I couldn’t resist. Learning that Eneko, London’s only Basque restaurant, was now serving brunches at the weekend, a visit was in order. If only to see whether that amazing, juicy, cooked to perfection duck was still on the menu…
My last visit was in the evening, the dimmed lighting giving the decor a dream like touch. At lunch time though, the design of Eneko is much clearer. Pushing the door, you first step down a rather theatrical copper staircase to reach a bar area. To allow natural light to bathe the restaurant level below, it was thought as a suspended space, not covering the whole level. The lines of the architecture really stand out in daylight, curves, lines, pebble shapes, a sharp contrast between the red, white and black colours chosen for the palette, textured wallpaper, hand sculpted wooden partition, a touch of art deco too. A gentle spiral effect, as if now being at the heart of a beautiful shell.
It’s Sunday, life can slow down so let’s start with a cocktail, take the time to appreciate every single sip. Eneko’s aperitivi feature refreshing twists on classics which intrigued us like the Quince Bellini, with a touch of cava and pear. The grainy texture of both fruit makes it more sensual, musky almost, and it gently dances from sweet to tangy on your tongue. The Golden Mary, based on spice-infused vodka and golden tomato juice, is fleshier with lovely final note of pepper and basil.
When given a menu stepping away from classic recipes, with exotic sounding names, associations of flavours that I haven’t encountered before, I struggle. How to choose? Is it reasonable to ask for the prettiest dish out of the top 5 or make quick Instagram research? Eneko’s is divided in 4 sections: Euskal Azoka or street food (think tapas size, each selection including two treats to share), Gallineros or eggs, Txokos or classics and Asado or grill. My advice? The portions will prove more filling than you expect. Either start with a classic then order more eggs/street food/classics. Or simply focus on the eggs/street food/classics. The menu does not feature desserts so we really indulged on the savoury side… yet there is a superb selection of sweet creations available so do keep that in mind!
One dish appears on the table, followed by another and another. It’s not a brunch, it’s a feast! The suckling pig (slow cooked, melt in the mouth pork shoulder) is served in a deep fried brioche, doughnut style. The oxtail, presented in a sweet milk bread, proves as tasty as the pot au feu my grandmother used to make, with a zesty addition of micro coriander and parsley and the smoky notes of melted Idiazabal cheese.
Black pudding is often a hit/miss for me. I love boudin noir, the oh-so-creamy French version but can’t understand why the British often destroy that wonderful texture by overfrying it. Eneko deconstructs it gently, offering it very tender and moist, slightly spiced, topped with roasted piquillos, their natural sweetness echoing the meat’s nicely… and with crispy talos (Mexican tortilla made with corn paste and water). Although very fond of playing with food, I find in this case that concentrating on how to eat these mini tacos elegantly takes you away from enjoying the taste fully. Better to experiment on the perfect meat/piquillo ratio on a forkful!
The Arraultzak fried eggs proved delightful. This delicious tower features a flour crisp as a base, caramelised onion, piquillos peppers, an egg, crunchy wild asparagus and micro herbs. First the crispiness, then a superb ratatouille like blend, the silkiness of the yolk and a final crunch. And mousseline mashed potatoes on the side. I’m not sure you can ever revert to an English breakfast after trying them… Paired with the complimentary glass of cava the brunch comes with, you really do feel spoilt.
Meat lovers will fall for the grill dishes. My favourite remains the duck with its crispy layer of fat, its sprinkle of salt flakes, its super juicy meat – a category of its own… The Txuleta – Basque-style prime rib – is equally sensational. The beef eaten in the Basque region comes from cattle between 8 and 18 years of age (compared to the usual max of 30 months), meaning a darker meat, a more complex marbling and a richer taste. Like wagyu, the price can reach insane heights. Eneko offers a well matured British beef (Rhug Estate, 35-day dry aged), grilled just enough for the fat to infuse the meat with flavours, served pink to keep all the juices… that makes you sigh happily. Add to that haystack potatoes (super skinny French fries, yet still tender inside), a garden leaf salad and (unexcitingly super addictive) spring onion salad…
Let’s talk about the desserts. Our first instinct was to say – sorry, too full, really can’t. Not wanting to be rude, we decided to at least read the menu presenting the selection of sweet treats. Then to share one. Not agreeing on which to go for we went for two… No regret though. The salted caramel mousse was intense in taste, light in texture and topped with white chocolate spheres filled with fudge like ganache. Bonus: on the side, a scoop of Eneko’s signature sheep’s milk ice cream. Alternatively, try the pineapple sorbet and foam, cloud like and a perfect palate refresher. You will surprisingly regain quite an appetite and finish it in no time. At that point, you seriously considering the One Aldwych Hotel next door whether they still have a room: a nap seems in order!
Eneko | One Aldwych, London WC2B 4BZ | Brunch available on Saturdays 11.30am-2.30pm and Sundays from 11.30am-3.30pm. Includes a complimentary glass of cava