I have been looking forward to this visit for a long time. It was the first restaurant I knew of in the Basque region and naturally my expectations were high. Asador Etxebarri is known for their grill and most dishes I had reflected this. By coincidence I timed the visit during baby eel season (March and November) which was another thing to look forward to. Before the visit I already had the feeling that this rustic place would be a memorable experience.
Finding the way to Asador Extebarri wasn’t easy. I decided to take the train (2 hours) from San Sebastian to Durango and from there take a cab to Atxondo where the restaurant is. Atxondo is a sleepy village on the mountain side with only a few stone buildings surrounding the church and the restaurant. The only sign of life was the occasional biker passing by to drink from the public water tap. This however change when I stepped into the restaurant and the dining area on second floor. The room filled up gradually once lunch service started and was almost full one hour into the meal. All but two tables were locals. One of the two tables was a nice French couple and the other were three Germans with big cameras.
Now on to the food. I had their tasting menu:
Soup of leek
Chorizo elaborated from corn-fed pork
Salted Anchovy with toasted bread
Dairy day (Fresh mozarella, goat butter for bread)
• • •
Goose barnacles from Galicia
Oyster with seaweed
Sea cucumber with baby green beans
Baby octopus with caramelized onion and its ink
Scrambled of black truffle
Tartar of fresh chorizo
Mushrooms (Hygrophorus Marzuolus)
Beef chop of Galician beef
• • •
Smoothie of blood orange
Reduced milk ice cream with a red fruit infusion
The first course was a leek soup in a glass cup. It was a cup of concentrated flavours.
I was surprised of how well the mozarella did on its own as a dish. There was a slight saltiness to it and that was it in terms of flavouring. The texture was a bit different from mozarella I’m used to and when cut through you could see the milk sip out. It was my favourite starter, simplicity at its best.
As part of the dairy day item on the menu was the goat butter sprinkled with smoked salt on top. It sounds rather fishy but was actually quite a delight with the bread. I have to admit that I finished the whole slab by the end of the meal! It’s “milky” in character and the taste reminds me of a very light goat cheese. As a side note I very much liked the butter knife. A nice “accessory” to the meal.
Goose barnacles is something new to me. It’s a delicacy in Portugal and Spain that grows on surfaces exposed to tidal water. It takes some technique to peel off the skin without making a mess. The flavour is very delicate. It reminds me of mussel but with a smoother texture.
The meal just escalated when I took the first bite into the sea cucumber. The grill has left a faint charred flavour that matches perfectly with the sweet and delicate green beans. Another favourite of this meal.
A very straight-forward dish with generous shavings of black truffles combined with the thick egg (yolk) creating amazing intense flavours. A classic and predictable dish but well executed.
So far the flow of the meal has been perfect, flavours fading into each other dish after dish. If the sea cucumber has been the high so far and I have to pick a low then it would have to be the Tartar of fresh chorizo. For me it was out of balance because of the acidity in the tomato used in the tartar. But that’s a personal preference. Texture-wise it was interesting with the blend of juiciness (tomato), meatiness and crunchiness (flatbread).
This was the highlight of the meal. It is the single dish I’ve been looking forward to try in this restaurant. Also called angula, baby eel is a traditional Basque dish. It is nowadays a delicacy due to rise in demand and markets are selling it at a premium. Asador Etxebarri gets their supply from the Asturias region just west of Basque. The way it’s prepared is stirring in a strainer over fire and then mixed with olive oil. It has a very soft and smooth texture. Together with the smoky hints from the grill it was a dish to remember.
Just when I thought I was reaching the end of the meal I was presented this plate of Rib Eye steak accompanied by a lettuce/fennel salad with vinaigrette. I could already smell the goodness before it arrived the table. The meat was amazing. In fact it’s the best Rib Eye steak I’ve ever had. It was so flavourful and well marbled. The charred surface added another layer of complexity to it. The salad with vinaigrette was a well needed side to balance off the richness. I yet have to find something close to this in London.
There was a much needed break before desserts came. After the Rib eye I felt that I had enough food for the whole day. Iced and fresh with intense blood orange flavours this smoothie was just the perfect bridge into the main desserts.
This was a quite interesting dessert I’ve never tried before. The deep fried crust flavoured with cinnamon and hazelnut is hiding the thick custard inside.
Of the desserts this was a clear winner for me. The condensed milk ice cream brought back memories of condensed milk I had when I was a kid. The ice cream had a smooth texture with very fine grains of ground almond mixed into it. It was an wonderful end of an equally wonderful meal.
The service was very well paced with slightly longer interval between dishes towards dessert. There was only one staff speaking English. Luckily they had an English menu in case a plate was dropped in front of me followed by a quick description in Spanish. The Spanish diners, local staff and location of the restaurant makes the character of this place and to be annoyed over the absence of English is to ask for too much.
In terms of the tasting menu the transition of flavours between each dish was smooth with no major outlier. There were elements in most dishes that kept the grill theme alive (like the smoked salt on the butter). To sum it up it’s a well composed menu highlighting local seasonal ingredients executed perfectly.
The restaurant has one Michelin star at the moment of writing but in my opinion the experience was without doubt equivalent to that of Akelarre (3 stars) where I went the day after, see review here. Enjoying a fantastic meal in this rustic environment surrounded by cloudy mountain tops away from civilization leaves little to be wished for.
For more photos from Asador Etxebarri, please visit my Flickr set.
Plaza San Juan, 1
48291 Atxondo- Bizkaia