1 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BZ www.eneko.london
The last time he walked through the door of One Aldwych Nick was going to cash a cheque to enlarge his overdraft. Now who remembers cheques?
Time marches on and now my old Nat West branch is Eneko restaurant. Glass doors slide silently apart, only lacking the Star Trek sound for maximum effect, and you head down to an island bar floating over the restaurant below. Another glide path of steps, guaranteed to get you noticed as you sashay down them, brings you to the tables
It’s all very chic and stylish and not perhaps what you’d expect from a Basque restaurant, places that one fondly imagines are always rough, manly joints where everything is cooked over live coals by men in berets who only talk in x’s and z’s.
But then chef Eneko Atxa has the three-Michelin Azurmendi restaurant, in Bilbao, Spain and is #16 in the World’s Top 50 Restaurants, so he’s not going to be that rough, although he does sport rather massive black earrings. The man is in fact stylish through and through and his food is no different, but here in his London restaurant the fanciness is turned down a notch, as are the prices.
The weekend brunch menu presents a compact choice of dishes mostly designed to be shared (I know, I know). We wanted to kick off our drinking with a Golden Mary - spice-infused vodka, golden tomato juice and celery foam - but they’d just run out of the juice, so we had a Bloody Mary instead and very good it was too. And with that bringing us back to life, we ordered dishes with abandon. With four of us at table we could get a good spread.
From the ‘Street food’ menu, Suckling Pig Brioche came as two mini buns on a board and stuffed full of slow-cooked pork shoulder. I’m no fan of brioche as a burger bun, finding it too sickly sweet, but here the smallness of the buns meant they matched the meat and didn’t swamp it. Tasty little bites that were gone in, well, two bites actually.
We fished out spiced Basque sausage cooked in cider, a dish I’ve eaten across Spain but especially in Asturias where cider is a big drink. These were firm and spicy and matched well with the accompanying ‘talo’, something perhaps best described as a Basque tortilla, an earthy and filling treat.
In the Basque country, this pairing is usually eaten with a glass of Txakoli, a low alcohol and slightly fizzy white wine, but by now I was deep into a bottle of red, apparently made by Eneko and his uncle, that was powerful and rich. Saturday was looking up.
Our vegetarian hostage was a bit miffed to find out that Gernika Beans - Black beans, Savoy cabbage, piparrak, sourdough toast - was sold out, but loved the fish soup with hake, mussels and clams. All of us, meat eaters and wusses alike, enjoyed the very vegetarian crispy corn talo with heritage tomatoes and herbs - the Chelsea Flower Show on a plate - with the tomatoes zinging with fresh acidity against the talo’s mealy bite.
Each and every dish was a wow to look at as it arrived at table and brunch is certainly going to be a hit with Instagrammers. Yes I took photos as well, it was hard not to, but I made eating a priority over snapping and I did not stand on my chair once. Another talo topped with anchovies, Idiazabal cheese, tomato compote was so good it rendered me temporarily speechless with happiness. I do love anchovies, pile ‘em on my pizza every time.
Scrambled eggs, sautéed potato, jamon, sourdough toast is one of those things the
Spanish do triumphantly, it’s just so delicious. I put it down to their decadently frying the potatoes in olive oil, but whatever it is it always works so well; the eggs were softly scrambled, the jamon a salty lick that wove through them and the bread, unusually for toasted sourdough, wasn’t a doomed battle to either cut or chew.
And just to finish off we ordered some Txuleta with a spring onion salad and haystack fried potatoes. By now everyone knows about Txuleta, the grilled dairy cow, well-hung steak which is served particularly well at Sagardi. The one here was almost as good, the gorgeous fat just needed a bit more cooking to render out the chewiness and to give more of the dribble that makes the meat so special.
Spring onion salad was news to me, I’d never thought of eating them this way all shredded up and dressed, but this was exactly what the steak demanded and I shall now be making this one at home. The fine chips we ate with our fingers, sorry I blame chef’s uncle’s wine for that, but they were very easy to go mad on.
And finally a Torrija - Basque vanilla sponge with caramel crumble ice cream. This was rather like French Toast, the sponge soaked in sweetened milk and fried. I think sometimes the Spanish would, if possible, fry everything in sight but it works, so why complain?
Indeed, there was nothing to complain about. The Eneko brunch made my weekend start with a bang and, emerging into the Strand late afternoon, I felt the best I had leaving the building since I convinced a rookie cashier to let me have that £1000.
Saturday 11.30am - 3pm
Sunday 11.30am - 3.30pm