A heavenly tasting menu in Basque Country | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Kitchens of the World at Etxebarri
Kitchens of the World at Etxebarri
Kitchens of the World participants with Asador Etxebarri chef Victor Arguinzóniz (center)
Kitchens of the World participants with Asador Etxebarri chef Victor Arguinzóniz (center)

It has been 10 days since I arrived in Bilbao for my culinary tour called Kitchens of the World.

Twice a year, I take foodies all over the globe to explore cultures through food. This year I picked the Basque Country in Northern Spain, where the land and seascapes are breathtaking and where the food is religion.

Kitchens of the World at Etxebarri
Kitchens of the World at Etxebarri

Here, culinary traditions thrive side by side with modern cuisine, making it a haven for those who love to eat.

I’ve had some of my best meals here—unforgettable txuleton with bottomless cider, grilled turbot in Getaria, patatas a la Riojana in Rioja enjoyed with perfectly grilled Chulletilas de Cordero, to name a few.


I realized that most of the dishes I am enamored with are grilled. Yes, the Basques are masters of the grill, but few, if any, are like chef Víctor Arguinzóniz of Asador Etxebarri, ranked the fourth best restaurant in the world.

I landed in Bilbao to an article from the newspaper El Correo stating that for Saturday there were 1,139 reservation inquiries for Asador Etxebarri, a restaurant that accommodates 35, and opens solely for lunch. On some days, the number increases to 3,000.

I was overjoyed when my dear friend Xabier Arruza, who picked us up at the airport, told me that we were granted a table.

Etxebarri’s beginnings

Victor is a self-taught chef. He worked three shifts in a company that made egg cartons, holding on to a dream of one day owning his own restaurant.

He cast his sights on a 17th-century farmhouse, and purchased it with the help of his uncles—one a priest, the other a friar.

His beginnings 30 years ago were humble and his first service, a disaster. It was his passion for the grill that saw him through it all.

Victor learned early on from his grandmother not be distracted, and to never take his eyes off the stew.

He has always been mesmerized by fire. There is something about it that relaxes him. Fire, he said, is life. Always curious, Victor worked incessantly with the grill, seeking perfection.

The maestro puts everything on. He has created and continues to create all sorts of tools and contraptions to allow him to do so.

A meal at Etxebarri would mean at least 12 little dishes, all kissed by the parilla.

The experience begins as you drive into the beautiful little quaint town on Axpe. Walking into the farmhouse restaurant takes you back in time. The cozy and unpretentious interiors gives one a sense of warmth and excitement for what is to come.

The tasting menu is as the chef would have it: its creation largely dependent on what’s in season, and sourced from only farmers and fisherfolk he trusts.

Chef Victor works with various types of wood, depending on what he is grilling. He is incessant when a thought comes to mind, and experiments with just about anything—from cheese to chorizo making, even brining anchovies. For Victor, everything has to be just as he likes it.

Picturesque view

As we took our seats on the second floor, we had a picturesque view of the mountain from a peep window. Natural light illuminated our table.

Shortly after, bread was served, followed by a cup of clear smoked mushroom broth. It was the essence of dried wild mushrooms—complex, smokey and bold. A whiff and a sip made me crave for what was to come. The broth was a tease to the senses.

House-salted anchovies and chorizos made in the style of chef Victor’s grandmother came next. The anchovies were without a doubt the most refined rendition I’ve ever tasted. Its flesh was firm and melted in the mouth with a smokey finish.

The chorizos were unlike the usual. These were delicate and fine.

Heavenly chanterelle cracker
Heavenly chanterelle cracker

We were all in awe of the chanterelle mushroom cracker that had what seemed like mushroom butter slathered on it, then capped with copious amounts of chanterelles. As the cracker crumbled, the flavors were altogether nutty, fruity, a tinge peppery. It was beyond words. It was heaven in every bite!

Buffalo cheese with gazpacho
Buffalo cheese with gazpacho

The house-made buffalo cheese with tomato gazpacho was refreshing, and had a pleasant play of textures.

The tastiest red prawns
The tastiest red prawns

After came the red prawn from Palamos. It was intimated to us that the prawns are brought to the restaurant daily at 5 p.m. and kept in seawater. They are then masterfully prepared on the grill the next day, just before serving. Like the chanterelles, the prawns were beyond words. They were the juiciest, softest and most flavorful prawns I have had in my life. One could taste the sea in every bite.

Then came the mussels from Saint Michele, Normandy, presented in a sauce made with parsnips.

Culinary delight

Grilled hake
Grilled hake

Cocochas cooked al pilpil was served. Cocochas is the meat underneath the chin of either cod or hake. A delicacy, it was prepared al pilpil, cooked skin side down, in garlic and chili infused olive oil. It is swirled gently to allow the oil to emulsify and for the fish to turn gelatinous to create that special sauce. It is a tedious process but one that’s worth the effort.

An egg yolk with potato cream with shaved white truffle came next.

The hongos (mushrooms), with aubergine that looked rather plain, was interesting. Every ingredient on that dish retained its own natural flavor. The roasted aubergines were most expressive.

The famed Txuleton of Etxebarri are from 8- to 10-year-old oxen from Galicia. Perfectly grilled, the beef had flavors that were robust and intense.


The Cabrito, milk-fed baby goat, was tender, creamy and buttery. It was a culinary delight.

We also had the hake. It’s amazing how fish could be cooked with such great precision on the grill, resulting in fish that simply melts in the mouth.

Our meal was capped first with a milk ice cream. It was made by letting the milk cook and reduce in the grill before it is churned. With it was a coulis of beetroot. Amazingly, the uniquely delicious ice cream refreshed our palates.

Finally, chocolate soufflé was served. It was rich and sinful in every way. With our coffee came almond muffins.

A quick glance at the clock took us by surprise. It had been almost five hours and what an experience it had been.

Victor, the master of grilled haute cuisine, makes what seems unthinkable possible. I had the privilege of meeting him. The chef who avoids fanfare warmly welcomed me to his kitchen. It was pristine and lined with traditional grillers, with contraptions here and there.

As I paid him kudos, he gave me a big smile. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary. I just grilled everything,” he said, pointing to his grillers.

Indeed, it is through the simplicity of his food that Victor’s genius shines through. At Etxebarri, nothing is fancy. There are no spheres, no drama. What is showcased is food at its purest and finest.

Follow Asador Etxebarri @asadorerxebarriofficial on Instagram.

www.reggieaspiras.com; @iamreggieaspiras on Instagram and Facebook.

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