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Azurmendi, Bizkaia Spain

It should be kept in mind that we visited Azurmendi after an incredibly indulgent four day extravaganza of eating that began with Arzak, took in Rekondo and featured innumerable pintxos bars, alongside other wonderful restaurants, snack bars and market stalls. At the time I think I came close to feeling like I might never need to eat again, despite rationally knowing that one day, far in the future, I might.

Thinking back, remembering the flavours and looking at the photos, Eneko Atxa's cuisine was truly lovely. True, there were some, perhaps more Spanish (or Basque?), notes that were less well received by our table. And there were rather over dramatic presentation skills from the maître d'. But the tasting menu was well balanced, thoughtfully put together and skilfully executed. Overall it was impressive.

We opted for the shorter of the two tasting menus available but added in a little lobster course from the longer menu. In my opinion it was too much for lunch, particularly after the four days prior. I would however love to return another time, sacrifice the wonderful views and go for dinner.

Here's what we ate.

The Erroak menu with everything but the lobster.

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Glass fronted restaurant entrance, maximising gloriously expansive views over the lush green valley below.

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The kitchen garden, which turned out to be more for show than function but was lovely nonetheless.

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The light and airy interior, with privacy for tables cleverly created using printed pull down screens.

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Foie gras parfait with crushed peanut coating, homemade idiazabal cheese with basil flowers, purple onion skin infusion - little amuse-bouche starters served in picnic boxes in the garden reception before we sat down at our table. The onion infusion was wonderfully intense - like the perfect onion soup.

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Egg cooked inside out and truffled. This was a mouthful of pure heaven. Each yolk was carefully separated from the white, before having a portion of yolk removed and replaced with truffle essence heated to 75 degrees Celsius. The hot essence partly cooked the yolk so that when topped with shaved black truffle the whole tasted sublime.

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Confit lobster wrapped in Iberian ham with spring onion emulsion and with essential herbs from the garden. Deliciously soft poached lobster paired with meaty Spanish ham. An excellent little mouthful.

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Raw oyster dotted with salicornia seaweed, slippery tremella mushrooms cooked in seawater and salty-crisp anemone seaweed tempura...

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...with natural aromas from the sea.

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The Garden. The 'soil' was earthy dehydrated beetroot coating a mousse-like emulsion of olive oil and tomato that was rich, very salty and quite sharp-sour tasting. When eaten in combination with the other ingredients it set off the vegetables nicely, but on its own I found it too heavy and intense. Ultimately the richness of this dish dampened my appetite for the remaining courses, leaving me annoyed that I hadn't left some on the plate instead. Other vegetables featured were little cherry tomatoes roasted with Provençal herbs, mini potatoes buried in the 'soil', planted tiny cauliflower, peas and pea shoots, Savoy cabbage and a thin curl of courgette.

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Cod tripes and garlic soup - tempura fish maw (fish swim bladder - popular in Chinese cuisine) and thin slivers of fried leek in a garlic soup. The flavourful soup had a gelatinous texture that seems to be favoured by Basque folk for soups and sauces but was less popular with us. Personally I am not keen on battered foods that are served in liquid as the inevitable oily stodgy mass overcomes other delicate flavours in the dish, and I find it unpleasant to eat.

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'Betizu' cow tail raviolis, wrapped in cornbread and legume broth. This was soft shreds of deeply flavourful beef with crisp oily fried bread and a marmite-like thickened broth - a treat for those who love the savoury side of life. The cubes themselves were small, barely bigger than a die, making each little mouthful a delight. One of my favourite courses.

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Homemade black pudding, red bean stock, cabbage and lightly spiced flowers. Another favourite course. The black pudding was similar to a richly spiced boudin noir, rolled in more dehydrated beetroot and perched on the edge of a pool of earthy red bean purée, surrounded by crunchy bits of fried leek, cabbage and garlic. The flowers had been steeped somehow in a bottle with sugar and chilli for three days to give them a fragrant chilli note.

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Gently smoked red mullet, crunchy mushroom broth. The little parcel of toasted bread contains mushroom purée. This dish featured yet another gelatinous sauce (not pictured) made from red mullet, which I found unpalatable. The fish itself was very firm, too firm for my taste and quite dry. I enjoyed the raw shaved mushrooms as a partner to the mullet.

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Confit baby pig, breadcrumbs, vegetable acorns and meadow aromas. The suckling pig was beautifully tender and lovely paired with a lime avocado 'acorn' and breadcrumbs cooked in pork stock and fat. The scientifically crackled piece of pork skin or chicharrón was light and airy but lacked the piggy joy of a properly fried rind and the actual crackling was chewy by comparison.

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A very long, not particularly necessary, story about a chestnut tree...

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Well hello there...

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...with chestnuts in it of course. Despite my snarkiness, these were really very delicious. A milk chocolate chestnut shell with chestnut cream inside, nestled on a bed of 'ash' made from dehydrated chestnut skins.

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Coffee pudding, rum and farmhouse milk. The coffee part was a flavoured tocino de cielo - like a denser, more fudge-like crème caramel and right up my street in pudding town. There was rum ice cream, unpasteurised milk foam and a cube of the same milk but dehydrated. Sweet and custard-gooey, cold and boozy, light and foamy - what's not to like?

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Petit fours - apple purée sandwiched in salty and sweet nougat-like crisp, a kind of rice flour biscuit with popped rice and nuts, and the winner - a silvered passion fruit filled ball of chocolate.

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We came, we dined, we left a lot of glasses.

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Azurmendi

Legina Auzoa, S/N. Salida 25 del (Exit 25 in Txorierri Corridor)

Corredor del Txorierri,

48195 Larrabetzu,

Bizkaia, Spain

Tel: 944 55 88 66

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