushrooms again - very curious as to how on earth they managed to cook this over charcoal??

Tuna with tomato - funnily, the tomato was the highlight of this dish, full of flavour and super sweet

Final savoury dish of steak - perfectly cooked and delicious

Pre-dessert of elderflower sorbet - very refreshing

Cheese ice cream with red fruit compote

Pain perdu (French toast) with ice cream

Looking back on it, we did have a lovely meal at Etxebarri. At the time though, I felt a little disappointed but I guess thats what happens when you have such high expectations for the experience. The restaurant wasn't completely full but we did have to wait quite long in between courses meaning that our meal lasted a good 3 hours plus!! Every dish tasted very good and fresh but only a few really "wowed" me - the low point of the meal for me were the desserts, I didn't really see the point of having 2 ice creams and the didn't even manage to finish my pain perdu :(   

The service was lovely and despite the late finish to the dinner, we had the opportunity to take  a quick look at the kitchens before we left (sadly, no pics here). The kitchen is much smaller than I expected and there are 5 chefs who work every night. There are various types of wood used to make charcoal (made daily) and they will be used to cook all the different dishes on the menu. We were also able to see first hand the quality of the raw ingredients (seafood being kept alive by a constant flow of seawater, plus a great array of vegetables all provided from local farms) - you would have to be a complete moron to mess up when you have such great produce!!

A nice evening, with tasty food but am still unsure whether its the ultimate culinary experience for me.....  

No comments: