There are satnavs and there are satnavs, and then there is whatever was in our hire car. I think it was something like 2001’s homicidal HAL, but with a more oblique strategy; in its efforts to direct us away at all times from the (admittedly out-the-way) village of Erretegi making us ever later for our lunch at Michelin-starred Basque restaurant Asador Etxebarri, it seemed to be aiming at starving us slowly to death. It should have been a simple hour’s drive from San Sebastian. It was neither simple nor an hour.
When we finally arrived in the picturesque town, we parked in the courtyard behind the barn-like building that houses Asador Etxebarri, entering via a ground-floor room reserved for large parties (though none had booked it on the day we had lunch) and ascending the stairs to a hayloft-like open plan room, the restaurant ‘proper’. It’s minimally decorated, largely unadorned, with a vaulted wooden roof, semi-clad stone walls, houseplants on the sills of windows that look out over the mountains we’d got lost in. It’s comfortable and rather ascetic – pleasingly so. There may be white tablecloths, but the emphasis, you sense, will be on what’s served, not the room it’s served in. Which is as it should be.
As the name suggests, Etxebarri’s big draw is the asado grill on which the restaurant prepares every dish on its long set menu, from seafood to steaks, a roster that changes each day depending on what produce is available and what’s good. For those of us accustomed to barbecued food resulting in something like Lisa Simpson might cook (“I made fish sticks! They’re burned on the outside but still frozen in the middle, so it sort of balances out!”) this is to discover that the asado can be a surprisingly versatile cooking tool. We ate anchovies, vast red prawns, a chorizo “tartare” and fearsome goose barnacles resembling triceratops toes – every item cooked to perfection and with that ashy, umami-adjacent char that only the barbecue can provide.
In our keenness to show we were cognoscenti, we’d forgotten to ask how much Etxebarri charged for these seasonal rareties
There was an optional extra dish when we visited: a plate of scrambled eggs with local truffles, newly in season. “There will be a supplement of $40 for each person,” the server explained. We demurred. Instead, we decided to show off that we were San Sebastian cognoscenti by asking if they had any elvers, also just coming into season. Why yes, the staff agreed, looking among themselves in what we assumed was delight that these two visitors knew what they were talking about. In due time, two cocottes of these minuscule things arrived at the table: they have the look and mouthfeel of tiny fragments of noodles cooked al dente, but with microscopic tinfoil-dot eyes and a very subtly piscine flavour just discernible through the coating in charcoal-smoky oil.
In our keenness to demonstrate insider knowledge, we’d forgotten to ask how much Etxebarri charged for these seasonal rareties. Reader, each pot cost €45. C
Asador Etxebarri, PlazaSan Juán, 1, 48291 Apatamonasterio, Bizkaia, Spain
+34 946 58 30 42; asadoretxebarri.com