Three Michelin stars means that, as far as Michelin are concerned, the cooking is exceptional and it is worth a special journey. Well, Azurmendi is 2,000 kilometers in a straight line from where I live and Azurmendi was on my list of restaurants I wanted to experience, so I figured that it was worth “a special journey”, to use the Michelin phrase.
Andy Hayler did a review of Azurmendi in May 2013 and gave a very informed report on his meal, course by course in meticulous detail and the restaurant is somewhere I have long wanted to visit. Whilst many dishes may have changed or evolved over the years, others haven’t and in the instance of the famous truffled egg yolk, well explained by Andy Hayler and doubtless many others, why on earth should something so good have to change. As the saying goes; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Azurmendi Azurmendi Restaurant has three Michelin stars and sits high in the World’s top fifty restaurants and it is located just outstide Bilbao. I went to Azurmendi with massively high expectations and I admit to watching the wee film on Azurmendi when Pascal Barbot visited there, numerous times before I flew to Bilbao and I became ridiculously excited at the thought of actually going there.
We arrived by taxi at Azurmendi and once we’d entered the building we received a cordial welcome and found ourselves to be the only couple in the reception foyer, which could comfortably host a cocktail party for fifty people. There was some tranquil classical music playing and we were brought a glass of Txakoli and a few moments later a chef, who was charming, brought us a small picnic hamper. This held four little tastes: one a foie gras peanut, one a hibiscus juice, an eel brioche and an apple cider and chorizo cube. The tastes vibrant and the playful presentation a good way to set the tone; which was refreshingly unpretentious.
The chef then took us into the kitchen which was stunningly quiet, calm and immaculate. There were too many chefs to count. We tasted some poultry and sherry broth and then we had the famous truffled egg yolk. Both were amazing. After that we were led to the little greenhouse room. Our luck was holding, we were the only people here and there were three chefs waiting to greet us and talk to us and give us more things to try. By this point, thinking about what a meal costs here, I was already of a mind that the Azurmendi experience is incredible value. The chef who guided us through the greennhouse room, or whatever it is called, was really friendly. Herbs, flowers, spices were on display and this afforded the chef an opportunity to talk about the food provenance which is a big deal here and rightly so. The room held some edible treats for us, all really good and the spiced cornetto was brilliant. By this point I was quite in love with Azurmendi not least because it is so clearly not just about food but it is about environment, ambience and people too.
We were then taken into the restaurant proper and had a table looking straight out across the valley. The wall on one side for the whole length of the restaurant is floor to cieling glass. The table was generously large and the table cloth was very fine and there was no slip cloth which I appreciated. There was a white orchid and nothing else. We were pretty lucky because we’d come on a quiet Thursday; just 31 guests, with 15 front of house on duty. The day before they’d had 39 and the next day, our waiter told us, would be 60 for lunch then another 60 for dinner. They only serve dinners on Fridays and Saturdays. The other days it is just lunch.
We then worked our way through 14 more dishes and I will not describe any, so that way you will have some surprises should you decide to go to Azurmendi. After these we had mint tea, sadly dried not fresh, and petits fours and the choice of the latter was fabulous and the flavours and textures spot on.
Service was good and the waiter who was keeping an eye on us throughout our time there was attentive, charming and knowledgable.
The wine list is very good, with plenty of Spanish wines but there were also numerous choices from France and elsewhere. Nothing wrong with that but why? I would have been happy to have seen a purely Spanish wine list. I chose a bottle of Penedes Brut at 56 euros and I was disappointed when the sommelier then suggested that I should actually spend 136 euros on a bottle Cava. Not that his choice wasn’t good, it was gorgeous, but I don’t think it is curteous or clever to invite guests into spending more than double what they evidently want to spend.
We arrived for lunch at 1.40pm and we’d booked for 2pm but this caused no ruffles, which I appreciated and we finished lunch at 5pm. Lunch for two was 530 euros and I would have paid more. Aside from the fact that this is Three Michelin stars, the collective experience and effort behind it, makes is seem inexpensive when you get the final bill. Eneko Atxa came round all the table towards the end of lunch and spoke with everyone and he’s clearly pleased that his creation gives people pleasure. It was great to see him and that he managed the time to see his guests added to whole experience.