I haven’t posted in a while, and thankfully there’s a good reason – I have been too busy eating, drinking and travelling the Basque country with a certain young man. The good news? I now have a huge amount to blog about: pintxos in Bilbao and San Sebastian, restaurant week, Michelin-starred restaurants, French food in Biarritz, the Basque Culinary Center and lots of pastries. The bad news? It’s going to take me a while and multiple posts to write it all up so I hope you’ll be patient.
I’ll start with the highlight of the entire trip – simple, beautifully prepared food at one-starred Michelin restaurant, Nerua, in Bilbao. Situated in the Guggenheim, yes in the Guggenheim, this restaurant seemed to be all about minimalism and quality produce. When we arrived we were surprised by the dining room’s ‘bare canvas’ decor – the tables weren’t set allowing the tablecloths to act as blank canvases for the food:
The aperitif consisted of an incredibly crispy morsel of deep-fried bacalao skin accompanied by an earthy mushroom broth so good it even converted Chris into a fungi lover.
For starters we chose Iberian pig’s tails with artichokes and white bean broth and cod cheeks with green beans. The texture of the pig’s tails was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted – chewy, fatty, crunchy and soft all at once. The cod cheeks melted in the mouth faster than a slice of softened butter. The only flaw was the quantity of green beans – too many for the amount of cod cheek… but now I’m being really picky.
For the main course we had candied baby squid with a toasted vegetable broth and cow tenderloin served with salsify and green garlic. The vegetable broth was too good to leave a single drop on the plate and the squid, being in season, were just perfect. The tenderloin was very simply prepared but the quality of the meat really stood out.
Unfortunately the desserts let the meal down slightly. The pure chocolate with spicy marzipan sand was far too rich and lacked another dimension. By contrast, the flavour combinations of the strawberries with black tea ice cream and keffir were spot on but sadly much of the ice cream had melted by the time it reached the plate.
When it came to the petit four I sadly got carried away with myself again and forgot to take a photo. Two delicate little doughnuts were presented to us filled with a frozen lemon cream, wrapped in pastry and then deep-fried so that the inside of the balls were frozen surrounded by a warm cream and encased in crispy pastry. This would have delighted me, should have delighted me except that mysteriously the cream had an odd taste to it that reminded me … of mould (of all things!) I think perhaps it somehow triggered a taste memory of a mouldy lemon or the lemon clashed with a flavour previously on my palate. In any case it did not ruin what was a wonderful meal and we came away fully sated and smiling.
All in all, Nerua shone at showcasing premium ingredients in a simple way. No mean feat because creating simplicity is far more difficult than it looks. Aiming for minimalism, however, the food occasionally pushed a little too far and wanted just another dimension to elevate it even further.