Very Kerri Travels: Bilbao
Having had a riot in San Sebastián in September 2014, we had high hopes for Bilbao when we visited last month. I for one, certainly wasn't prepared for what it would throw at us. Andy, on the other hand, was a little bit more versed, more on that later.
On Friday 8 October, within 30 mins of landing, we're having coffee (and cava) on the hotel's roof terrace. Slick. Not ones to hang around, we take off in search of Galician white wine and pintxos. This is pretty much how the afternoon unfolds; beautifully indulging and refreshingly good value. How else would you prepare for a tasting dinner at a three Michelin Star Restaurant?
After about a minute of downtime, we're now with our dear friends from Madrid, charging towards Azurmendi, which, supposedly, is minutes away. Suddenly we veer off road and are heading for the hills. There's a newer restaurant, more accessible, and then the big dog. We're hitting up the latter, obviously. The setting is sublime; must go back in the daytime, I remind myself.
We inhale aperitifs in a glasshouse. As I stand, unabashed, staring into the buzzy kitchen, Joaquin peruses the biblical wine list; we know we're in for the long haul. Some snacks are served in a twee picnic basket, I still smile thinking about the exploding avocado truffle - SO smooth. The next snack is served in the kitchen I've been gawking into for so long and it's captivating. Heads are down and the focus is meticulous.
In one sense, the menu goes on and on... and on, but in the moment, it flows. Savoury favourite is buttery lobster with olive oil and fresh herbs, with salmonete swimming closely behind. I'm not even a dessert fan and I could devour a lorryload of dark chocolate and light goats cheese number with black olive crumb and flecks of sea salt.
The whole experience is staged like a show; first act, second act etc, and theatrical it certainly is. Mesmerising, too. Unassuming Head Chef Eneko Atxa is a dream, enhancing the unexpected charm of the place. Encore!
Saturday starts lazy (and hazy) with a few punchy espressos outside the Guggenheim. This is as far as I go with museums; the bar. Now, we're going to the other end of the spectrum; rustic, but with the same attention to detail (I love this about Spain), of course, Etxebarri. It's so low key that we drive by it about four times. From the minute we set foot in the place, we're swept up by a mellowness and feel rather at home.
We're sat on the upstairs terrace, dappled with soft afternoon sunshine, and there's even a breeze. Not to sound like a House & Gardens journo, but you could stare at the landscape all day. Did I mention I love Spain in October? The menu reads simply, but you know it is going to be a knock out. We're in for a real grilling this afternoon.
Chorizo redefines the term 'melt-in-your-mouth'. We know ourselves too well and order a few plates. With cunning determination, I manage to swipe quite a few extra anchovies, which are sensational. This is a textbook example of underselling and overdelivering. And the meat, oh the meat, take me to church. We end up in the kitchen after lunch, with the grills. What a set up.
As we're checking out on Sunday morning, Darty is faffing around, missing his sunnies, apparently. He goes to check on the roof terrace. When I rock up to suss what's what, he's sat in his own little area with a bottle of LP rose in front of him. Well this is a treat! So, he gives me a thank you card, for the weekend, and it's only when I get halfway down, when it says "I went to see your Dad this week..." that it dawns on me. He's proposing! And, of course, I said yes!
I can honestly say, that we will never forget our lunch at Kate Zaharra in the mountains which followed; starting with aperitifs in the wine cellar and ending with hierbas on the roof terrace.
Five Very Kerri things about Bilbao
- Getting Engaged
- Azurmendi's waiter stations
- Etxebarri's grill
- Value for money