The problem with being a thrice-Michelin starred chef is that, naturally, everyone assumes that everything with your name attached to it will be the absolute best thing they’ve ever eaten.
I imagine it can be tiresome. Like when you’re drunkenly whipping up a batch of red pepper hummus in the wee hours of Saturday morning (what? Everyone does this, right?) and all your guests expect it to be the most phenomenal red pepper hummus to ever grace the inside of their faces, but really you only made it because you don’t want anyone throwing up on the new carpet and you’ve got some tahini that needs using up.
What I’m trying to say, is that an association with a hotshot s’leb chef can be a dangerous thing. Because although Eneko Atxa’s eponymous new restaurant in the bowels of One Aldwych does not claim to be a three-star restaurant, nor charges three-star prices, if the hype has you expecting a three star experience…then you’re going to be disappointed. (For that, you’ll need to go to Azurmendi in Bilbao, Spain.)
But that’s not to say Eneko isn’t an interesting restaurant worthy of your time and money. I went a couple of times when it first opened and found it to be hit and miss; mostly positive, but occasionally erring slightly into the Valley of the Naff. (A trio of pork morsels, for instance, were served in a wooden box decorated with a large 3D pig head on the lid, which was left to glare balefully at the devourer of its brethren from the corner of the table.)
In any case, I was invited back to try the new Basque brunch, which promised a welcome departure from the usual eggs/avocado/sourdough options. Not that I don’t love all those things, but…well, variety. Spice of life, innit?
The menu is designed to be shared, and dishes come out with astonishing speed. There’s barely time to knock back the (excellent) complimentary glass of cava that arrives with any brunch. James 1 insisted on the Basque-style black pudding (£14.00) which came adorned with crisp red piquillo peppers and some crispy corn talos (basically tortillas). For that, I am grateful; I can’t stand black pudding and never order it, but this was something wonderful and unexpected. It was soft and velvety and left a comforting slick of fat on the lips like a balm.
We also loved the oxtail on milk bread (£12.00), a wodge of slow-cooked beef coddled in a lightly textured but richly flavoured bun. However, the Txistorra, spiced Basque sausage in a cider, missed the mark for me. The soft talos weren’t absorbent enough to soak up the juices, and although the sausage itself was passably tasty, I couldn’t help recalling Margaret Atwood’s sausage description in Oryx & Crake: ‘unpleasantly soft, like babies’ turds’.
The pièce de résistance, or whatever the Spanish equivalent of pièce de résistance is, was the enormous Txuleta – Basque-style prime rib (£27.00), served very, very pink and scattered liberally with coarse flakes of sea salt. It could have done with a smidge longer on the grill to properly render the fat, but we fell upon it like animals and gave it a solid 8/10.
Best Supporting Role goes to the surprisingly zippy spring onion salad – who’d have thunk? – and the bowl of ‘haystack’ potatoes (read: extremely skinny fries) that came with.
But it’s pastry chef Alice Serafini’s decadent desserts that shone the brightest at our brunch, and places Eneko firmly in the fantasy realm of pudding people. James 1’s flawless salted caramel mousse (£7.00) wobbled amorously into our hearts and bellies with none of the slimy gelatinousness that so often ruins any dessert with a bit of wibble.
I, a notorious sucker for dark chocolate anything, plumped for the dark chocolate ice cream with light peanut sponge cake (£7.00), the latter of which was indistinguishable from the kind of sponge environmentally feckless types use in the tub. With a bulging slug of dark chocolate and a bed of peanutty detritus, the plate was like a beautiful, edible diorama of an especially comely piece of ocean floor. Lovely.
For brunch connoisseurs, Eneko’s weekend menu certainly offers something different. And occasionally – like in that luscious black pudding – you might even taste the twinkling of those three shiny stars.
Eneko, One Aldwych, 1 Aldwych, London, WC2B 4BZ
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.