Asador Etxebarri

What is with us and getting lost trying to find some of these restaurants? This time it was our taxi driver going around in circles, we must have driven past the restaurant about three times. Thankfully we were early and once he called the restaurant he found it very quickly. He also looked after our bags as it was a travel day for us. Note to self, don’t book restaurants for travel days!

As we entered via the bar we’re warmly greeted and gestured upstairs. Upon entering we’re offered an aperitif on the terrace or to go directly to our table. At this point, we were still about 8 minutes early and appreciated being welcomed immediately. We opted for the aperitif on the terrace and sat down. It’s a beautiful setting in the middle of the countryside!

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Soon come out our aperitifs accompanied by a warm mushroom broth to start. It feels very homey in this place, more so than other restaurants we’ve been to. Zalto glasses of course. Then comes the homemade chorizo on an olive bread, this is amazing and probably the best chorizo I’ve ever had. It was accompanied by the house salted anchovies on a potato cracker, fiancee was frothing at this one! We’re off to a superb start.

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We’re presented with the wine list and while it’s large in size it isn’t too complex and has a wide range of wines as well as a very reasonable pairing option. When he brings out the list he asks if monsieur or madam should have the list, I welcome this touch as all too often it is assumed that the man makes all the decisions!

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As we make our way to our table we realise it’s a very beautiful and elegant dining room with a rustic feel to it. It is very pretty. Cold bread is served soon after followed by the buffalo mozzarella, they make it themselves and have 12 buffalos out the back! It’s delicate and smooth and almost like a yoghurt inside. This is served with the smoked goats’ milk butter with black salt. It’s to die for and the only thing that would make it better is warm bread. Personal preference I know!

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There is soft jazz like upbeat music playing in the background and the service is incredibly genuine. It feels like they really care about your experience and are not just part of the staff. I’m also happy that we got to keep a copy of the menu while we ate. White asparagus, watercress and mushrooms are next. It’s soft and has an almost honey like sweetness. Could have done with a little more salt, however, a pleasing dish nonetheless.

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Variegated scallop comes out with a sweet and buttery sauce. You can tell it has been cooked/opened over the fire. A simple scallop, really showcasing the produce. The prawns of Palamos are next, Palamos is the village where they come from. Again very simple and just prawns. We also had to do all the work of deshelling them. This prompts a discussion from us, are we not as amazed by seafood dishes because it’s so abundant where we live in New Zealand? Whereas some of these diners perhaps have never had fresh scallops before. What do you think?

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Baby octopus and its ink with onion is the course I’m really not so sure about. It turns out to be one of those surprising dishes for me. It’s luscious, tender and soft and the onion goes just perfectly. Fiancee says it’s the most tender octopus he’s ever had. For a restaurant that features fire in a lot of dishes, it would be cool if you could see the fire or at least have a representation of a fire in the dining room. Just a thought from me.

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Asador Etxebarri has nice bathrooms, however, no hand lotion or weird toothbrush kits like Azurmendi. Cod kokotxa is what we have next. It’s made using the cod throat, using this cut of the cod is very traditional in Basque Country. It’s soft and silky however missing a certain kick, an unmemorable dish.

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Scrambled eggs and local mushrooms are our next course. Although the eggs aren’t scrambled it’s warm egg yolk with mushrooms. Nothing special but yum all the same.  Pea and its juice are next. It smells amazing and is equally delightful. They’re just taking amazing produce and not messing with it. Simple and delicious.

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Red tuna belly with wasabi and tomato. Oh my. It’s really good, simple, salty, complex and tantalising. The fattiness of the belly was perfectly met with the acidity of the tomato, sweetness of the onion and kapow of the wasabi. Each component backed the others up, team work on a plate.

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Beef chop, this one I’m still salivating over days later. It’s one of those memorable plates of food that stick in your mind for a long time. It was crunchy on the outside, soft and supple on the inside. 25 days aged and cooked impeccably. I can’t say I’ve ever had a better beef chop. The fire takes it to the next level.

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We’re offered to try some of their gorgonzola next. It melts in your mouth and takes you to heaven. It’s literally what cheese dreams are made of! We have this strange elderflower predessert that misses the mark for both of us. It’s a grandma like dish and after the amazing previous courses left little to be desired.

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All comes back into line though when we have our milk ice cream with beetroot juice. This puts the biggest smile on my face. Another surprising dish that’s executed well and is just amazing. The final dessert is meringue with medlar strawberry. Again, simple and enjoyable.

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The afternoon is wrapped up with a madeleine type dessert and a tour of the kitchen. The kitchen is tiny! I have no idea how the punch so much flavour and goodness out of such a tiny space. A testament to the chef!

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Overall we left feeling full and satisfied. Me still thinking about that beef chop. At number 6 on the World 50 Best Restaurants, I think they deserve this ranking. My latest order is below.

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

Next up, Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain.

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