Restaurants have been opening at a dizzying place in London this year and I’d been meaning to go to Eneko’s soft-launch which had run throughout August but hadn’t made it due to summer ins and outs. Given its proximity to my office, I chose Eneko as the spot for my firm’s Christmas dinner. It had – after all – received rave reviews, including from the business press such as the FT’s Nicholas Lander. Set in the vibrant One Aldwych Hotel, this is the first London outpost of Eneko Atxa, the young-gun Basque chef whose Azurmendi three-Michelin starred restaurant in Bilbao is in the world’s Top 20.
It certainly feels very Spanish inside. Whilst the wine bar features an all-Spanish wine list, the décor is suitably subterranean, with materials sourced from craftsmen in the Basque region. Design firm Casson Mann, for whom this is their first restaurant project, have done an impressive job reimagining the dining room in this grand Edwardian building (built in 1907 as the Morning Post’s headquarters). Notably, they’ve introduced a gleaming copper staircase from street-level to mezzanine ‒ talk about making an entrance ‒ and revealed and restored the original steel columns. Materials are strong and tactile: wood, steel, stone, leather. The room is relaxed yet theatrical, each curvy booth spotlit like a stage with a backdrop of sculptural flowers.
“Innovative and informal” is the tagline for the food here. Showcasing fresh, modern Basque dishes, the menu reimagines culinary classics. A single A4 piece of thin cardboard lists the savoury dishes, using colour to signify different headings — itsasotik (from the sea), lurretik (from the land) and hortutik (from the garden).
Axta’s description of the food as “simple” and “happy” doesn’t do justice to the beauty of his dishes: a look at their Instagram is testament to the chef’s passion for precise execution and quality ingredients. This was immediately clear from my choice of starters: the Traditional Talo (£10), a crispy corn talo with heritage tomatoes and fresh herbs. The presentation was as dramatic as the flavours and the dish as pretty as the flowerbed that adorned it. Its success wasn’t just down to its visual appeal. I also loved its range of textures, including the avocado emulsion which was well juxtaposed against the crispy corn. The Managing Partner’s oyster starter equally wowed the group with its theatrical smoky explosion.
Moving on to mains, I – along with my fellow vegetarian diner – went for the Gernika Black Beans (£12) served with savoy cabbage and piparrak. We also enjoyed some salty Padron Peppers at the side. Whilst I enjoyed the hearty bean stew, I felt it could have been a little more exciting. The cabbage could also have been more immersed in the dish rather than being served separately.
Nevertheless, if you’re pining the Basque country, head to Eneko. And don’t miss out on a drink in the Lobby Bar before – my Mistletoe Punch served in a charming martini glass with a mini handle and adorned with figs was a suitably festive start to a Christmas celebration. My choice of Eneko didn’t dissapoint me or my fellow lawyer diners, such that I’ve been named the firm’s chief restaurant guide: success all round. It’s a shame I’d already had my year’s appraisal earlier that day!
Eneko at One Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BZ