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Bilbao, Spain

Show-stealing cooking that nearly upstages the art gallery next door

The iconic hulk of the Guggenheim Museum could easily overwhelm some restaurants, but not Nerua, where the team of young chefs prepares precise and artful dishes in full view of the customers. The restaurant space is open and fresh: conscious of its backdrop, Nerua purposefully mirrors the Guggenheim’s own architecture, with cool white walls, scroll-like plates and swirl-backed chairs by prize-winning New York designer Frank Gehry. There is also an expansive terrace offering views across the museum’s stunning exterior.

Chef Josean Alija is the creative force behind Nerua. Dishes are small but striking as befits an alumnus of superstar Catalan chef Ferran Adrià. The approach is meticulous, almost clinically so, with nearly all the dishes served on simple white plates with just two or three ingredients – this is neatly summed up by a signature dish of foie gras with candied carrot.

Alija sticks to Mediterranean, familiar ingredients – such as anchovies, duck, cod, and chocolate ‒ but isn’t afraid to add flashes of inspiration here and there, with green coffee essence, pumpkin seed praline and ‘spicy marzipan sand’ among the more unusual touches on his menu. An extensive wine list nods to the local Spanish region and beyond, adding a welcome complement to this show of careful gastronomy and stark design, which does quiet justice to its imposing host.

On the pass

  • Josean Alija

Style of food

  • Modern Spanish

Standout dish

  • Baby squid lacquered with sweet onion