The Basque country can pride itself for having some of the best restaurants in the world as well as a multitude of cafes and bars serving Basque tapas or ‘pintxos’. One of our favorite pintxo bars was Bacaicoa on Plaza Miguel de Unamuno in the old town, where we were served grilled chorizo that was chosen as one of the 50 best in Spain in last year’s tapas competition.
Pintxos aside, we were delighted to discover that Bilbao is a foodie’s paradise, with five Michelin-starred restaurants and dozens more in the surrounding Basque Country. In fact the area can boast more Michelin-starred restaurants than anywhere else in Europe. Azurmendi, with its three Michelin stars, is the jewel in the Basque country’s crown and is alone worth a trip to Bilbao.
Located on a hilltop just outside of Bilbao, Chef Eneko Atxa’s menu is a theatrical event, starting with a ‘picnic’ in the interior garden featuring small bites presented in a picnic basket. This was followed by a visit to the kitchen where the friendly staff all shout ‘hola’ in greeting. Asparagus-infused candy floss (sounds bizarre but delicious) was served along with mushroom leaves in the ‘greenhouse’ before we moved into the dining room for the actual menu. Every dish was beautifully presented, including our seafood favorites; roasted lobster, sea urchin and oysters tartar. My sweet tooth was nicely satisfied with what I described as a posh peanut butter cup – chocolate, peanut and licorice.
We will be sampling Eneko Atxa’s delights again very soon when he brings Basque cooking to London with Eneko at One Aldwych opening later this summer.
Also recommended is Restaurante Mina, a worthy recipient of its Michelin star. The fine tasting menu included curried mussels in coconut broth, oysters in gin and tonic and deliciously tender tuna belly with eggplant in a sticky sweet and savory red tea and honey lime sauce. Mina serves only 25 people each evening in a beautifully converted warehouse on the river. We were able to sit at the bar to watch the chefs prepare our tasting menu. Gooseneck barnacles in tangy aguachile were a treat at Restaurante Porrue and equally sublime was the tuna tataki in a tart broth, a tribute to traditional tuna recipes of local fishermen. Dessert was watermelon infused with cinnamon and sangria and pina colada mousse cleverly solidified by liquid nitrogen right at our table.
Essential for any visit to Bilbao is brunch on the rooftop terrace at the Gran Hotel Domine Bilbao. Brunch is available seven days a week to non-hotel guests too with the bonus of fabulous views of the Guggenheim across the road.