It’s impossible not to eat well in Bilbao. The post-industrial waterfront capital of the Basque Country, known for its gleaming Guggenheim museum, is home to some of the best restaurants in Spain. Which makes Restaurante Etxanobe’s status as one of the best restaurants in Bilbao quite remarkable.
In fact, Etxanobe, located in a 19th-century stained-glass factory in downtown Bilbao, comprises two quite different dining spaces, both giving traditional Basque cuisine a modern-day update but with very distinct moods.
Atelier Etxanobe offers classic fine dining with just eight tables (plus a private room that can seat twelve) and a 14-dish menu. Here, new technology transforms the eating experience with videos explaining the food and 3D effects accompanying desserts—and that’s to say nothing of the dishes themselves.
Then there’s La Despensa del Etxanobe, a more casual yet no less sophisticated bar-style eatery, featuring subtle lighting and neon signage.
After spending 18 years located on the third floor of the Euskalduna Palace concert venue, Extranobe is now located in Ensanche, the commercial and business hub of the city, an area dominated by broad avenues and impressive Modernist and Baroque-style buildings. In fact, it’s just a 10-minute walk from the boutique-lined Gran Vía, so you might want to head over after a day of real or window shopping to recuperate with some of the best food in the city.
Restaurante Etxanobe had already established itself as one of the hottest dining destinations in Bilbao by the time it moved to Ensanche, known for its kokotxas (hake cheeks), cod pil pil, and cult-favourite anchovy lasagne. The mastermind behind the restaurant is chef Fernando Canales, whose passion for gastronomy combines with a knack for reinventing traditional dishes to create a dining experience that could easily constitute the highlight of your holiday.
In fact, Fernando Canales is somewhat of a celebrity, with a TV programme—Cooking with Canales—that’s already a hit in Spain and is now airing on some of the most popular cooking channels in the US. Not only is he blessed with notably good looks but he’s also capable of true magic in the kitchen, approaching ingredients in a surprising way, cultivating unexpected yet wow-factor flavours.
Canales is also devoted to tracking down the very best produce, always going that extra mile to get the top ingredients. Even winter, not known for its natural bounty, has something for him, and he’ll work wonders with cauliflower, trout eggs, truffles, rabbit, or braised partridge to create his Michelin-starred meals.
Paying attention to colour and shape as much as taste, texture, and scent, Canales turns cooking into a true art form and eating into a sensory adventure. Presentation is just as important as preparation so don’t be surprised if the plate set down in front of you looks just as innovative as it tastes.
At the Atelier, dishes include oysters, scampi carpaccio with caviar, roasted pumpkin with prawn ceviche, tuna cooked with sumac and wasabi, and, of course, the famous anchovy lasagna.
Or perhaps you’ve opted to eat at La Despensa. Here, everything is just as exceptional, from the rice with octopus and mushroom to the grilled squid. We also recommend the scallops, which come served with fresh seaweed. Finish off with the tropical tastes of pineapple cream gratinate.
In a city replete with spectacular eateries, from Michelin-starred fine dining establishments to family-run pintxo bars, Etxanobe still manages to stand out, setting the standard for nueva cocina vasca and putting a totally fresh spin on classic Basque cuisine.
Vegetarian option on the menu: Yes Price range: $$$ - $$$$ Address: Calle Juan Ajuriaguerra Kalea, 8, 48009 Bilbao. Phone number: +34 944 42 10 71 Website: www.etxanobe.com