A visit to a Michelin three-star restaurant in Basque Country

On June 19, the 2018 list of The World’s 50 Best restaurants will be announced at a ceremony being held this year in Bilbao, Spain.

The choices are made annually by a vote of 1,000 international restaurant industry experts, comprised of food writers and critics, chefs, restaurateurs and well-traveled gourmets.

Last week, I was in Bilbao and had an opportunity to journey into the rolling foothills of the Basque countryside to visit Azurmendi, a Michelin three-star restaurant that made the 2017 “Top 50” list, and savor a four-hour lunch.

At chef Eneko Atxa’s hillside restaurant, the journey starts in the striking atrium, just below the rooftop vegetable garden, where upon arrival we were handed a glass of house-made txakoli – a slightly sparkling, very dry white wine – and offered a picnic basket of welcoming nibbles.

We were then led not into a dining room but into a spacious open kitchen, where a large staff was buzzing about.

Here, we got the first hint of the surprises that lie ahead when we were offered a truffled egg.  Using an egg from Azurmendi’s own hens, part of the yolk had been removed via a needle, and while we watched, a truffle consommé was injected into the remainder using a syringe – cooking the egg from the inside out.

You pop the whole thing into your mouth and when you bite into it, you get an explosion of flavors – first the rich egg yolk and then the earthy truffle.  Amazing.

Next, we were guided into the restaurant’s greenhouse, where several other tiny treats were hidden among the herbs and spices.

Finally, we were escorted to our table on “The Balcony” – a large, airy room with floor to ceiling windows looking out over Azurmendi’s own small vineyard. (The wines, expertly paired with the courses to follow, came not from this vineyard, but from wineries around the world.)

To do justice to describing the creative, beautifully presented, and delicious food set before us in this marathon but relaxed meal would require pages of this newspaper.  Instead, I invite you to enjoy some of the photos of the dishes served on the day we visited.

The only course I would have passed up was the final one – the chocolate, peanuts and liquorice, an imaginatively constructed dessert that I found a bit too heavy at the end of the meal.

But it seems to me that what sets this restaurant apart is the passion of a chef deeply rooted in the Basque soil.

Chef Atxa has created in Azurmendi a shrine to sustainability, where he offers   diners an unforgettable journey through the tastes, aromas and textures of the Basque Country.

This is about gastronomy – the study of the relationship between food and culture – at its best.  Three cheers for Azurmendi.

I welcome your comments, and encourage you to send feedback to me at tina@verobeach32963.com.

The writer, who reviews restaurants for Vero News, currently is on holiday and is dining her way through Europe.

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