No restaurant has given me quite the impression when I first stepped in as Azurmendi, a world-renowned restaurant nearby Bilbao on a hill where chef Eneko Atxa has helmed the kitchen since the opening in 2005. First, there is the steel-and-glass that embodies eco-friendly philosophy of sustainability, and then the entrance that makes you feel like you just walked into a botanical garden. Once I was greeted by the staff with a little cute picnic box with some tasty bites to go along with a glass of wine, followed by a brief peek at the large kitchen with energetic cooking staff, I was already feeling something special. Then I saw one of the most stylish and elegant dining rooms looking down the hillside of beautiful Spanish countryside. All of these first impressions could’ve led me to give a high score to this restaurant already, but its story didn’t end there. I had one of the most spectacular meals of my life as well.
Each individual dish at Azurmendi’s tasting menu (I went with erroak menu at 145 euros per person showcasing the classics of the restaurant instead of the more forward-thinking option, not to repeat the same mistake I had made at Akelarre) is a revelation. Starting with the egg cooked inside out and truffled, it was one of the most wonderful and decadent single bites that I had ever had. Natural prawn was on top of avocado to create very unique flavor and texture. I honestly don’t know how the kitchen pulled it off, but the ultra-thin squid noodles were so tender that you could almost take it as real pasta dish.
Roasted lobster out of the shell was also perfectly cooked and worked so well with the aromatic herb oil and chives. Yes, I’ve had a lot of great lobster dishes, but never with this kind of combination for a whole another dimension in the flavor department. Mushrooms and lamb sweetbreads were also outstanding, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the fried hake with roasted red pepper infusion and parsley that sounds somewhat greasy yet the hake was just cooked in such a subtle way that blew me away. The final savory course of pigeon capped a magical meal with beautifully cooked meat that worked harmoniously with duxelle and cauliflower.
Desserts were perhaps not as sensational as the savory courses, but they certainly weren’t far behind. After refreshing mix of orange, strawberry and ginger came ice cream sandwich of chocolate, hazelnuts and rosemary that was rich in flavor but not overly sweet. Overall, the meal at Azurmendi shows everything you need to know about how fresh ingredients turn into beautiful plates with impeccable flavor and texture using sophisticated techniques and attention to detail.
The restaurant has a large selection of wine, and I suggest trying a few Spanish glasses or bottles. One big lesson I learned during my trip in Spain is how underappreciated Spanish wine, especially the red ones, is. I was very impressed with the depth of a glass of red that I ordered to go along with the pigeon. The services are very professional and attentive, and I was given an opportunity to personally meet chef Atxa and take a photo together as well. Getting a lunch reservation didn’t seem too hard, but I wouldn’t take a chance and would book as early as possible. As described above, the minimalist yet elegant dining room will further enhance your dining experience. Azurmendi deserves to be in the pantheon of world’s greatest restaurants for a reason. It is a total experience that will make you smile all day with how beautiful every food was and how good they tasted.
- Creativity: 10.0/10
- Execution: 9.5/10
- Ingredients: 10.0/10
- Flavor: 9.5/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
Address: Barrio Legina sin número, 48195, Larrabetzu (Lezama), Spain