Eneko Atxa is world renowned for his three Michelin-starred Azurmendi Restaurant, a hillside restaurant in Larrabetzu with floor-to-ceiling windows looking onto the beautiful Basque landscape below. But his second venture, the eponymous restaurant at One Aldwych, is literally and figuratively hundreds of miles from the famed sun-drenched spot in Spain.
Entering the foyer at One Aldwych, leaving the sirens and crowds of The Strand behind, you walk down the stairs to the mezzanine bar and the dining room beyond. Despite Eneko technically being in a basement, it still feels light, modern and relaxed. Scoop leather chairs and red banquets offer diners comfort, while the copper-clad staircase and tapered walls reflect light back into the room.
The front of house team are incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and our waiter was able to tell us all about the ethos of the restaurant (creating modern versions of traditional Basque dishes) while churning butter and basil with a pestle and mortar at the tableside. We were given small wooden paddles to spread the now green butter onto our warm slices of bread and await the appearance of our first London Restaurant Festival starters.
Our first starter arrived steaming in a terracotta bowl. Juicy clams were served with ochre butter beans and a wonderful salsa verde. A mellow green colour, the salsa verde was permeated by the rich clam flavour, taking on salty taste of the sea.
Our next starter was a fantastic take on the traditional beef tartare. The tartare melange was sat on top of puffed crackling meaning you could eat all the elements in one go if you were feeling particularly gluttonous. The crackling puff was rich in flavour and crispy and gave the dish a satisfying bite. Anchovy cream & tiny, tart pickled mushrooms accompanied the tender pink cubes of beef, lending the dish balance with some saltiness and acidity.
Our first main course was the slow-cooked cod fillet. Being cooked low and slow (at around 50 degrees Celsius for several hours) meant that the flesh was incredibly delicate and moist. Served with an equally delicate and sweet shallot sauce as well as sprigs of samphire and charred shallot layers, this was a beautifully light plate.
While the cod was delicate, our next main was decidedly not. The dark and sticky braised pork cheeks pulled apart easily and were accompanied by large confit shallots and an Iberico ham duxelle. The duxelle was an earthy sweet paste of buttery mushrooms and thyme-seasoned shallots made memorable by the salty richness of the shredded Iberico ham. Lots of big flavours that went together perfectly.
Accompanying our main courses, we had smoky and tender chargrilled broccoli and a big bowl of mash that must have been at least 30 per cent butter, exactly what you want on a cold Autumn day.
The arrival of our desserts was heralded with the rose marshmallow and strawberry sorbet. Both absurd and magical, this dessert came with a bit of unnecessary but welcome theatre in the form of a smoking dry ice rose presented alongside the dessert. The circular slab of rose marshmallow at the bottom was light, sweet and fragrant. On top was a tart and refreshing strawberry sorbet, as well as fresh, sliced strawberries and a crystallised rose petal that shattered when attacked with a spoon.
Our final dish of the evening was the salted caramel mousse which was firm and coated with a glut of smooth caramel glaze. Decorating the mousse was a collection of interesting textures and flavours: a quenelle of sheep’s milk ice cream, artistic twists of white chocolate, a mound of crunchy cookie crumb and two white chocolate bon bons brimming with salted caramel.
Each plate at Eneko was packed full of flavour and beautifully presented, with most dishes appearing simple and belying the highly technical processes required to create them. The team here are clearly passionate about their ethos and philosophy; to bring rustic Basque dishes up to date and while that may seem earnest, the magical smoking rose dessert demonstrated that the kitchen doesn’t take itself too seriously. So, like the magical rose we counted to uno, dos, and disappeared into The Strand without a tres.