I’ve been meaning to go to Eneko at One Aldwych for a while now and having missed meeting chef Eneko Atxa (of Azurmendi, #38 in this year’s World’s Best Restaurants) last Summer, I vowed to visit before Autumn started. Having not read the menu before going, I was in a big mood to be surprised. Tapas, after all, is a thing I like and know a lot about.
A side story
The concept of tapas came funny to me when I first moved to Europe because when it comes to portion size, I liked them big as you go. Growing up, dining was all about sharing things family-style. You know – big portions of five (or more) viands that you share around the table, a huge tray of carbs and salad fit to serve a village. “Tapas” to me felt more like bar chow, than a proper meal. Until one time, my friend A and I went to a Spanish restaurant and gorged on 10 plates of food (3 of them were deep fried creamy mushrooms). Since then, I have fallen in love with tapas.
Back to Eneko
We came on a Tuesday and understandably, the place was rather quiet. I like reviewing places when it’s not that packed, particularly because I get less self-conscious about bringing out my mammoth camera and clicking away like fire. Nonetheless, ‘smuch as I liked the restaurant’s aesthetics, I couldn’t wait to dig in.
Homemade bread came with Eneko’s butter churned with some basil and herbs.
Wine for the night: Ontañón Clarete, La Rioja, Spain from 2015
We started with the “Memories of the Bay of Biscay” (£13 per piece), a sole diver scallop served with daikon and chive emulsion.
Food theatrics was on point. The shells lay atop a large trivet with a bowl of seaweed underneath. They poured some dry ice to smoke out the seaweed, evoking the salty air from the Bay of Biscay.
I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty. The scallops themselves were huge and were perfectly cooked.
The other starter we had was the suckling pig “tempura” (£12), slow cooked pork shoulder with bacon sauce.
I thought this was more of a dumpling because the batter was more of a soft, doughy type. The pork inside was a good mix of fat, lean meat and crackling. It was perfectly cooked but could have done with a bit more seasoning.
The grilled wild salmon fillet (£19) looked vibrant in a sea of mussels, asparagus and peas. Fish was cooked nicely with its crisp skin and pink flesh inside. I thought the quality of the ingredients shone in the dish and it was reflective of the season. However, I’ve had variants of this dish before and wasn’t quite mindblown about Eneko’s offering.
The dish I was most excited about was the txipirones en su tinta (£13) or Basque style squid in ink sauce. This was something I ate growing up (although as mentioned, in bigger portions served family-style).
Although not much of a looker, the plump baby squid were tender to the bite and stuffed with a flavoursome filling. The sauce, thick with gorgeous squid ink, was flavoursome and so more-ish, I couldn’t help but mop some bread with it.
A surprising hit was the arroz de cetas (£14) a risotto made with Basque oyster mushroom and ceps emulsion. The dish was rich, creamy, and straightforward. There’s a clear depth of flavour here, but to simplify, this was technically a celebration of mushroom. And I liked it.
Out of curiosity (and a sucker for texture), I ordered a dish called cauliflower in textures (£9). It looked exactly what it said on the tin. Cauliflower was puréed, fried, balled and milked up. This was rather an exciting dish to look at, showing off technique. And perhaps, a little battle cry that Basque cuisine can take humble ingredients levelling up to fine dining, too.
First dessert was the torrija (£8). In traditional Basque cooking, torrijas are made with bread and soaked in milk. Eneko’s offering was more of a cake. It was served with caramel crumble ice cream which I actually enjoed more than the sponge.
I was extremely pleased with the pineapple sorbet (£8). It was a generous portion of refreshment. Served with celery foam and sweet celery ribbons, it was also a palate cleanser as much of a dessert. But very light to the taste and in my opinion, a good ending.
Verdict of Eneko at One Aldwych
I can’t fault the service at Eneko, it was such a pleasure talking to our servers who knew so much about the menu and made us feel absolutely great.
Now, I’ve tasted a lot of tapas but to this date, my faves seem to remain the same – the crab bun and arroz de marisco from Barrafina, the pulpo at Boqueria, the “Russian” salad at Santagustina, and even the now defunct magic, creamy fried mushrooms from La Tasca. They’re not particularly fancy nor pricey but just straightforward and delicious.
My dilemma with Eneko is that whilst they have displayed great technique and respect for produce, I think they can do better. Especially when London is peppered with tapas joints. I feel that Basque cuisine is big, bold, hearty and exciting and Eneko kept me grasping for that. Nothing wrong with the flair, but I just missed the straight talk from the plate. Because the thing with tapas, I think, is that they only have a few spoonsful to make a lasting memory.
I’d go back for the txipirones and the arroz de setas.
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