My expectations of this Basque basement restaurant were sky-high. Opened in winter 2016 in One Aldwych hotel on the Strand, Eneko is the eponymous joint of three Michelin-starred chef Eneko Atxa, whose Azurmendi restaurant in Spain’s Basque country is currently number 16 in the World’s Best Restaurant round-up.
Eneko was conceived to bring sophisticated Basque cooking to the capital. And whilst, Atxa’s credentials are considerable, Eneko – with its confident menu – is more laid-back than Azurmendi. Mr Blonde Almond and I pottered along one Saturday afternoon to eat our way through its new brunch menu. Brunching in the big smoke is a big deal at the moment – it’s surprising it’s taken so long to catch on when the craze has been sweeping across places like New York and Dubai for years.
Down two flights of stairs, we escaped the throngs of the Strand and settled into a table amongst suits getting piddly over their steaks, couples cosying up in corners, and groups of friends excitedly pouring the cava. A free glass of fizz comes with the menu – but we went all out with a bottle, whilst I slurped an apple, kale and celery juice to up the health quota.
It’s an interesting menu, split into street food (euskal azoka), eggs (gallinero), classics (txoko) and grill (asador). We started with three ‘street food’ dishes: the salty and delicious Txistorra (spiced Basque sausage cooked in cider) – I mopped up the superb cider sauce with extra bread; the suckling pig brioche with slow-cooked pork shoulder, which had that irresistible fried bread crunch to it; and the Basque pizza-style talo with anchovies, Idiazabal cheese and tomato compote. It was all very flavourful and the presentation was top-notch. It’s confident cooking to a very high standard.
Up next was the star turn: the Txuleta – a fantastic slab of prime rib of beef, sliced across a wooden board with a smattering of rock salt. Served medium rare, we both ate this with gusto, paired with a spring onion salad and some very fine fries. I’ve always been a sucker for a plate of meat, whilst Mr Blonde Almond got stuck into it as soon as it was laid on the table.
Not wanting to miss out on desserts despite popping open by jeans’ top button, I went for the dark chocolate ice cream with light peanut sponge. Delicate yet rich and so stylishly served, it was as impressive as the preceding dishes. Look at how gorgeous it was (below)… before I demolished it in a couple of minutes flat.
Confident, stylish and intriguing, Eneko is an exceptional introduction to Basque cooking. Pricey, yes. But when you’re served a steak as good as theirs, it’s worth the extra strain on the wallet.