Azurmendi

We were excited about visiting Azurmendi our first Spanish World 50 Best Restaurant and number 38 on the list. Being so close to Saison at number 37 on the list I thought this would be a good comparison. We arrived 14 minutes early and we were told they weren’t quite ready. This prompted a debate between us, I think 10-15 minutes early is acceptable and they should allow for this, fiancee doesn’t agree. What do you think?

As we walk in we are given a glass of wine from their basque country vineyard. We will be starting in the garden before going to the kitchen and then the greenhouse all for snacks before finally going into the dining room. I like this nice experience touch, it makes it feel like it’s more than just lunch or dinner!

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We begin with a welcome picnic in the garden. It’s served in a super cute picnic basket and feels very much like an actual picnic. We have peanut which is like a gamey peanut butter. Hibiscus flower juice which is a nice palate cleanser after the peanut. A smoked fish (eel) brioche, it’s crunchy and not as sweet as a traditional brioche, however, has the smokiness and creaminess of the eel. Finally, we have the apple cider and chorizo it’s soft and foamy and acidic. There are several other diners in the garden and it feels a bit like we’re about to go on a tour. However, it’s still very individualised.

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We’re then taken into the kitchen where all the chefs say “Hola!” in harmony. We’re treated to their famous truffled egg, which is cooked from the inside out. This is an incredible technique and is equally delicious. This is served with a poultry and sherry broth. Both are pretty sensational.

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Time to visit the greenhouse next, it’s a small representation of the garden they have upstairs which we are welcome to visit after lunch. The chefs go up each day and forage for their ingredients. We have a fermented apple cider, a spices cornetto – spicy and soft, fiancee loves it, herb quark which is sheep’s milk infused with rosemary and thyme, it’s liquid then turned into an almost silken tofu like substance that is delightful. We finish the greenhouse with Kaipiritxa which is like liquid berries in an ice cream sundae in a bite.

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We move into the dining room and get even more welcome snacks! This restaurant certainly has the most copious snack game so far! We have a mushroom praline that I’m not so sure about. A spider crab fritter which is like a simple crab croquette done in a Basque style and it is oh so good. Sea txakoli and “Limon Grass”. It’s foie gras served inside a lime! Salty, sweet, almost sour taste distracts from the fattiness of the foie gras. It’s a different way to do it but just as delicious. The wine is sweet and complements the flavours nicely.

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The tables are massive and it feels like fiancee is ages away from me. There are two menus both very similar one seasonal and the other their main menu because the seasons have just changed they are very alike. We’re told anything is possible here when asking to switch up the menus. We opt for the Erroak menu with switching out the desserts for one of us so we can try a little more.

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We’re offered tap water as well as still or sparkling, the first time we’ve noticed this option. It’s nicely spaced in the dining room. The view is of the motorway but a nice green countryside all the same. Upsold on the wine as the one we’d picked is a little too sweet for the menu. Non branded glasses this time!  Napkin refolded and not replaced when fiancee goes to the bathroom. Nice classical music in the background.

With most courses here they bring out some bread to accompany it. As a bread lover, this makes me very happy. Our first bread is a Bao bun with olive oil. It’s nice to have a completely different bread for a change. It’s soft and goes well with the olive oil.

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We begin our official courses with oyster, apple, roquette, and flowers. Fried oyster with oyster leaf – take in one bite. The leaf was delicious. Mmm. I like the little green dumpling things, my favourite, and they’re just oyster mayonaise. This was better than the oyster we had at Mirazur. Jelly is fantastic. Custom made bowls. Reminds you of the beach, fish and chips and fried oysters on the beach, a classic Kiwi summer dish.

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We move on to the tear peas, Iberian gel, and crispy cornbread. The bread is all nice and warm and fiancee says this is the best one he’s had on this journey so far. The peas burst in your mouth, the jelly is cold and it melts in the hot bowl, there’s a crispy element too. It’s different and I like it. Very playful dish. Very spring. The bread is crunchy and like a sourdough but with a Basque twist.

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Our next course comes out, with more bread of course and we both ask “What is that?” It is the garlic mushrooms, the base is cream of mushroom made into noodles/pasta. Two fried eggs in tempura, to eat in one bite. The yolk is made into a savoury custard then deep fried. It was fantastic, the eggs just explode in your mouth! Mushrooms are cooked perfectly and are al dente like pasta. This would have been a clever course in Italy. The mushrooms are slightly salty but I like it that way with the egg yolk it’s well balanced out.

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We notice that everything is really well spaced out between courses even at the start, something that has bothered me at previous restaurants. An hour and a half in and we’ve only had two of our official courses! Roasted and peeled crispy lobster and its mayonnaise is next. A very pretty dish.  The lobster mayonnaise tastes like the ocean. Yum yum yum yum yum, from fiancee, I didn’t really like it but I get what they’re trying to do. It’s very one dimensional. There must be red food colouring throughout the dish as our fingers and tongues turned red!

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Up next is the beans and assorted meats, except they’re not beans though they’re vegetables. This is served with the fried Iberian ham in tempura. Like a vegetable gravy mixed with the meat flavour. Texture wise like beans. Dipping the tempura in the gravy is delicious. It would have been nice if these components were served together rather than on different plates. They ate nicely together, however, the way they were served it was awkward to eat them together.

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We’re given more cornbread which we’re told is is to go well with the red mullet in three services. The bones are just for decoration I’m kindly told as I touch them! Fritter of interiors and caviar and flame roasted red mullet to start. They really like their plays on textures and spheres. The flame roasted red mullet is almost like sashimi but with skin charred, essentially raw with lightly charred skin. The dressing is amazing. The third service is red mullet in tempura, red peppers juice roasted on charcoal and spirulina. Another thing they like doing here is tempura. That’s beautiful, so pretty. It’s once again like fish and chips – without the chips and a bit more flavour. Michelin starred fish and chips.

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When I go to the bathroom I noticed there is no hand lotion however they do have little toothbrush amenity kits which you’re welcome to take. Interesting touch! By 3pm the restaurant is much fuller and most of the tables have diners at them. Because the soft classical music is located a little bit away from us you can barely hear it now.

Iberian pork “castaneta”, Idiazbal cheese bonbon, and pickled turnip is next. This is better. Cheese balls that you can eat or pop like an egg yolk and put through the dish. Sauces are almost set like a gel like agar, quite thick, with the same viscocity as a fluid gel. This is by far my favourite dish so far! Now we’re talking.

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Our final main is the stewed piglet tail and anchovies from Bermeo. Same gravy style sauce that we had on the last dish. Also similar to what we had with the vegetables. Anchovy worked really well with the pork giving it an extra layer of saltiness however pork doesn’t generally need it. Wine service gets slower and slower throughout the afternoon and takes some time to bring back out the wine list.

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Onto desserts beginning with avocado and mango with lemon. I’m not sold on this one, it’s nice but not wow. We then have the red fruits basil and etxano cheese ice cream. The chocolate reduction is the winner of this dish, it’s really good. The best dessert so far!

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We move on to the coconut, rum and ginger. That was yum although fiancee tells me I’m not supposed to eat the cocoa nibs. The ginger granita is excellent and the dish reminds us of a bounty bar.

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Yoghurt, honey and five spices. They’re like spaceman sticks, but a meringue. Five spice biscuit is on point. That was a good dessert. Nice long lunch. Our waiter is great, the team around him are letting him down as wine service gets even slower. He ends up topping up our wines when I’m sure it’s the sommeliers’ job.

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Chocolate peanuts and liquorice. Underwhelming. Black olives, sheep milk and cocoa. Olives and cheese but dessert. Interesting. Very complex dessert. Really sophisticated. Would you ever put chocolate and olives together? Probably not but now I want it every day. The olive is like a flour with sweetener in it to tone down the olives.

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Petit fours, bonbons with chocolate, tea, red wine etc. They serve us one of each. Again they pop in your mouth. Like a raspberry jelly. Like sour lollies you have as a kid but not quite as sour. It’s just a nice chocolate. I’d love this chocolate selection if I was sitting home watching a movie.

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Overall we really appreciated the length of this lunch, it’s by far the longest one we’ve had and the number of ‘snacks’ was impressive. There’s a definite focus on spheres, tempura and cocoa nibs as we noticed these in a number of dishes. Would I go again? It’s hard to say, the experience was great however nothing really stood out from a food point of view.

Latest ranking:

  1. Tim Raue
  2. Piazza Duomo and Reale
  3. Quintonil
  4. Le Calandre and The Ledbury
  5. The Clove Club
  6. Saison
  7. Mirazur and Azurmendi
  8. Dinner by Heston
  9. Pujol
  10. Restaurant Steirereck

Next up Asador Etxebarri, Bizkaia, Spain.

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