Our first meal in the Basque country was at the one-star Zortziko in Bilbao. This promised modern cuisine, a promise that was kept but not in a terribly satisfying way. The dining room was decorated in quite a modern style, austere and minimalist with photographs of food on the walls. It was good that the plasma televisions against one wall were turned off. The menus were well presented, but it was a bit of a shame that the wine list was so domainated by Spanish wines. We chose the tasting menu for eighty Euros. We were a tad irked that the first three courses on the menu were served together and they were actually amuse bouches. They were:
Smoked salmon ice cream over green pea bread
: This was cold and not very salmony, but the green pea bread seemed nice enough.
Creamy cheese over sweet-basil oil tomato
: This was a cold tomato soup served in a shot glass with basil and a good olive oil covered with a mild goats’ cheese cream. Very nice and all the flavours were distinct and fresh.
Morcilla (blood pudding) over leeks, apple and celery-turnip cream with talo
: The blood pudding was quite ricey. Surprisingly nice celery-turnip cream. Good but hardly thrilling. We then moved onto the first proper course,
foie served in a dessert bowl with caramelised pear, grape gelée and Maldon salt
. The foie was a deeply sub-standard mousse. I suppose the grape gelée was quite nice, but hardly made up for inferior foie. This was followed by
grilled small squid over thyme onion stewed with ice cream of its own ink
. The squid was perfectly grilled, not tough in the slightest. A very good course as was the next one:
grilled scallop with truffle oil and onion
. The scallop was perfectly cooked and the oil had good truffle character. The next course was
fish cooked in the Zortziko style
which seemed to mean boiled to remove all trace of flavour. This was one of the most depressing pieces of monkfish we have ever eaten. A ‘classic’ of Zortziko followed,
young pigeon cooked in five different ways
. We could only detect three different cooking styles and the meat was really quite tough even though it wasn’t over-cooked. It was mainly roast pigeon breast with braised legs. The desserts started with
creamy cottage cheese over sponge cake
. Sweet and dull. The next dessert was far better,
crunchy chocolate ice cream with liquid bitter orange
. The flavour of the chocolate ice cream was very good, as was the bitter orange sauce. The final ‘course’ on the menu was
. When these miniscule truffles were served, one per person, we couldn’t help but think “Big deal”. Thre was a degree of concern over the bill, it appeared they were trying to cheat us out of money. We wanted to pay half the bill in cash and half on a credit card. The cash disappeared instantly and two credit card slips for the full amount appeared both of which they tried to get signed. Needless to say, at this point our waiter didn’t speak English anymore. We managed to get it sorted out, but it was really unacceptable for a restaurant at this level. Apart from the excitement with the bill the whole experience was mediocre and lacking interest. Not a great start but we hoped that things would improve once we hit Gipuzkoa. Daniel and David.