Visitors heading to Bilbao will no doubt get a good dose of the city’s famous Guggenheim Bilbao museaum, marvelling about its stunning funky, futuristic structure and the excellent art exhibitions it offers within.
Not so many probably know that the Guggenheim is also home to one of the city’s most acclaimed Michelin-star restaurants.
Directly located in the Guggenheim museum, overlooking the Nervion river, Michelin-star Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao serves innovative Basque cuisine in a sleek contemporary setting.
The restaurant offers four different tasting menus based on five (lunch only), eight or fourteen products and a Chef’s menu. A wine pairing can be added and the restaurant quite uniquely also offers a non-alcoholic pairing to all its menus.
Entering Nerua trough its sparate entrance from the Guggenheim (there is also one from within the museum but most dinner guests are likely to arrive through the exterior), it’s the open kitchen that immediately attracts the guest’s attention.
The restaurant’s dining room definitely sets a new mark for minimalism. Kept in crisp white and wooden floors and chairs, it is bar any funky design or decoration.
Chef Josean Alija is the creative force behind Nerua. Although he trained with Farran Adrià of El Bulli, his style is completely different in composition and presentation. The plates that arraive are all presented in a very purist manner, lacking any stylish garnishing or other flashy display.
Each course is painstakingly executed to emphasise its main product, enhanced by only minimal additional ingredients.
This being the last day of our trip that already had involved a lot of eating, I went for the eight products rather than the full range as we feared we would not make it through.
While enjoying a glass ob bubbles, we were served a delicious olive bread followed shortly after by a generous leaf of corn bread. Both off course freshly baked and still slightly warm.
The menu kicked off with an assortment of classic Basque appetizers: a very flavourful chickpeas and curry broth, cod croquette and a reinterpretation of two of the most favourite local pintxos (the equivalent to Spanish tapas): ‘Bilbainito’ composed of hardboild egg, gambas and mayonnaise and ‘Grillo’ which is composed of a little potato cube, a slice of lettuce and anchovy.
The first course was a tomato lasagne served with a smooth and not at all spicy chilli cream. It was likely one of the best lasagne I’ve ever eaten, very delicate and with and intense tomato flavour.
Next came artichokes served in a rich anchovy broth, an interesting tweak and very tipical for Nerua’s style as you would normally expect the focus to be on the anchovy.
A garlic soup topped with cod fish (another local favourite) called Zurrukutuna was served as third course. It looked rather plain and in all honesty I was not absolutely convinced about its flavour and texture.
I have an allergy concerning mussels so I had the next course swapped with the spider crab from the fourteen products menu. Its slightly sweetish flesh was enhanced with rice and koji giving the whole dish a delicate light Asian texture.
The fried hake served with stewed water spinach was simply a dream, its flesh still slightly moist whilst it spotted a perfect little char – a very classic dish in the Basque country and in fact perfect for the restaurants signature streightforward preparation.
The marinated rack of lamb served with a celeriac cream too met all my expectations, cooked to the point with a perfect red core.
The first of the two dessert coursed that followed was a whipped milk casein with straberry ice cream and violet meringue, a perfect flavour combination.
A very delectable avocado cream accompanied by fenugreek ice cream rounded of the dessert section.
The menu ended with a little tray of sweet bites: a little rise pudding beignet, a meriunge filled with lime and walnut cream and a rich chocolate cream.
All in all, it was an extremely enjoyable experience. I particularly loved the simplicity of the various dishes and the overall calm and friendly atmosphere of the restaurant.
Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao