With three Michelin stars awarded to his Bilbao restaurant Azurmendi, Basque chef Eneko Atxa’s arrival in London is quite an event. One Aldwych’s basement has been transformed, with part of the roof removed to create a double-height ceiling, allowing light to flood in while offering intimate dining beneath what is now a mezzanine. Dressed with chestnut tables and deep-red corner booths, the space is striking and appealing, if not cutting-edge stylish. The food is more accessible than at the chef’s continental establishment (Atxa will visit here once a month), with a succinct menu split traditionally into starters, mains and sides.
Prices aren’t quite as steep as an Aldwych hotel restaurant permits, with value more apparent once the food arrives: a theatrical starter of oysters, crabs and wild prawns rests atop smoking seaweed; an ordinary-sounding talo dish (a thin corn tortilla) is festooned with tomatoes, flowers, herbs and pearls of oil, pulsating with flavour. Our highlight was a lightly battered chunk of fall-apart hake, enlivened by a thick, red-pepper sauce swimming with confit vegetables. Not one dish we tried disappointed in taste or looks; presentation is paramount. Liquid accompaniment is provided by a well-edited, if expensive, all-Spanish wine list; staff will lead you to appetising pairings. Atxa has certainly done his London research, producing an unfussy menu and setting with broad appeal. Dish descriptions are perhaps too sparse, and prices creep up, but diners wanting an introduction to The Basque Country’s scintillating cuisine (or simply a delicious meal) won’t be disappointed.