Spanish Restaurant in Axpe, Spain: Etxebarri Restaurants, Wine, Travel, Opinions

Etxebarri HeartHeartHeart
Restaurants and bars
San Sebastian (Donostia)
Price: Moderate

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane
Phone Number: 94 65830 42
Address: Plaza San Juan, 1
Axpe, 48291
Country: Spain
Food Style: Spanish

Etxebarri is a haven for food lovers. It is a destination restaurant that serious lovers of perfect food will seek out. It is not easy to find nestled on a mountainside in the small village of Axpe up behind the town of Durango in north-west Spain. But it is worth the journey.
We drove from San Sebastian well armed with directions and maps and apart from an unplanned tour of Durango's suburbs we had little trouble locating the idyllic rural village.
Don't arrive here expecting some trendy, architect-designed extravaganza. The restaurant is on the top floor of a building that also houses a bar for the locals and which has been built very much in the style of the other buildings of the area.
It was constructed by owner Victor Arguinzoniz who is a former timber worker and a self-taught chef. He's been at Etxebarri for over 17 years but word about his extraordinary cooking skills are only just starting to circulate.
The staff are courteous and friendly but be aware that most do not have any proficiency in the English language - we were lucky on the day we were there as the assistant chef was an Australian and he was happy to explain the menu options to us.
We decided to allow the chef to arrange a menus for us and then sat back with much expectation for the smoked and grilled dishes that we had been eagerly anticipating.
The first dish to arrive was one of the most extraordinary taste sensations we had tried in a long time. However the dish was utterly simple, yet had a sublime flavour. House made bread had been grilled over charcoal and spread with a thick layer of smoked goat's milk butter that had been made that morning. The presentation was simple, the flavour was complex, alluring and enticing. This is the sort of food that we crave!
Next followed three small circles of grilled house-made, semi-cured chorizo served starkly on a white plate. The flavour was equally extraordinary and the texture was perfect.
Then followed grilled lobster with equipment for cracking the claws. The flesh had been cooked until just barely set and the flavour from the smoke lifted the dish to heights we rarely experience in restaurants.
Two smoked oysters sat at either end of a large white plate with fresh wakame peeping out from under. The combination worked very well.
The next dish was less grounded in agrarian culture and more a symbol of hedonism. Iranian caviar had been smoked over applewood and was served on a slab of dark marble in an ivory spoon.
The grilled baby squid that followed was sitting on onions roasted in Rioja and accompanied by a 'smear' of squid ink.
A deep, white bowl then arrived with a sunny orb hiding beneath some pale shavings of what, at first appearances looked like slivers of cheese. It turned out to be a smoked, trembling egg yolk covered with shaved St Peter's mushrooms. We hadn't come across these on our journeys, but their flavour was sensational.
The next dish to be sent out was simply-presented anguila or elvers. These tiny eels end their epic journey from the Sargasso Sea in the mountains here and their rich flesh is prized by locals.
Salt cod (Bacalao) cooked over wood embers and a tail of grilled herring with a courgette flower followed and each was delicious.
By this stage we had been served a wonderful Rioja red the Bodegas Labastida Manuel Quintano Reserva which was perfect for the stunning dish of grilled beef chop cooked over grape vines that arrived. This beef had flavour like no other we have eaten. It was presented very rare and very simply.
We finished a glorious meal with ice cream made from smoked milk and served with a complex savoury berry infusion.
After the meal we were fortunate to be invited to inspect the kitchen where Arguinzoniz has designed all sorts of Heath Robinson contraptions to help with the cooking, including the centrepiece adjustable grills that can be moved towards or away from the coals with the simple turn of a wheel. We also marvelled at the ovens where the charcoal is prepared each morning.
This restaurant is definitely worth the journey.
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