The gastronomic temple of Eneko Atxa, one of the most innovative chefs on the current international culinary scene and holder of three coveted Michelin stars, sits perched on a hilltop in Larrabetzu (Leguina), just outside Bilbao. The road leading to Arzumendi is a normal, earth track with no indication whatsoever to the fine dining cathedral at the end of it. The first sighting of the complex is the Gorka Izaguirre winery, located below the restaurant and where Txakoli wine is produced.
Further on up, at the far end of the car park, nestled between the trees, stands a singular glass building, which doesn’t not give the visitor any clues about the restaurant it houses within. The colour of the building changes from sky blue to grey according to the sunlight. The restaurant’s reception is a glass atrium with a lateral garden, cascading water, tall tables and chairs, and features some old trees that have been cut back and sculpted with artificial branches containing inner pipes that act as air vents. The tree sculptures are used to circulate the air conditioning, which is located at a depth of 80 metres in order to maintain a constant temperature in the room.
This corner of sustainability – all glass, lush green plants and natural wood – is also the location of the tasting sessions of the house Txakoli wine. With guests either standing up or sitting down, the maître d’ outlines the gastronomic ritual that is to follow: starting with the welcome picnic, then a visit to the kitchen, passing through the greenhouse and finally arriving at the main dining room, El Mirador (The Balcony).
At these four stations, guests will get to sample 25 different flavours from the unique tasting menus from a choice of: Erroak (roots) and Adarrak (branches). The experience starts in the glass reception area with an interesting picnic basket containing four aperitifs: dried asparagus, salted fish brioche, “Ibérico” tartare and hibiscus.
Next, the maître d’ leads the diners into the immense kitchen, a type of stainless steel and glass technological laboratory filled with natural light, where the chefs move seamlessly between counters, stoves, refrigerators and state-of-the-art kitchen appliances, preparing each immaculate bite or dish with the technical precision and care of a surgeon. Here is where the next three appetisers are served: Corn talo and chorizo, truffled egg and a house vermouth “marianito”. The presentation of the truffled egg is spectacular: the chef extracts the yolk of an egg and places it in a teaspoon and then injects it with truffle using a syringe in a surgical operation that takes seconds, for the guest to then sample the textures and freshness straight away.
Next comes the Greenhouse, another high-ceilinged glass space with natural lighting, which has an impressive ceiling lamp situated at a height of ten metres and several gardened areas. Camouflaged among the floating gardens, the diner, aided by the waiter, discovers small culinary morsels packed with magical flavours, such as spiced bread, fermented apple, mussel broth, seaweed origami, pink kaipiritxa and a realistic looking spring leaf that is in fact a wafer. A house Txakoli cocktail that acts as a catalyst for the incredible flavours to be discovered in this lush setting of vegetation, small trees, exotic plants and bonsais.
After these three introductions into the cuisine of maestro Atxa, where local produce and the environment shine in all their splendour, the guide introduces the guests into the main dining room – El Mirador – a sombre room again flooded with natural light, designed to distribute open or private spaces with curtains or decorative separators hanging from the ceiling and that are almost imperceptible
The tables are round, laid with fine tablecloths, luxury glass tableware and cutlery especially designed to complement each dish. The sommeliers, maître d’s and waiting staff at each table start to serve the ten principal courses and desserts with military precision, and which are paired with the previously selected wines, or the ones suggested on the menu. The experience can last from four to six hours, depending on the time spent at the table.
The tasting menu costs €220 per person.