The setting: In the lush foothills of the Spanish Basque Country, Asador Etxebarri has been housed in the same rustic stone building since the 1990s. With sprawling views of mountains and grazing cattle from its terrace (where the welcome snacks are served), the restaurant can claim to be at one with history and nature.
All about fire: Basque chef Victor Arguinzoniz is famous for being able to grill virtually anything and for coaxing out incredible flavours from seemingly simple ingredients. To get more control over the cooking process, he designed Asador Etxebarri’s grills himself – the kitchen features six fully adjustable grills that can be raised and lowered on a pulley system, and he also invented several utensils, such as mesh pans. The restaurant has its own 750-degree ovens in which Arguinzoniz and his team prepare fresh coals daily from carefully chosen woods, such as holm oak for fish and vine trunks for meat.
What’s on the menu: The restaurant respects the intrinsic natural flavours of local produce and delicately urges each ingredient to show its potential: house-made chorizo, salted anchovies, buffalo cheese, the freshest prawns from Palamos, tender beef chops. Even the desserts – such as reduced milk ice cream with raspberries – are kissed with at least a suggestion of smoke.
About the chef: Born in a country house only a kilometre away from where Etxebarri is located in the village of Axtondo, Arguinzoniz fell in love with the magic of fire as a kid. His family house had no electricity or gas and he remembers fondly the times when his mother and grandmother cooked on the open hearth. Despite a stellar 30-year career, the chef has remained as humble as he was on his first day in the kitchen.
Special recognition: Esteemed by chefs all over the world and considered a mentor by many a local cook, Arguinoniz received the Estrella Damm Chefs’ Choice Award 2021, the only peer-voted accolade in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards programme.