THERE are not many great meals that start with a picnic.
But at Bilbao’s Azurmendi lunch begins in an unusual glass atrium, enveloped by undergrowth and stumps of trees, contemplating a rather twee basket that has suddenly been thrust in front of us.
Inside is a leprechaun’s picnic of tiny ‘caipirinha’ balls, an eel sandwich and a spread of edible flowers on a ‘garden vegetable cake’ of hazelnut, chocolate and foie.
Changing by the month and washed down with a fabulous glass of ice cold flinty Txakoli, this is the way that chef Eneko Atxa likes to welcome the fortunate guests that are able to get a booking at his creative three-Michelin star cathedral of dining.
A restaurant inspired by the environment, by its own surroundings and, very much, with an eye on sustainability, Azurmendi – voted 16th best in the world, by Restaurant magazine – is about as far from the conventional meal as I have ever tried.
As much a social function as a place to fill up, Azurmendi uses geothermal heating, collects its own rainwater, has a fascinating seed bank on the roof, grows most of its own vegetables, and even makes its own wine. In short; this is an education, as much as an adventure…