What makes it special: Set in a quiet Basque village surrounded by mountains and greenery somewhere between Bilbao and San Sebastian, Asador Etxebarri is a true destination restaurant. Gastronomes travel from all over the world to experience the magic of chef Victor Arguinzoniz, who turns humble ingredients like milk and beef into unforgettable dishes with the help of a little fire.
Skills on the grill: In a small kitchen filled with custom-made grills designed by the chef himself, Arguinzoniz churns out a series of elegant dishes where the ingredient is king. There’s no molecular gastronomy here – a succulent red Palamós prawn is simply grilled and plated on its own, while mozzarella from the chef’s own buffalo is served on a slice of the juiciest tomato. Everything is touched by the grill, from anchovy on toast to the milk ice cream with beetroot that ends the meal.
On the menu: While locals may plump for the à la carte, the tasting menu is the best way to enjoy everything Etxebarri has to offer. Over some 14 courses eaten in the spacious dining room overlooking the village square, customers enjoy Arguinzoniz’s homemade chorizo and seasonal delicacies like baby eels and caviar-like Basque peas. The star of the show is a juicy beef chop – it may look impossibly large for the end of a degustation, but its succulent texture and extraordinary flavour mean the plate is almost always sent back clean.
Humble beginnings: One of the best-loved chefs in the business, Arguinzoniz grew up around the corner from where the restaurant now stands, in a house without electricity and gas where his mother and grandmother would cook on the hearth. For more than 30 years he has developed his love of cooking on fire, remaining modest despite winning accolades like the Chefs’ Choice Award, and seeing Asador Etxebarri in the upper echelons of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list year after year after year.