One Aldwych is a smart and celebrated hotel and, as its name suggests, occupies the front near-side corner of that sweeping crescent called Aldwych. Eneko is its latest restaurant, taking the basement place of Axis, which I had always enjoyed.
Eneko opened in London last year. It’s a sibling of one of the Basque region’s most celebrated restaurants, Azurmendi, by Eneko Atxa, outside Bilbao. That has three Michelin stars and is listed on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Eneko was conceived in the Basque Country and its food showcases regional produce, cuisine and culinary concepts in the most delicious and contemporary fashion.
Basque cuisine includes grilled meat, fish and bean dishes, and pintxos, which are Basque tapas found in bars along the alleyways of San Sebastian. But there is wine, too, such as the excellent and young txakoli, a sparkling, crisp white wine with hints of tart green apples. It’s often presented as an aperitif and can be marvellously paired with not only the aforementioned pintxos but also white fish and light pork dishes. It’s always served young and vibrant. Until the 1980s, txakoli was a rustic home-made wine and in danger of dying out. But now that some varieties of txakoli have achieved Denominación de Origen certification (like the French AOC) this wine has become more popular. The all-Spanish wine list includes wines exclusive to Eneko at One Aldwych; some of them come from Eneko’s own vineyards! There are surely few restaurants in London who can boast that!
The lead team at Eneko have been trained by Eneko Atxa, from whom the restaurant takes its name. We didn’t meet the chefs on our visit but the front-of-house staff acted as first-class ambassadors for those in the kitchen. Born and bred in the Basque region, Eneko is evidently proud of the food of his home and he has adapted traditional dishes to suit London. Head Chef Edurne Martín Delgado has worked closely with Eneko Atxa since 2006 and has been responsible for much of the menu, which is well-balanced and even whimsical.
Yes, this is a basement restaurant but it successfully contrives to be spacious and well-proportioned with artful use of natural materials such as stone and wood. Eneko isn’t flashy with accents of gaudy bling, but rather it exudes a charm and a crafted cosy elegance.
Theatrical and amusing
But it’s likely one would visit Eneko for the food rather than a discussion on interior design. I started the meal with a glass of the aforementioned txakoli to accompany the Txerri Boda Pork Festival – chorizo on milk bread, glazed sweetbread, suckling pig tempura. A porcine fiesta that started with the serving dish, which was a wooden box, the lid of which was a carved pig’s head. Theatrical and amusing, this casket held a delicious array of savoury bites. This must be a signature starter.
Traditional Talo was my guest’s choice. This was crispy corn talo (a flatbread) with heritage tomatoes and fresh herbs and served as a brilliant spring garden. It’s true that we first eat with our eyes and this was dazzling but also a delightful dish to eat …with one’s mouth.
Basque-style hake in tempura was my companion’s main dish. This came garnished with confit of vegetables, red pepper sauce and parsley emulsion. It was a simple presentation and no worse for it. The delicate white fish was cooked to succulent perfection in its coat of batter. Nothing fussy. Nothing elaborate but just a good solid and confident plate.
Soon-to-become-famous mashed potatoes
My main dish was seared duck breast, julienne of king oyster mushrooms and pickled red onion. Yes, granted, this was a somewhat more elaborate preparation but the culinary frills did nothing to mask a great piece of duck which needed nothing other than the soon-to-become-famous mashed potatoes – don’t miss these!
Strawberry sorbet and rose marshmallow was our shared dessert. It would seem to have been a lightish dinner but we were stuffed with delicate flavours and lots of good cooking; I wouldn’t have given anyone a thank-you for a steamed pud. This fruity creation was pink and beautiful with a marshmallow as soft as a cloud and just a suspicion of roses. This would have been a most romantic end to a meal, but we’ve been married for almost three decades.
There are few restaurants of this quality that I have enjoyed so much. It has a relaxed ambiance, a great location but it’s the food and wine that will assure a loyal following. Eneko didn’t disappoint.
Monday to Saturday: Lunch noon – 2.30pm. Dinner 5pm – 11pm
Sunday: Lunch noon – 3.30pm. Dinner 6pm – 10pm
Saturday: 11.30am – 3pm
Sunday: 11.30am – 3.30pm
Phone: 020 7300 0300
Eneko at One Aldwych
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018