Etxebarri is a restaurant unlike any other restaurant I’ve ever eaten at before. It located in the Atxondo valley in the Basque country between San Sebastian and Bilbao. Etxebarri is an “asador”, a grill restaurant that cooks on a wood-fired grill. But Etxebarri is more about the quality of the ingredients than about being an asador. I’ve been to many trattorie in Italy that offer good, often humble, produce that is prepared simply and delicious, but Etxebarri is in a league of its own because it offers at 125 euros (excluding 10% tax) tasting menu of produce that is prepared expertly but humbly, but the produce itself is far from humble. The tasting menu changes daily based upon what is available.
Etexebarri offers outside seating with a view on the surrounding mountainous landscape as well as inside (airconditioned). It is only open for lunch (except for Saturdays). No wine pairing is provided, but given the simplicity of the cooking a good local white wine will match with almost everything except for the beef. We enjoyed an excellent local white for 25 euros. The tasting menu includes small appetizers, 10 courses, and mignardises (petit fours).
The tone is set by the first appetizer: the chorizo is homemade by Victor (the chef, Victor Arguinzoniz) using his grandmother’s recipe. It was easily the best chorizo I’ve ever tasted (also because I don’t eat chorizo often) with great depth and balance of flavor, and tender as well.
Etxebarri have their own buffalos, whose milk they use to make their own daily fresh buffalo mozzarella. I’ve tasted day-fresh buffalo mozzarella in Campania, so I immediately recognized the texture of truly fresh buffalo mozzarella. (When he had bought it fresh from a cheese maker in Campania and didn’t finish all of it, the next day the special texture had already disappeared). The texture is more chewy and interesting than buffalo mozzarella that is from the previous day or older.
This set of appetizers clearly show what Etxebarri is all about: humble cooking and presentation of noble ingredients. 10/10
The first ‘course’: a chicken croquette. What’s special about it compared to the croquetas you’ll find as tapas all over Spain is that this one was cooked on the grill. Nice with a very delicate chicken flavor. 8/10
We shared a red sea bream between the four of us. It was grilled with just a bit of fresh herbs, garlic, salt, and olive oil. The fish was exceptionally fresh and cooked just right. An important touch was that the fish was served on warm plates.
The puff pastry was nice, but the apple was not a nice apple at all. Very little flavor at all, and what flavor it had was bitterness. We didn’t finish our apples and noticed that the other tables didn’t either. 5/10
The service was okay, at the level of an ordinary restaurant with some waiting (e.g. when we asked for another bottle of water) and only minimal English spoken. The pace of the meal however was just right.
The food is one of a kind: noble produce served in a humble manner. The quality of the produce is that of a three-star restaurant or perhaps even better, as the humble preparation does nothing but letting the inherent quality of the produce shine. When I say the preparation is humble that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t expertly performed, because everything was consistently grilled just right and that is not such an easy thing to do. Berasategui was a tough act to follow, especially as we were having lunch at Etxebarri right after having had dinner at Berasategui the night before. I think it very well deserved that Etxebarri is ranked as 34th on the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants. I’m rating 9.5/10 for the food, which is a rating even a three-starred restaurant doesn’t have to be ashamed of, and only a touch lower than Berasategui.