Monday 11 May 2015

Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Achondo, Spain.

Going to Asador Etxebarri is all about the journey. Travelling down narrow winding roads in our hire car from Bilbao on the road to San Sebastián and though verdant grassy mountainous countryside. It's also about a wider culinary quest for the finest food to be found in this fantastic country. A journey that we started seriously over a decade ago in Cala Montjoi near Roses and now leads us here.
It's been a long time coming. Of course I knew everything about it already, how chef Victor Arguinzoniz built his own bespoke wood fired grill, utilizing the freshest local ingredients possible, an obsessive quest for simplicity and purity over open flames.
We arrive early onto a large open cobbled square. Kids are playing this Sunday morning and cyclists in lycra stop to get fresh water from the fountain at the church opposite. This and the restaurant appear to the main two buildings in the village, surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery and lush green fields. You can even hear the bells tinkling in the distance from the nearby goats.
We sensibly hold ourselves back from the impressive looking pintxos on the bar and sit in the sunshine with drinks (mine a fresh tasting tangy home made beer I'd guess).
At exactly 1 PM we go up to the restaurant but are offered the outside terrace area which is a perfect spot, with children's drawings of purple headed mountains as the dramatic backdrop.
We start with a simple smoky Bocadillo de chorizo, it's a given that the chorizo will be high quality but the bread is superb too and served generously throughout the meal. They're both home made in house.
Queso fresco de búfala, miel y avellanas.
Mantequilla de cabra. Wow, this goats cheese butter churned in the kitchen is something else, a denser texture and a strong pungent flavour.
Anchoa al salazón sobre tosta de pan. The freshest tasting anchovies without even the merest hint of over salting, something that in hindsight is constant through the meal.
Ostra y espinaca. I prefer my oysters naked and raw so this would be better pulling back from the grill and letting the wonderful product do the talking.
Gambas de Palamós. The famous prawns from Palamós in the Costa Brava, the best you can get in Spain if not the world. Tender, buttery and the freshest you could imagine, like they've just been swimming in the open sea. The very best thing of course is sucking all those lovely juices from the head (not for amateurs this one).
Pulpitos cebolla caramelizada y su tinta. These are soft and tender.
Revuelto de zizas. 
Guisantes. A simple and lovely dish with the freshest peas you can imagine.
Cabrilla y pimiento verde. 
Bacalao con su pil-pil.
Chuleta de vaca. Another signature dish, the famous Basque steak, probably the finest I've eaten. It has a different texture to the British beast, a fleshier fattier mouth feel and a crunchy salty skin. One of the differences is due to the age of the animal. In the UK, the slaughter takes place at around 30 months (when it's financially most viable) whereas here the cows and oxen are around 8 years old. The older meat is fattier (we all know that in ourselves) and more fat equals more flavour. It also helps that they have perfected the cooking method here too so you get the exact combination of fat, deep mature flavour and salt.
Helado de leche reducida con jugo de remolacha. A huge surprise to us were the desserts. Our friend Dr Dawn declared this the best pudding she's ever had. It'd be hard to disagree with this, they're so simple and yet so good.
The Flan de queso is superb too.

Mignardise et eclats de cacao.
Service is perfunctory, service with a smile doesn't seem to be the Basque way and this place is no different. Our friends who take the wine flight are explained the wine in one succinct word, 'dulce' (sweet) for the dessert wine for instance. But if anything this adds to the rural charm of the place.
The pilgrimage to Asador Etxebarri is a well trodden one for food travellers but it's one that's well worth it. Chef Victor Arguinzoniz has taken simplicity to beautiful and artistic levels. It's a move away in the opposite direction from the 'fancy' food of Michelin stars although ironically it achieved a star itself in 2010 and has rightfully kept it ever since. It's simple, traditional and pure with a real respect for the impeccable produce found in this wonderful part of the world.
If you take your food seriously, you have to eat here at least once in your life.

The Taster Menu cost us €125.
More photos here.

Basque and Galician beef is imported to the UK by


  1. if you had to choose between mina and Asador Etxebarri
    did you go to the three star restaurants (arzak, MB, Akelarre.)
    Would you recommend going to extebarri or mina instead of the 3 star restaurants.

    1. A difficult one, we loved them both. For value for money & innovation Mina, for simplicity and quality of product - Etxebarri. We have been to Alkelarre before and wouldn't go there over Mina personally. We also went to Azurmendi which is the best three star of the lot in my opinion.

  2. might have posted this already.
    Apologies if I did.
    How was the journey to get to Extebarri. did you rent a car (i would be using public transport maybe taxi for part of the journey)

    Also how often do you eat out (consecutive days (whats the max) or ever twice in a day). I ask because I am going to San Sebastian and have reserved about 5/6 places to eat over a week. do you ever find it gets too much or that you may have lost some of the experience because of dinning out so often over short period.Planning to go to the 3 stars in SS, Mina and Azurmendi. (what do you think). Everywhere I have read including your blog speaks very highly of Azurmendi and rates it as one of the best in the world and one of the most exciting . Almost all rate Martin B and Akelarre highly; read some mixed reviews on Arzak but don't think I can pass it up considering its history and its place in Basque cuisine

    Lastly what menu did you order on the Azurmendi menu
    Also planning to go to Madrid and Barcelona. I am pretty sure I know the answer having read your blog but is Aponiente worth the 3-4 hour journey from Madrid?

    1. We rented a car to get from Bilbao to Etxebarri which was fine with use of a sat nav. It's about an hour away. We prefer a taster menu in the day with pintxos or tapas at night. The Azurmendi Adarrak taster menu starts at 9pm and goes on for quite a long time! People in Spain don't eat dinner until 9pm at the earliest. After we ate at Azurmendi last time, Akelarre paled in comparison although it was still good. If it's a trip of a lifetime then for me Aponiente is worth it but I'd imagine it to be a very long drive. One taster menu a day is enough but we have had two shorter ones in London but yes fatigue is part of the experience! Mrs Bacon has felt sick after very long meals at Azurmendi, DiverXo and El Bulli so this can be an unfortunate part of the experience! Not every meal will be 'perfect' and depend on what you eat, your mood, service etc but it sounds like you will have an unforgettable time!

  3. thanks a lot for your reply
    much appreciated
    are you still in san sebastian ?

    hoping to post pictures of trip on instagram
    not a blogger find it hard to criticise