Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar in Aldwych: A modern take on traditional Basque cuisine
Despite being at the forefront of modern fine-dining, with chefs who consistently brought innovation to the table – Juan Mari Arzak and Ferran Adriá above all – Spanish cuisine still means one thing to Londoners: tapas. Even the Michelin-starred restaurants bearing the red-and-yellow flag offer a simple, classic approach. Is there no appetite for sophistication and, why not, a bit of excess? 50 Day by Albert Adriá was a big success but it never became permanent.
Eneko Atxa, who runs the avant-garde Azurmendi in the Basque Country, recently named the 14th best restaurant in the world, opened his first venture in the British capital in the summer of 2016. It aimed at being modern, traditional and informal: not an easy task. It recently re-opened after the hotel’s renovation and things seem to work better.
The design of the space is quite exciting, and so is the food choice. We begin with a selection of small plates, some cold – beef tartare, premium ibérico – and some hot – Txipirones, Bay of Biscay. The latter is supposed to be their signature dish, four hand-dived scallops served in a spicy marinade, with sea broth poured onto a steel pan covered with seaweed and dry ice that will react to pyrotechnic effect. It won’t come cheap; actually, if you were to invest £30+ on a starter, a plate of delicious hand-cut Ibérico Josellito Gran Reserva (also available smaller at £20) is a much better choice. Our favourites, though, are the delicious beef tartare – presented on puffy crisps, with anchovy emulsion and pickled mushrooms – and the squid tempura (Txipirones), which reminds me right away of the flavours of the San Sebastian pintxos.
Basque chefs are good at both fish and meat, so that wouldn’t be a deciding factor. Frirst, we try the grilled octopus, marinated with coriander and served with chilli strands. On paper, it could be risky, the condiments overpowering the mollusc; however, it’s cooked masterfully, tender and juicy, with a very pleasant grilled aftertaste. The hake tempura doesn’t win our hearts but we hear the meat goes through a Josper treatment so we decide to order one more dish. The Txuleta is too big (700g), thus we settle for a portion of pork ribs. It’s clear there’s more than we can chew on the table but the succulent pork meat comes off the bone easily and its taste satisfies the palate.
For dessert we are told that the Torrija is a must-try. This typical Basque vanilla sponge is delicious and it comes with a sheep’s milk ice cream on the side. More intriguing is the Gatzatua & Rosemary: you might think “wait, no rosemary in my pudding” but it works, it’s subtle and it adds that je ne sais quoi to an already nicely composed dish.
Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar is a complete restaurant: it can offer a drinks-and-snacks experience – there’s a proper bar with a nice selection of house cocktails including a brilliant take on the gin and tonic – as well as big tables for celebrations and intimate booths for date dinners. Chef Atxa’s family produces white wine too – Bizkaiko Txakolina – and that won’t disappoint. The set menus, available for lunch and pre-theatre, are a bargain at just £23 (two courses + side) and £28 (three courses + side).
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Filippo L’Astorina, the Editor
Photos: Filippo L’Astorina
To book a table at Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar, 1 Aldwych London WC2B 4BZ, call 020 7300 0300 or visit their website here.