Three Michelin-starred chef Eneko Axta’s Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar Review

How does one get a Michelin star? I confess that I only had a vague idea. Culinary’s highest accolade is handed out by the French tyre company in its annual Red Guide, which was first complied in 1900, not for the sake of gastronomy but as a means to sell tyres. The  aim of the Guide Rouge was to get French drivers in their cars driving between towns. The sound theory being that they would ultimately need to buy new tyres.

Today, it’s the world’s last word in dining. Michelin, whilst operating on the infamous French culinary code of silence, highlights only extraordinary restaurants. It’s criteria for selection is possibly the world’s best kept secret. Inspectors turn up anonymously as regular diners, eat, pay and leave. It appears that consistency is key as establishments could lose a star as much as earn one. What we do know is that stars are awarded entirely on the quality of food; decor, atmosphere nor service at the establishment are considered.

One, two and three stars

One star is awarded to places worth visiting if you’re already in the area. It is believed that they are inspected every two years. Two star restaurants are deemed worthy of drifting away from your planned route. They have been rated on the quality and uniqueness of ingredients thus offering diners an experience they couldn’t have elsewhere. Two star restaurants are thought to be inspected monthly. Three stars are awarded to restaurants worthy of going out of your way for. This is an elite, prestigious rating requiring the approval of several inspectors. Chefs must display exquisite mastery of their craft and be paving the way for new food trends and unique experiences to be considered for the elusive third star.

Chef Eneko Atxa

Chef Eneko Atxa belongs to the elite group of chefs who’ve been deemed worthy of the third star by Michelin. Walk in to Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar within the sublime One Aldwych Hotel, Covent Garden and it’s unlikely that anyone would disagree.

It’s inspired by the rustic Basque region and the dignity of fine dining. The two things have been woven into a sphere of informal sophistication that you never wish to leave. To understand the food and the space is to understand the man. Chef Eneko Axta’s Azurmendi restaurant, which earned the three stars, has been named the world’s most sustainable restaurant by World’s 50 Best Restaurants. So you already know what’s to be expected in London; seasonal food, responsibly sourced fish, fairly treated staff, little food waste and well-fed patrons.

Stairs

The Space

I simply floated down the beautiful brass staircase to an atrium of rustic finesse. It’s warm, welcoming and unimposing. Later in the evening I was informed that Chef Eneko jogs in the woods in his native Basque country. That was was my penny-drop moment. Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar feels as intimate and comforting as woods in autumn where tables and chairs have been tenderly laid out to make us fall in love. Cushioned red seating surrounds hand-carved cherrywood tables and artisan wood panels on the walls have been hand-hammered. From the corner of my eye I noticed flecks of brass flicker in the light in the same way sun rays seep between trees in the woods. It’s little wonder then that the restaurant was awarded Best Restaurant or Bar Design 2017 at the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards.

Traditional Talo detail

The Menu

The all-Spanish wine list includes four wines produced in Bilbao especially for the restaurant; a theme which runs through the menu. I had the light and elegant Baigorri Crianza Rioja Alavesa. It was my initiation into Basque wine and I doubt I’ll look back.

As with all reviews I redeemed myself from the task of choosing dishes. This time especially so as I had prior notice that Chef Eneko was in London for a few hours and would be in the kitchen during my visit. One sumptuous plate after another drifted from the kitchen towards my table.

La Tabla del Charcutero arrived first with home-made pickles, crystal bread and three cured meats; coppa, chorizo and salchichón. The animals are especially bred for the restaurant which made this an absolute delight. Each slice melted in the mouth. The accompanying crystal bread was so utterly divine I unashamedly asked for more. This was followed by a visually stunning traditional Talo; a signature dish of the Basque region. It’s a vegetarian dish of crispy corn Talo topped with heritage tomatoes, edible flowers and what I day-dreamed was foraged cress with basil emulsion. The dish is for sharing and celebrated in its home on Saint Thomas’ Day on 21st December. It was all that it promised to be; fresh, crispy and delightfully sweet. This was a celebration in itself and undoubtedly sanctified indeed.

A rack of lamb and a side of stir-fried courgette with pine nuts and chive oil arrived next. This was the only compromise that had been made on the menu for British tastes; there are no-side dishes in Spanish cuisine. It’s always a joy when a dish turns out exactly as it’s meant to. The rack of lamb was just that; an unpretentious, thrilling dish which delivered satisfaction of primeval proportions. It’s a thing that can only happen in the hands of one who honours the abundance of the earth instead of wasting it.

My final temptation was the victorious combination of tangy raspberry tartlet with cascading dark chocolate. Given that I’m a zealous fan of the latter it was an exercise in good judgement from the kitchen. As I write this I’m tempted to use the words, decadent or indulgent to describe the dessert. However, in hindsight, I remember that none of it was. At no point of this sumptuous celebration of food, served in the middle of the largest city in Europe, did any of it feel indulgent or flamboyant. Everything I saw, smelt, touched and tasted seemed that it had been cooked with purpose. Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar is one pleasure on our doorstep that I humbly recommend we all enjoy. What an utterly remarkable feat to achieve.

 

 

 

 

Eneko Basque Kitchen & Bar is located at: London WC2B 4BZ. For more information visit: www.eneko.london

 

 

Alyn Williams at The Westbury: Michelin-starred supper club

Aspen Room at Alyn Williams.jpgPicture it if you will, an aptly low-lit private dining room in London, a distinguished hotel, an esteemed set of guests, the finest wine and one of the greatest chefs of our time. The stage was set for what would unfold effortlessly as the most refined dining experience this year. The hotel in question? The Westbury Mayfair. The fine wine, Nyetimber. The chef, none other than the British powerhouse that is Michelin-starred Alyn Williams.

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I was here to preview Alyn Williams at The Westbury and Nyetimber’s exclusive Michelin-starred supper club. As I took my seat at this exquisite table, in the rosewood-panelled private dining room, it was difficult to imagine the evening falling short of perfection. Nyetimber, which pioneered English sparkling wine, expertly paired their signature Classic Cuvee, Blanc de Blancs and Demi-Sec with the menu. A brand ambassador from England’s first premier sparkling wine house was on hand to offer a rare insight into its much celebrated sparkling wine varieties; all of which are crafted from their estate-grown grapes.

The evening began with Chef Alyn Williams himself discussing his inspiration based on the finest British seasonal ingredients. From canapés on arrival to Chef William’s signature dessert the five-course menu was a wonderful celebration of what was possible with fine British food and wine. The bespoke offering was an alternative to the traditional Michelin-starred menu here at Alyn Williams at The Westbury.

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Starters of pea mousse with mint and yogurt granita paired with Nyetimber Classic Cuvée was sublime. Poached halibut and roasted pork jowl paired elegantly with Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs and English strawberries with pannacotta was a dream with MV Nyetimber Rosé. Alyn William’s signature walnut whip arrived with the Demi-Sec and it was all I could do to stop myself from silently screaming in awe. Whenever I am fortunate enough to write a review on food and drink I do my best to highlight a favourite to help my readers choose wisely. In this instance however, I apologise that I am unable to do this. The entire affair was a triumph never before equalled. The food, the pairings, the impeccable service added to a meal greater than the sum of its parts; what flawless parts they were too.

With its Michelin star, four AA Rosettes, 15th place in the UK’s 100 Best Restaurants and a National Chef of the Year crown all placed at the foot of Alyn Williams at The Westbury, this is the second triumphant British celebration this year. It’s one that you definitely do not want to miss.

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This exclusive Michelin-starred five course supper club takes place on Tuesday 24th July from 6pm – 9pm at Alyn Williams at The Westbury. Tickets are priced at £144. Reserve yours early at: www.alynwilliams.com/events

The Westbury is located at: 37 Conduit Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 2YF. For more information visit: www.alynwilliams.com

A Taste of Puglia: Michelin-starred dining with Chef Felice Sgarra

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London was graced with a magnificent event at Sauterelle at Royal Exchange last month to mark the beginning of summer. It’s event A Taste of Puglia brought to an unforgettable evening of fine dining from chef Felice Sgarra. Chef Felice is the Chef Patron of the Umami of Andria, Puglia, a Michelin-starred restaurant. I was invited review this wonderfully special dinner showcasing the sublime quality of artisan produce of Puglia.

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A langoustine tartare with red lentils, lemon and wild chicory consommé was a fitting introduction to the evening. The combination of citrus flavour and the texture of lentils on the dish prepared the palette for what was an exceptional menu. The main dish of stone bass and black chickpeas from Murgia were as expected a wonderful display of taste and texture. Sautéed cardoncelli mushrooms with courgette flower and orange gel were a firm reminder of Chef Felice’s ability to create palatial dishes from simple ingredients. The subtle hint of citrus on a beautifully balanced dish of flavours was an incredible feat.

IMG_4876If all this was not enough, the dish that won me over, was extra virgin olive oil ice cream served with fresh ricotta, almonds and dark chocolate shavings. Olive oil wouldn’t be my first choice of flavour for ice cream. However, once I tasted it I wondered why it hadn’t been. It was not only utterly sumptuous but felt rich and indulgent; exactly what we must expect from a fine dessert.

The evening was a resounding success in establishing exactly why Puglia has set the bar for Southern Italian cookery. With such delightful produce created from its soil is it any wonder that the region is home to renowned restaurant Umami. We owe much gratitude to Sauterelle’s Executive Head Chef Stefano Leone for this collaboration. I only hope that Sauterelle will treat London to another fine evening with Chef Felice in Autumn.

 

Sauterelle at Royal Exchange is located at: The Royal Exchange, Bank, London, EC3V 3LR. For more information visit: Sauterelle at Royal Exchange

A Taste of Puglia at Sauterelle at Royal Exchange

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There are two very exciting things happening at Suaterelle at Royal Exchange  next week. On the 15th of May Michelin starred chef Felice Sgarra, of Umami Restaurant in Andri, will team up with Sauterelle Executive Head Chef Stefano Leone to host an evening of flavours of Puglia.

The evening promises to be a wonderfully indulgent affair with three courses of the best Mediterranean flavours cooked by Chef Felice who in just two years secured the first Michelin star for Ristorante Umami. Chef Felice transformed this 19th century villa restaurant with simple Southern Italian cooking that captured the palettes of its patrons. The Japanese philosophy of umami inspires his delicious and regional cuisine served at Restaurant Umami. As such we can certainly expect an exceptional evening of fine dining at Sauterelle.

Dishes of Puglia

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For £45 per person, guests will enjoy bubbles on arrival followed by a three course dinner starting at 7pm. Italy’s Puglia region is celebrated for its natural recipes which are often passed down through generations. Chef Felice will create classic dishes starting with red lentils and wild chicory consomme, prawn tartare with pork guanciale, artisan pasta with sweet olives and asparagus and traditional burrata from Andria. They will be followed by octopus, black chickpea, orange, courgette flower and gin. Dessert is expected to be ricotta, almond, figs and bitter chocolate as well as petit fours.

Puglian Artisanal Products

In addition to this evening of elegant dining Sauterelle will also showcase artisanal produce from Puglia on the 14th May to deepen our understanding of this regional cuisine. Suppliers such as Sinisi, Dono Dorato and Azienda Agricola Di Tria will be in attendance. A mozzarella workshop will be held at 4pm for guests enjoy the process of mozzarella-making in Puglia.

Both events promise to deliver more than a mere dining experience. Food is always better appreciated when we have a deeper understanding of it. I have no doubt that we shall enjoy our Taste of Puglia.

Tickets can be purchased at: www.dandlondon.com

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