Disappointment with a view: Azurmendi

Red mullet in three servings: Fritter of interiors and caviar | Flame roasted red mullet

From the moment I saw Azurmendi some years ago from the motorway, I’ve been wanting to come to this place. Now I had the opportunity to visit Eneko Atxa’s three Michelin starred restaurant, which also holds rank number 38 on the San Pellegrino list.

The restaurant is situated in the hills around Bilbao, sourrounded by lush green and a beautiful landscape. We came directly from the airport by car and before our lunch we could explore the premises a bit.

Azurmendi outside
Azurmendi outside

The restaurant also has a winery and an impressive roof garden which offers a lot of insight in local varieties of vegetables.

The impressive greenhouse on the roof
The impressive greenhouse on the roof

Our lunch started in the (very warm and humid) lobby with a glass of local Txakoli and a cute picnic basket with some snacks in it. I especially liked the brioche with smoked eel and the peanut made of foie gras.

After that we were brought into the kitchen, loudly greeted by the cooks and then presented another snack: A warm, waxy egg yolk was infused with a cold truffle cream and served on a spoon. The warm & cold sensation in connection with the creamy and intense aroma maybe was my favorite dish of the whole meal. The poultry and sherry broth was good too, but due to the foam and the glass tube hard to drink.

Welcome picnic: Peanut, Hibiscus, Smoked fish brioche, Apple cider and chorizo | The kitchen: Truffled egg, Poultry and sherry broth
Welcome picnic: Peanut, Hibiscus, Smoked fish brioche, Apple cider and chorizo | The kitchen: Truffled egg, Poultry and sherry broth

After that we were brought to the greenhouse (although I actually just wanted a comfortable seat at this time, after travelling for hours). The misty bed in the middle represents the landscape around the restaurant in the morning, as was explained to us.

The greenhouse
The greenhouse

In the greenhouse we had some snacks representing local produce: Apple, spices, dairy and txakoli. All of them were nice in presentation and taste. I most liked the small caipirinha ball with txakoli.

Fermented apple | Spices cornetto | Herb quark | Kaipiritxa
Fermented apple | Spices cornetto | Herb quark | Kaipiritxa

After that we were (finally) brought into the main room, where we could enjoy the great view.

Inside and gorgeous view
Inside and gorgeous view

There we had the last snacks:

Limón grass | Mushroom praliné
Limón grass | Mushroom praliné

Both great, in combination (earthy vs. fruity-sour) a bit strange though 🙂

For our lunch we chose the Erroak menu („Eneko Atxa’s essential dishes), one of two set menus – the other one being Adarrak with more seasonal dishes.

Spider crab | Sea txakoli
Spider crab | Sea txakoli

A ball of perfectly fried spider crab meat together with a very refined essence of sea water and txakoli made a great start into the menu.

Bao and oil
Bao and oil

During the meal 3 kinds of bread were served. I most liked the incredibly fluffy, slightly sweet and warm bao. They paired well with the very clean, slightly sharp local olive oil.

Oyster, apple, roquette and flowers
Oyster, apple, roquette and flowers

The oyster tempura with a sticky cream of algae had a greasy aftertaste. The main plate was nice though: The poached oysters looked quite weird – especially since they were cut in half. Nevertheless they were firm, yet creamy and tasted perfectly clean. The whole dish played with green aromas. The apple ice cream added some nice acidity, while the green roquette sauce brough bitterness and depth into play.

Tear peas, iberian gel and crispy corn bread
Tear peas, iberian gel and crispy corn bread

Tear peas are a local speciality and here a reduced but very good dish was constructed around them: The firm peas were like little perls, great in texture and taste. The were bound together by a glutinous iberian gel, that gave the dish a certain richness. The sponges…whatever.

Mushrooms with garlic
Mushrooms with garlic

Spaghetti made of mushrooms, in a truffled garlic sauce were great. And again some fried balls…this time with mushroom in them.

Roasted and peeled crispy lobster and its mayonnaise
Roasted and peeled crispy lobster and its mayonnaise

A wonderful piece of perfectly roasted lobster was the key ingredient to this plate. The sweet aroma of the meat together with some charcoal notes made it just great. Again there was some sticky red pepper jus and a waffle roll – apparently also made of lobster, that tended to stuck between my teeth.

Beans and assorted meats
Beans and assorted meats

This dish was presented as a citation of a traditional local dish. On the side (again) a fried ball, this time of rich and tasty pork cheek. The beans were spheres of bean gel, the jus a very gluey jus. A lot of kitchen technique for a taste, that reminded me well of my father’s bean goulash – but nothing more. In this case the denaturization of the ingredients made absolutely no sense to me.

Red mullet in three servings: Fritter of interiors and caviar | Flame roasted red mullet
Red mullet in three servings: Fritter of interiors and caviar | Flame roasted red mullet

For the fish main course there was (again) a fried ball – this time of red mullet interiors with some caviar on it that was kind of bland. The flame roasted red mullet was very good, partly still raw with intense notes of fire. Unfortunately it was laquered with a quite sticky sauce again.

Red mullet in tempura, red peppers juice roasted on charcoal and spirulina
Red mullet in tempura, red peppers juice roasted on charcoal and spirulina

Honestly, the cook seems to enjoy frying – so we have tempura component number 7 of this lunch meal: Fried fillet. I got rid of the batter and found some really nice fish meat under it. The red peppers juice was green (no pun intended) and again…sticky.

This was the point where I got really tired of Azurmendi’s playing around with kitchen techniques, optical illusions and unnatural textures. I just craved for a piece of good fish or meat with some natural jus and some vegetables – and had all my hopes on the main course.

Iberian pork castaneta, Idiazabal cheese bonbon and pickled turnip
Iberian pork castaneta, Idiazabal cheese bonbon and pickled turnip

And then this came: A fried ball, glazed with gooey, sweet sauce. The meat inside was presented as to be of superior quality. As I got rid of the batter, I found rather tasteless, unsalted grey meat. The cheese bonbons were sticky and artifial too. The two cubes of pickled turnip were literally the high point of this plate, giving my palate some relief. On the side there was some fattier pig tail, again covered in sticky sauce:

Stewed pig tail and anchovies from Bermeo
Stewed pig tail and anchovies from Bermeo
Red fruits, basil and Etxano cheese ice cream
Red fruits, basil and Etxano cheese ice cream

At least the dessert brough some cooler notes and some acidity. The sponge was – again – tasteless.

Yogurt, honey and five spices
Yogurt, honey and five spices

While this could have been a very pleasurable combination, the overall crispy and crumbly texture made it hard to eat. It made the impression of random components thrown together.

Chocolate, peanuts and liquorice
Chocolate, peanuts and liquorice

Basically a de-luxe Snickers, with some weird sponges.

Petits fours
Petits fours

My impression of Azurmendi is really difficult to describe: It is a wonderful place, made with a lot of love to detail and apparently a lot of thought. You have to be prepared for a gastronomic event rather than a meal – personally I found the many stations before you come to your table excessive and not relaxing.

A lot of Eneko Atxa’s thought seem to go into sustainability and regionality. The building in it’s whole concept (sustainable materials, recycling) is very impressive. Also the ingredients chosen and the strong bond to local producers show a lot of thought. At the end of the meal we were given a small book with the title „Interpreters of nature“, beautifully showing different producers and farmers and their work. I left with the question though, why an interpreter of nature needs to denaturate his ingredients, instead of showcasing them in their natural beauty.

On my visit the food clearly did not deserve three stars. Having eight (!) fried components in one meal, most of them with a fatty aftertaste and combining them with only one kind of sauce texture (STICKY) is not only boring, but not at all a culinary pleasure. Some ingredients were outstanding (the lobster, the mullet) but the paraphernalia of presentation and kitchen technique made it kind of hard to get to them. Do I regret it? No – it was an interesting experience. Would I eat there again? No. But the view was good. 

Visit: May 2018
Michelin stars at time of visit: ***
Budget: 290€/person (including one bottle of cava)
Location: 9/10
Service: 6/10
Food: 6,5/10