Eneko Atxa, the Basque chef behind the three-Michelin starred Azurmendi in Bilbao – which sits at number 16 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list – opened his new London restaurant in August. Located in the five-star One Aldwych hotel, it’s a more informal offering than Azurmendi, with the chef offering a “fun and inventive modern interpretation” of Basque cooking.
Housed in the basement space of the hotel formerly occupied by Axis, the restaurant has its own entrance on Aldwych. You descend a dramatic polished copper staircase, first to a 35-cover mezzanine wine bar, and then the 110-seat restaurant.
Design firm Casson Mann undertook the impressive renovation of the space, removing a floor to let in daylight through the stairwell, and using materials such as steel, stone and woods indigenous to the Basque region – oak flooring, a blackened pine feature wall and curved chestnut tabletops – as well as cherry red banquettes. There’s an open kitchen at one end. It’s contemporary and classy, with unobtrusive electronic beats playing in the background.
This is highly imaginative, expertly executed cooking. The menu is fairly short, split into “land”, “sea” and “garden” categories, with a few options for each. A basket of delicious breads with whipped butter and parsley emulsion was offered to begin.
My starter, Memories of the Bay of Biscay (£14), is a good example of Atxa’s playful, artistic approach. Comprising a plump, tangy oyster with plankton and apple blossom, delicate crab txangurro with sea urchin emulsion and verbena flowers, served in a crab shell, and Carabineros prawn tartare and herring roe, in a sea urchin shell, the dish is finished at the table with a seaweed infusion over dried ice to create a “sea-scented mist”. All rather theatrical, but fun and beautifully put together.
My dining companion had the beetroot tartare (£9) dressed with pickled red onion, soufflé potato, sourdough toasts and vegetable barbeque sauce, the latter adding an unusual but welcome smokiness to the rich, intensely flavoured beetroot.
Also on the menu, and one I’ll be tempted to try next time, is the Txerri Boda Pork Festival (£12), a trio of chorizo on milk bread, glazed sweetbread and suckling pig tempura.
For my main I had the Basque-style hake in tempura, confit vegetables, red pepper sauce and parsley emulsion (£15) – it was an exquisite piece of fish, fall-apart flaky beneath the light and crisp batter, and well complemented by its earthy accompaniments.
My companion went for the pork dish (£17) – roasted Iberico presa with wheat in chickpea sauce and garlic cream, which was succulent and perfectly pink, and garnished with edible flowers.
For dessert you can choose from torrija (Basque vanilla sponge) or something from the delectable-looking trolley (all £7 and served with refreshing Basque milk ice cream) – we tried a light cheesecake with chopped berries, served upside-down in a cup, and a decadent, glistening chocolate dessert.
The wine list includes four bottles from Atxa’s uncle’s Gorka Izagirre winery in the Basque region. A wide range of options from across Spain is also on offer. We shared an enjoyable bottle of Rolland and Galarreta Rioja 2011 (£12 by the glass; £43 by the bottle).
Warm, attentive and unobtrusive.
A highly accomplished and innovative take on the region’s cooking, in an attractively revamped space. I will be back to try some more of Atxa’s beautifully conceived dishes.
Mon-Sat 12pm-2.30pm, 5pm-11pm; Sun 12pm-3.30pm, 6pm-10pm.
Starters £9-£14; mains £12-£17; sides £4-£7; desserts £7. Wine from £9 by the glass; from £28 by the bottle.
Eneko at One Aldwych; tel +44 (0)20 7300 0300; eneko.london