Honestly, the gal did not know much about Basque food – in general it seems to includes lots of grilled meat and fish, and stews, beans and paprika, and sheep’s cheese and sparkling wine and cider. How would this fit into a signature restaurant of the well-established One Aldwych luxury hotel in London? Well, Eneko at One opened officially September 1st, 2016, and it appears to be doing more than just fine. It is already 50% above forecasts for number of diners, of whom 95% are from outside, which means they are not hotel guests. This is undoubtedly down to the restaurant, its cuisine and its service, but also to its inspiration.
The restaurant is named for Eneko Atxa, who has three Michelin stars for his freestanding Azurmendi restaurant in Bilbao. That accolade helps, as does the fact that it is currently No. 16. in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants – that citation pointing out that at the Bilbao restaurant a meal starts by inspecting the chef’s rooftop vegetable garden, and then moving around the inside of the restaurant, a different seating area for each course. Here at Eneko at One, you enter from the main street, Aldwych, down a red-carpet catwalk staircase of 34, copper-flanked, wood stairs, past original iron girders from the hotel’s opening in 1907 as the headquarters of The Morning Post newspaper. Down past a mezzanine bar, where Atxa’s own wines are served, with Basque tapas, you eventually get to the main seating.
Designers Casson Mann have used lots of modern wood and metal, blending magnificently with the early 20th century features. The light-wood tables, satin-smooth and with rounded edges, say ‘designer’, too. Everything is simple. Sit down and you are immediately brought an embroidered edged wire basket of artisan bread bits that, oh so unusually, really really smell, gorgeously so. They come with butter in a mortar (bowl), with snippets of chives and a ball of basil butter. The server takes a blunt-ended pestle and swiftly blends the greeneries so you end up with a rim of green butter around the yellow, stunning. He is a joker, is Eneko Atxa.
This happens throughout a meal. Choose a bento box and the Basque tapas within are covered by a lid shaped like a pig’s head. I chose to start with what I imagined would be a beetroot tartare, got an absolutely exquisite patty dressed with pickled red onion, a soufflé potato, miniscule sourdough toasts and vegetable barbecue sauce. I went on to a ceps ragout with broad beans and crispy egg yolks: Atxa, or in reality here his onsite chef Edurne Martin, specialises in taking out the inside of egg yolks and filling them, sometimes with truffle consommé. Go on to cheese cake and it looks like cappuccino. Honestly, the meal was a delight, and amazing good value (three courses for £28 if lunch, or pre- or post-theatre). No wonder this luxury hotel is pleased with its new restaurant – and I hear, by the way, that it is about to announce weekend brunches ‘with a difference’