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Azurmendi Reviewed: Gordo On Tour

Gordo follows the advice of four key NW chefs and food swoons in Basque country

Published on September 21st 2012.

Azurmendi Reviewed: Gordo On Tour

THIS was not on Gordo's planned trip to San Sebastian on the Atlantic coast of Spain.

It does however show the power of Twitter across countries. Gordo and his companion had spent the night in Bilbao: it was shortly after breakfast that Gordo got a Tweet from Aiden Byrne, the two star chef back in the UK who asked if we were going to a restaurant called Azurmendi. 

His cuisine is unique. It is modernist cuisine without the waxed moustache. It is no fraud. It is perfect. It is respectful. 

Gordo hadn't heard of it and replied so. Aiden returned, "best meal I've ever had mate". 

Quite a compliment from a man who once was head chef at The Dorchester with 300 staff and two Michelin stars – and is about to be set free again with Living Ventures, click here

Two minutes later, a tweet came from the chef at Azurmendi, Eneko Atxo, who thanked Aiden for the compliment. 

To cut a long story short, Eneko agreed to find me a table at his restaurant the following Tuesday for lunch, which worked well as the restaurant is actually outside Bilbao, ten minutes from the airport. 

Gordo had heard that four North West chefs had been, all whispering about greatness. 

They were no fools either. Well, apart from Andrew Nutter, who is a bit mad. Nutter, Simon Rimmer, Aiden Byrne and Paul Askew had done a road trip a couple of months previously with the boys from Boutinot wine. They were, to a man, astonished with the place. When Simon called in for a coffee, he had tears in his eyes when he talked about it.

Azurmeda Front DoorAzurmendi Front Door

Eneko had built his restaurant inside a winery in 2005. Two years later he was awarded a Michelin star. In 2010 he was awarded another.

In 2012 he moved the 'gourmet' restaurant up the hill. It has been awarded a level of green status that only one other building in Spain has. Gordo was hugely impressed to find that should you come to the restaurant in an electric car, there was a plug to recharge it in the parking area.

The building has the look of a laboratory about it. It is a stark, mainly glass oblong and is cut into the hillside as if it had sat down and wiggled its bottom into soft sand to mould itself in. The views across the valley and on to the mountains are stunning.

Cool InteriorCool Interior

We were met by John, who was hosting us as Eneko was away on a trip. He took us around the back, up a flight of steps, to a garden which supplies a good percentage of the restaurant's vegetables and herbs. It goes without saying that this was all organic. Then, into the green house where numerous varieties of tomatoes were being grown hydroponically, along with a huge collection of pimientos and chillies.

One taste of a cherry tomato plucked straight off the vine told the story. They put Gordo's pampered efforts back on his Manchester balcony to shame.

Tomatoes Just Before RipeningTomatoes Just Before Ripening

Then back down into kitchens, the largest that Gordo had seen, certainly for this size of restaurant. Each chef had his or her own station and everything was, well, under control. There was no shouting, no screaming, no pressure. You could see that everything was planned and executed to a precision that NASA would have been proud of.

"On this table, Gordo, we are preparing your picnic."

"Picnic," Gordo thinks, "I've dropped acid and fallen down the rabbit hole here..."

Grinning, Gordo and his companion were led into the reception area, a bit like a small Kew Gardens and introduced to our second host, another John.

The Johns wear matching suits.

It was like a dream sequence.

The whole thing was.

Gordo With John And JohnGordo With John And John

We were given a glass of the wine produced in the region and finished off twenty metres down the hill. It was, wait for it, Gorka Izagirre from Bizkaiko Txakolini (pronounced shakolinee).

It gets better; the grape variety is Honnarabi Zuri. I bet you all knew that, didn't you? Well Gordo didn't. The proximity of the Bay of Biscay gives it a light, tart white fruit taste, with a touch of herbs. It's going to be great value until the Americans learn how to pronounce it so fill your boots now folks.

The local wines are terrific; we had glasses from four different bottles. They are very difficult to pronounce, but very impressive.


Gordo turned round to see, well, a picnic basket being held by a young chef. He placed it on a tall table and opened it. Inside there were three things. A pistachio green lozenge with the tiniest white flowers atop; looking a bit like those cream violets your gran used to give you. Slide this off the wide lollipop stick straight into your mouth. The outer cape hid a cheese interior made in the restaurant, a very pure creamy goats cheese.

Picnic In The GardenPicnic In The Garden

Then we were presented with what looks like peanut shells and told to eat them again in one go. Gordo was transported back to peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches when he was eight. The case was made from a dark, dry chocolate of a kind that the Mayans would sacrifice a jungle for; the peanut 'cream' inside turned into a flavour that went straight through the palette into that part of the fat one’s brain that handles pleasure; it shouted "wake up and fly!"

Then a cup of clear liquid. It was tomato and basil water, the ripest, bestest from the greenhouse upstairs that have been hung up all night in muslin, sprinkled with herbs headed by basil. Dripping all night into a bowl, just for Gordo.

Castillo De Canena Olive OilCastillo De Canena Olive Oil

Heads buzzing, we were lead into a dining room, designed with such Zen-like freshness and clarity of thought that Gordo, for one, just forgot about the world and all its pain outside. By this time readers, as a guest you're tripping.

The menu we were working through was called Adarrak. The literal translation from the Basque is Branches. Not counting the picnic, there were ten courses. The price was 120 Euros per head.

No duds; which beats Heston's Fat Duck, as I consider his ‘Sounds of the Sea’ a bit of a nonsense, with all that iPod stuff.

Heston is clever with his dishes, like his snail porridge. That dish is a stunner, but it was designed with PR in mind, it was bound to hit the newspapers. As did the Sounds of the Sea, but without the porridge's class.

A Table Full Of ZenA Table Full Of Zen

Eneko's cuisine is as clever as the Fat Duck, Noma, Momofuku Ko or indeed L'Enclume. The difference though is Eneko and his restaurant aspires to be a partner with the earth and sea around him. His particular part of the world, the Basque country, gives him a head start.

Additionally Azurmeda’s hospitality is on a level that no other restaurant in my experience has reached. Half way through service, John came over from the desk. Eneko was on the phon and had asked John to ask me if everything was OK? I was stunned.

Eneko uses the so-called modernist cuisine and a good deal of the science to strengthen the ingredients, not confusing the star of each plate with too many flavours. This enables sensible wine matching which is impossible with the aforementioned restaurants. This leads to the diner being able to have a meal. Food, wine friends and lovers. The diners are not crouching in pews.

Gordo usually describes the individual dishes at this stage, but for a change will handle a couple.

A mind-blowing innovative dish was called The Garden. I emailed my partner in crime to ask her for a few words on her favourite.

The GardenThe Garden

‘The 'garden' thing.’ she replied. ‘Clever, funny, but not overwrought. Tomato puree with an incredibly pure and intense flavour (I may have chosen this cause of current tomato obsession), offset in texture by the beetroot 'crumble'.’

Look at the picture of this dish.

It tells a lot about this menu, and where Eneko is coming from. He is saying thanks to his produce, both outside the building and across his beloved Basque garden, stretching across to the Pyrenees.

With ‘The Garden’, you get the purity my dining partner talks about, along with the tiniest new potatoes. An exquisite dish from a mind that is as humble and respectful of what arrives ready to cook.

Then another future classic is the pigeon dish, entitled simply ‘Pigeon, hazelnuts, leaves’.

Pigeon And Hazelnuts, Err, Well Not QuitePigeon And Hazelnuts, Err, Well Not Quite

The pigeon breast is perfect. The timing of the heat, the rosy blush, the whiff of game. Seasoned perfectly, it is exquisite.   

Cut a ‘hazelnut’ in half and Gordo was amazed to see it was a chocolate casing, with something creamy inside. At first Gordo thought Eneko was slipping into superstar clever chef mode. But what this turned out to be was a foie gras of the pigeon livers, which was better than any foie he’s had and worked so well, lifting the meat onto another plain. 

Another masterpiece, a work that no other chef in the world has done to the best of Gordo's knowledge, is the ‘egg from our chickens, cooked inside out and stuffed with truffles’. 

Inside Out Truffled EggInside Out Truffled Egg

Get a load of this from John numeros dos. At least I think this is what he said. 

“Now we all know that if you put eggs into a jar with truffles, over the course of a few days the eggs will take on the aroma of the truffles. Eneko thinks that this disrespects the chickens; their hard work should be eaten on the day they are born. So Eneko uses a syringe to inject the yolk with hot truffle oil and then sprinkles the gently cooked results with more black truffles." 

Gordo slipped his egg off the silver spoon it was served on, into his mouth and very nearly slid off his seat in ecstasy. 

Here’s hoping that the pictures taken by him published here do Eneko’s work justice. 

His cuisine is unique. It is modernist cuisine without the waxed moustache. It is no fraud. It is perfect. It is respectful. 

It's a new style. Gordo reckon's what we have here is Modernist Peasant Cuisine. 

And Gordo agrees with Aiden Bryne, Simon Rimmer, Andrew Nutter and Paul Askew. Like them he thinks the work Eneko Atxo has done is astonishing, easily some of the best food around today anywhere in the world.

You can follow Gordo on Twitter here @GordoManchester


Legina Auzoa, s/n  48195 Larrabetzu, Basque, Spain
944 55 88 66

Rating 24/20
Food 12/10
Service 6/5
Ambience 6/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.


Grilled Red MulletGrilled Red Mullet

A Lovingly Presented OysterA Lovingly Presented Oyster

Gordos Life Is Incomplete Without One Of TheseGordos Life Is Incomplete Without One Of These

Open The Box, The Real Chestnut DealOpen The Box, The Real Chestnut Deal

Petit FoursPetit Fours

The Nurse Falls In Love With An EggThe Nurse Falls In Love With An Egg

There Is A Motorway There SomewhereThere Is A Motorway There Somewhere

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18 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Drew SmithSeptember 17th 2012.

nice looking nurse you have there, gordo

GordoSeptember 17th 2012.

Just to be clear, Jonathan has edited me slightly; for my own sanity, the part where i say 'this is the best meal I have ever had'. I stand by that statement and both Aiden Bourne and Simon Rimmer, both of whom I have spoken with, agree.

shaunacSeptember 17th 2012.

Any other reccomendations for Bilbao or San Sebastian Gordo? We're heading there tomorrow...salivating already!!!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 17th 2012.

Try Aitor Elicegi's BASCOOK: good and surprising meal in a fantastc ambiance...

shaunacSeptember 17th 2012.

Should have started that comment with....this place looks outstanding and if we can get a table, we will most definitley be headed there!

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoSeptember 17th 2012.

let me know if you have trouble, will go through my notes but a bar/pintxo gaff called the wine bar in Bilbao was stand out

AnonymousSeptember 17th 2012.

Regard form Basque Country

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoSeptember 18th 2012.

Thanks for that my friends

Lorraine ByrneSeptember 18th 2012.

We did San Sebastian last year because of the amazing food BUT it rained non-stop for the week so we didn't get to try any of it. Most of the Michellin starred restaurants are not in SanSeb itself, all a car ride away and we didn't hire one so never got to try them. Plus we weren't overly enamoured by the Basque tapas as they put the strangest of combinations together. The above restaurant does look amazing tho, but Bilbao is 1.5 hours drive from SanSeb. Probably worth the trip.

Lowry DigsSeptember 18th 2012.

Love it Gordo.. A must for any foodie! We did San Sebastian and the Rioja Route in July this year. Went to the 3* Martin Berasatiegui still the company and experience we had on the day you took us to The Fat Duck will be one of the most memorable

1 Response: Reply To This...
Mark GarnerSeptember 18th 2012.

Ya didn't invite me!

Paul CarterSeptember 20th 2012.

Fuego y Negro (think that's how you spell it) in San Sebastian - simply stunning

Tamar SmithApril 11th 2013.

Looks goood!

AnonymousApril 11th 2013.

Looks very good!

Bacon OnthebeechMay 7th 2013.

Hope you don't mind me putting a link up for my review of Azurmendi's new menu. I do name check you!<br /><br /><a href="http://www.bacononthebeech.com/2013/05/azurmendi-bilbao-spain.html">www.bacononthebeech.com/&#8230;/azurmendi-bilbao-spain.html&#8230;</a>

Bacon OnthebeechMay 7th 2013.

oops here you go; <br /><br /><a href="http://www.bacononthebeech.com/2013/05/azurmendi-bilbao-spain.html">www.bacononthebeech.com/&#8230;/azurmendi-bilbao-spain.html&#8230;</a>

David GerrieApril 14th 2014.

Hey Gordo, It's your old Prestbury/Llafranch mucker David Gerrie here - who knew we'd both wind up writing about food? I've been writing on food and drink for various outlets, including the Telegraph, Independent, Mail, Food & Travel and several websites over the past few years - with much associated globe-trotting and noshing. My other half, Anthea, and I also have a blog: thewinewanderers.wordpress.com/…/… Went to Aneko's place a few years ago for a multi-page spread I was doing on Bilbao's hot new chefs for Food & Travel mag' - the great man sat with us (Anthea had met him before) and guided us through a thoroughly revelatory culinary adventure - particularly loved the "garden" whose "soil" retracted with the addition of hot stock to reveal the tiniest of asparagus tips. Did you try Arzak, in San Sebastian - more Iberian genius! Ate at Aiden's place, too - probably the best tasting menu I've eaten in the U.K. - not managed Rogen's in Manchester yet, although ate with him at L'Enclume back in his heavily molecular days. The following few weeks will bring visits to Messrs. Kerridge, Clifton (Midsummer House, Cambridgeshire) and Bosi (Hibiscus, Mayfair). Would love to hear from you at gerrie.associates@virgin.net for a good ol' catch-up! Still in touch with Nigel and Andrew Painton and a few others from the old gang. Me? Since returning from eight years in L.A., we've been living in the same village, just south of Tunbridge Wells, since 1985, complete with a 32-year-old son who keeps boomerang-ing back home. Do get in touch. Ciao! David Gerrie END

1 Response: Reply To This...
GordoApril 14th 2014.

just sent a note by email David. Kerridge? you visiting the special one?

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