‘Welcome to my home in London, where I’m pleased to share simple dishes inspired by my Basque roots. To eat is to party, it’s a little celebration every day – so please have fun.’ – Eneko Atxa
When I left school, I immediately fled the country and found myself living and working around Northern Spain for over half a year before university. I fell in love with the fresh delicacies found in Galicia and the Basque county – the Orxata de Chufa (creamy tiger nut beverage), Pintxos (a type of tapas) and Axoa (tender veal stew), to name a few.
The invitation to chef Eneko Atxa’s first London opening (his 3 Michelin star Azurmendi restaurant in Bilbao has been listed 16th in the world) filled me with nostalgia. It also brought to my attention just how many specialities I had missed out on 8 years ago – the Kalimotxo (coke with red wine) being a firm favourite.
From the moment you step off The Strand through the unassuming automatic doors, restaurant Eneko at the One Aldwych Hotel whisks you down the rabbit hole into a sub-terrestrial haven of distinctly Spanish ethos: chique yet simple interiors with a focus on good food, good company and good wine. The decor uses many materials sourced from craftsmen in the Basque region, wood and stone in particular, including bespoke contemporary furniture and a grand copper staircase, which give an authentic touch to the elegant ambiance.
At £50.00 per head, the Full Basque Brunch is 5 courses and for an extra £20.00pp you can make it a bottomless one, with accompanying wines, cava or bloody marys. We all recognise that ‘hair of the dog’ is the best approach to a lazy Sunday morning.
The sizeable appetiser was a traditional Talo, a crispy corn disk topped with heritage tomatoes and basil emulsion. Upon initial inspection I had half expected it to taste like an extravagant Dorito covered in salsa. However the hidden olive oil and avocado purée soaked into the Talo gave it a pleasantly surprising soft and creamy texture.
Round 2 was the Cerdito Caliente “Hot Hog”, which I misread as Hot Dog and remained suitably puzzled when presented with a large wooden lunch box, encasing a fist-sized gourmet ‘hamburger’. It was in fact a buttered basque muffin, enveloping tender minced pork and Iberico ham with a side of rich mushroom duxelle.
Next up was the eagerly awaited egg Yolk Tempura. How they manage to lightly batter just the yolk in such a way, is perfectly in keeping with the intrigue of this magical, theatrical, underground woodland. The dish was accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and slightly sweet confit vegetables. Some found this dish a little too heavy for their liking, especially following the Hot Hog ham and mushroom cream course. Knowing there were still another two courses to go, I tried and failed to restrain myself from inhaling both yolks.
The main course was a choice of Txuleta (organic Rhug Estate rib of beef), garlic & chilli dressed Monkfish, or salted duck breast with Gernika peppers. As a table of snap-happy female bloggers, we clicked away whilst whining about already feeling full, before naturally opting for all three mains. To share.
As a born and bred Brit that is used to dousing their Sunday servings in gravy, ketchup and every other sauce under the non-existent sun, I had imagined the lightly salted and sautéed cuts to be a little plain. They were of course, oozing with flavour, cooked a tender medium rare, succulent and perfectly garnished.
Dessert was an unexpectedly similar affair, as we were treated to a selection of 3 different delicate dishes to sample. The Torrija was a Basque Vanilla Sponge reminiscent of bread pudding hiding under the crisp shell of a creme brulee; an accompanying ice cream combined the texture of firm bits of crumble kneaded into a soft, saccharine serve. Lastly there was a velvety saucer of marshmallow topped with rose petals and strawberry coulis.
As the final petaled pudding was placed on the table, the grand finale was the addition of a single rose which wafted dry ice across the placemats and saturated the surface with the scent of fresh blossoms. They do say that taste is 80% smell after all.
Having spent the best part of 3 hours indulging in this copper-cast cave of magical delights, it was time to resurface and return to the reality of the rainy streets of London. Eneko shepherds more than just Basque-based cuisine, it infuses its founder’s enthusiasm, creativity, fun mixed with formality and a little Spanish sun into the surrounding grey skies, tactfully hidden from view.