A meal at a special restaurant often starts with a journey to remember. This is very much the case with Etxebarri, as the road that leads you there is of heart-stopping beauty. You drive through barely populated parts of the Basque country, and finally arrive at a quiet little mountain village. It’s hard to imagine that this village houses one of the world’s most intriguing restaurants: Etxebarri.
The international hype around this “asador” (grill restaurant) started when Tony Bourdain visited the restaurant for an episode of “No Reservations” that portrayed the cooking at Etxebarri. He highlighted the incredible precision with which every product is grilled here. From the various types of wood used, up to the tools made specifically for Etxebarri, Bourdain helped make Etxebarri one of the world’s cult restaurants.
The man who runs this restaurant is the humble, simple, and superbly skilled Victor who runs the kitchen with his sous-chef. He has created a style of cooking that is steeped in tradition, but feels original and modern at the same time.
Due to the focus on the product, eating here is a little like going back to school. Victor Arguinzoniz, like a teacher, demonstrates better than most other chefs how much potential a pristine piece of meat, fish or a vegetable have, if they are treated with respect. He makes it possible to serve a breathtaking buttered toast. The clue is the slightly grilled butter, which is topped with slivers of wild mushrooms and ash salt. The result is a refined and complex flavour that you would never ever expect from such a simple dish. It is impressive and humbling at the same time to be shown what such basic ingredients can taste like.
Palamos shrimp show that simplicity is the order of the day in this kitchen. Finding better shrimp than these would be a real challenge. One single, large shrimp comes with a topping of salt. It’s grilled to perfection, with the smoky flavours adding to their inherent complexity. The texture of the prawn is crunchy, and juicy, whilst the head juices taste like remarkably concentrated shot of the sea.
This restaurant is perhaps the equivalent of the ‘holy grail’ for product-fanatics. It is devoid of all luxury, does not engage in lengthy preparations of sauces or purees. What happens here is so simple, but complex at the same time that it will mark you for the rest of your life. No matter if you eat chorizo, beef, lobster or grilled caviar, you will not forget the flavours of these “simple” dishes. The reason why this might even be considered the most luxurious restaurant in Europe is exactly the fact that, like in the finest Japanese restaurants, the chefs have such stunning produce at hand that no complication is necessary.