Corredor del txorierri, exit nº 25
48195 Larrabetzu ( Lezama ) Bizkaia
Tel: +34 944 558 866
Overall rating: 9/10
Date of visit: June 2013
Azurmendi still seems fairly unknown, but is known in some circles for going from one to two to three Michelin stars over the course of only five years – something that usually takes a lot longer.
Another thing that is worth noting is that they only serve dinner on Saturdays, if I’m not mistaken. Sunday they are closed, and the rest of the week they only serve lunch. It’s the same menu for both lunch and dinner, so it wouldn’t make any difference when you go (but work commitments of course might not allow for it).
Azurmendi is another one of those restaurants that were difficult to find. Our GPS couldn’t find the address, and if you don’t have a car or can get a taxi, forget about it. Although there were instructions on their website, a hint would be that when you come off the motorway there’s a roundabout, and you have to take the exit in the roundabout where there’s a sign with a knife and fork (it doesn’t say Azurmendi). Then later there’s a sign saying Azurmendi, but keep your eyes peeled. We missed this sign and drove all the way up the mountain.
When you do get to the restaurant, it’s quite a nice and modern place exuding a certain elegance, not unlike El Celler de Can Roca, although not quite as beautiful, but then it has a nice view.
We started off in the entrance with a few small snacks: Mushrooms and ham bonbon, and foie gras mousse with peanut. I was happy that the flavour of foie gras here was fairly absent and it only seemed to be to add texture. My wife at the time instead had a lovely jelly with martini. Lastly, an intense infusion of onion (overall 8-8.5/10).
Then we were offered to see the kitchen, and the chef, Eneko Atxa, came to greet us, which he seemed to do to all the guests.
For the meal itself we were offered two menus; one for €135 and for €160 (no a la carte). Unfortunately, the menu didn’t say that the price was actually plus 10 % VAT, meaning either €148.50 or €176 in total each. We went for the cheap one, simply because those dishes appealed more to us. They also offered us to change some dishes, but the only one we ended up changing was the main course for my wife at the time (she had lamb instead of pork).
First course was a crispy cornet with potato and truffles, and even better a warm egg yolk where they had sucked out a bit of it and then injected truffle into it. I’ve had truffles several times, and, except for truffle oil, I have been disappointed every time, as they simply never had any flavour. Therefore, it was a refreshing and spectacular sensation to finally have truffle that was the explosion of flavour I had so often heard about. Earthy notes and that refreshing and uplifting sensation (if not 10/10 then at least 9/10 but probably 10/10).
“The garden” was a tomato cream covered with crunchy dehydrated beetroot and a few small vegetables on top. The tomato cream was very nice and very similar to the one we had at Quique Dacosta, but although that one was an even more simple dish I nevertheless found that there was more magic in that dish than this one. The biggest problem, though, was that the vegetables on top simply didn’t have any flavour, which meant that the dish could have been wonderful but ended up being only good (7-7.5/10).
Lobster had been roasted and was served simply with a lovely tapenade of olives and anchovies – a combination that could easily have been dreadfully salty but surprisingly weren’t. The lobster itself had a lovely light barbecued flavour, although I felt this overpowered the flavour of the lobster itself just a little bit. Nevertheless, one of the best lobsters I’ve ever had (lobsters, like truffles, have often disappointed me) (9/10).
Lamb sweetbreads had been battered and then deep-fried and was served with cauliflower cream, cauliflower fritters, and small parcels contained garlic flavoured liquid. The sweetbreads would have been better for me if they hadn’t been battered and deep-fried (they seemed too much like something from a greasy spoon place), but the cauliflower cream was lovely. Cauliflower is one of those things that have never done anything for me, but this was surprisingly tasteful and easily the best I’ve ever had. The parcels were the best bit though, and seemed to me like a nod to the Spaniards love of alioli (mayonnaise with garlic) (8/10).
Beef shank was wrapped in corn bread and came with a sticky reduced braising sauce and a single herb sprig. This dish was heavy, rich and flavourful. Although I like that, this was simply too much. The sprig did give a bit of acidity, but was simply not enough (8/10). I did wonder why this dish came here rather than one or two courses later.
Tender grilled octopus was served with crispy onions and small croquettes of warm octopus ink. Really small explosions of flavour. A simple but nevertheless really nice dish where the octopus was good but not spectacular, and where the ink croquettes were not good but spectacular (8/10).
The main course was pork cooked for 24 hours at 70 degrees. It was served with crispy pork rind, crunchy breadcrumbs and a cream made of avocado and acorn, cleverly shaped like an avocado stone. They also put some “atmosphere” on the table:
The pork itself was very nice but simply not much different than any other slowly cooked pork I’ve had in similar restaurants. The other elements seemed mostly like textural contrasts to the main ingredient. Overall a nice dish but simply not quite as good as the ones before it (it was for instance far from the main course I had at Osteria Francescana) (7/10). My wife at the time had lamb instead, and her dish was otherwise identical.
Then we went to the sweets. A small parcel arrived containing small bonbons of chestnut cream rolled in cocoa powder. It also came with a paper containing a small story about a chestnut tree. Chestnuts have mild flavour, but these particular ones were milder than usual. I find these difficult to score. Although I found them pleasant, they are simply not something I think back on (at best 7/10).
The proper dessert was a glass that was supposed to look like a cup of coffee: Firm coffee cream, rum jelly on top and milk foam at the top. When you compare this to the rest of the meal, this dish seemed overly simple – and that’s unfortunately not a compliment. We both felt that this dessert was simply too boring. The amount of coffee cream was simply also too much compared to the other two elements (there was four-five times as much coffee as rum), and I could only taste the coffee element when I combined it with the other elements (5/10).
Then three petit fours: Pastry with apple, a rice cake, and a chocolate bonbon with passion fruit (7/10)
What really impressed me about Azurmendi was the consistency. Dish after dish was at a very high level. I praise Sant Pau over and over again, but even there I had a couple of dishes that were significantly worse than the rest at both visits. That is only what can be expected. I wouldn’t expect every dish to be 10/10 to give a restaurant an overall rating of 10/10. That would be practically impossible. I was telling my wife at the time during the meal that I would give Azurmendi my first 10/10 if they kept the same standard for the rest of the meal. So, there are actually only two reasons why I give them 9/10 instead: The dessert and the fact that I was starting to become just a little bit bored with the food shortly before the main course was served. My then-wife suggested the same score when the meal was over.
Although the food was modern and creative it never became silly, and the concept was not to “explore” or “go on an adventure” like at Quique Dacosta. It was simply about good food cooked with the best techniques. In some ways I felt that this meal was what my meal at El Celler de Can Roca could have been but didn’t accomplish.
Then there was the service. It was indeed very good, but there were a few glitches. Topping up of water was far from flawless, we weren’t walked to/from the toilet, and the sommelier forgot to serve us the red wine for the beef dish. Sometimes they held our chair when we went to sit down and sometimes not. One waitress seemed to be quite sad and she had poor English (but she only took away our plates), while another one spoke English but far from perfect, but he seemed very warm. As you can see, all these are very minor issues, but they have nevertheless been absent in several other three-star places I have been to. Although the restaurant wasn’t full this day, they seemed a bit understaffed. As I started out by saying, the service was definitely very good, and we particularly liked the young waiter who greeted us at our arrival, as he seemed very warm and genuine. The chef also came out in the middle of the meal to speak to the guests, and he also seemed very warm and as if he was enjoying his job. When we saw the kitchen, there also seemed to be a relaxed atmosphere among the staff. Maybe just a tad too relaxed, as there was a bit too much waiting a few times, but this is seriously minor.
Then there was the price, and I have nothing but good things to say about this. At €148.50, the only similarly priced three-star restaurant in Spain has been Sant Pau (€146 at my first visit, and €149 at my second visit, where the Spanish VAT had risen from 8 % to 10 %). There was a long way from the €148.50 at Azurmendi to the €193 I paid at Arzak, and so was there when it came to the food. At the other three-star restaurants in Spain I paid €7 for a glass of white wine and €9 for a red (although a few places this was plus the 10 % VAT). At Azurmendi a glass of white wine (a German one even, which you rarely see in Spain) was €2.75 and a glass of red was €3.30. Compare this to Pic in France, where we were a few days before, where we paid €22 per glass. I know France is more expensive, and that it was different, and probably more expensive, wine, but for four glasses of wine the total difference between those two restaurants were €76 – half of the price of the menu at Azurmendi, and enough for a menu in a Spanish one-star restaurant. A large bottle of water was €4.40, and a small one was €2.75. At Pic a large bottle was €8. My only tiny complaint is that they asked us if we wanted another bottle of water and we asked for a small one, but they didn’t pour us any of this and still charged us for it (I believe I saw the full bottle on a trolley when we left). So €2.50 wasted. That’s better than €200.
Minor issues aside, this was a great meal. Easily one of the best I’ve had in Spain, and easily also one of the best I’ve had in the entire world. And probably also the best value of any three-star restaurant I’ve ever been to.