As an obsessive food lover on a budget, I’m always on the look out for a bargain and that wonderful feeling of having really got your money’s worth. So, you can imagine my delight when I found out the Basque Culinary Center in Aiete serves three-course meals for just 16€! The center is a cookery school, a research facility and an innovative hub for Basque cuisine. The students at the school produce the food and take it in turns to wait on the tables. Despite their nerves, the waiters did brilliantly – perfectly gauging the balance between being attentive enough without constantly interrupting your conversation to top up your water. The center’s elegant, stunning dining room fits seamlessly with the rest of the modern building which was designed to look like a pile of stacked up plates:
Having eaten there once with Chris I eagerly reserved to go there again with my parents. Here’s some of the food we enjoyed:
- An aperitif of foie gras domes filled with apple sauce and accompanied by fried duck crisps. You really have to like foie gras to enjoy this. Delicious spread on crusty home-made bread.
- Carpaccio of Betizu beef with hazelnuts, Gorbea honey, delicate drops of Gazta Zaharra cheese cream and apple. (Betizu is a half-wild breed of cow native to the Basque region. Gorbea honey is collected from the Gorbea national park near the Zuia valley in Álava. Gazta Zaharra is a cheese cream made from mature, raw sheep’s milk of the latxa breed.) I loved the subtlely of the flavours and the sweetness that they brought to the super-thin beef. The second time I went the beef was the same but the toppings had changed – pesto, pine nuts and parmesan cream. These flavours packed more of a punch but still worked well with the beef, without over powering it.
- Scrambled eggs with bacalao and garlic, served in a cocktail glass. Pleasant, though I’m afraid to say the eggs were just a tad over-cooked for me!
For the main course:
- Hake filled with mussels and their juices, served with a special piperrada. (Piperrada is a Basque accompaniment to meat or fish, made of peppers, tomatoes and onions.) I can’t say exactly what was special about this piperrada but it was certainly the best I’ve tried and complimented the perfectly cooked, flaky fish.
- Loin of row deer wrapped in a bread casing with cocoa juices. The bread casing was unusual and pleasant enough but I kept comparing it with Beef Wellington and sadly it paled in comparison. However, the cocoa flavours were really inspired and added a lovely richness to the meat.
- Grilled John Dory with a mussel and clam sauce. The quantity of food was spot on, the sauce just rich enough and the fish cooked beautifully.
- Beef cheeks with honey caviar and leek foam. Very tender but also quite fatty meat. My Dad (Jack Sprat) wasn’t too keen on the fat but my Mum thought it was delicious… and together they licked the platter clean!
Finally we ended with:
- ‘Pastel Vasco’ with nuts and a lemon sorbet. As soon as I saw this I was hoping the pastry of this typical Basque tart would be filled with juicy cherries, as is traditional over the border in France. Unfortunately, it was filled with nuts. Nevertheless, it was still twenty times more delicious than the previous ones I’d tried and the nuts added texture.
- Brownie with yogurt and lime. Perhaps not a classic combination but the lime was very refreshing. The brownie texture, however, wasn’t quite there.
- Soft almond sponge cake with yogurt sorbet. A little too small in terms of portion-size – then again I can be greedy when it comes to dessert.
- Profiteroles filled with coffee and chocolate cream. Respectable choux pastry but the desserts in general weren’t as imaginative as the mains.
A beautiful, modern building nestled into the countryside, great quality food and superb service left me buzzing on both occasions… and I’m sure it’ll do so again the next time!
Lunchtime only : Monday- Fridays 1-2pm. Reserve by telephone in advance – 902 540 866.