|A Basque Banquet at London’s Wallace Collection
Review by Rupert Parker
Three of the Basque Country's most prestigious Michelin star chefs delivered a stunning gastronomic evening in the cultured surrounding of one of Europe’s premier galleries.
Flaming torches lit the way to the stately entrance of the Wallace Collection, a fitting venue to highlight Basque cuisine, as the building once housed the Spanish Embassy. Inside a jazz band serenaded the 250 food and travel professionals as they mingled in the covered central courtyard and I grabbed the first of many glasses of the excellent Barón de Oña Reserva
In recent years Basque Nouvelle Cuisine has seen the rise of a new breed of creative Basque Chefs and three of them were here to promote the food of their region. Andoni Luis Aduriz from Mugaritz, Martin Berasategi from Martin Berasategi and Pedro Subijana from ‘Akelarre’ were going to tempt us with their brand of new-wave Tapas or “Pintxos”, in Basque. I settled myself conveniently close to the kitchen so I wouldn’t miss out on any of them
Usually at these sort of functions, there’s never enough food, but not at this one. In the course of the evening I tasted twenty different dishes before I lost count and the way they were presented was extremely novel. First up were the Anchovy, Olive and Chili tasters which you picked off from sandwich boards worn by the waiters. Halves of Passion fruit topped with Foie Gras Mousse were carried around on huge trays hoisted by waitresses at either end and the Gazpacho was served in plastic medicine bottles which we were advised to shake before using.
The three chefs busied themselves at work tables at one end of the room. Subijana’s frying pan of stones seemed an odd sort of dish until he placed a Prawn on top of each one, covered it in a grape liquor and flamed the lot. Next door Berasategi was also playing with fire, torching his Millefeuille of Foie Gras with smoked Eel until it was caramelized. Aduriz beamed over his plates of three pebbles on a sandy beach until you discovered they were clay baked Potatoes on a bed of Bread crumbs, to be eaten with free range Egg yolk with a touch of sweet Garlic.
Now I know all this sounds like one big culinary joke, more suited to the Tate Modern than the Wallace, but the standard of the food on offer was extremely high and every dish had thoughtful combinations of flavour. Of course a stand-up reception is not the best way to taste refined cuisine like this, but it was enough to tempt the taste buds. There is definitely something going on in the kitchens of this part of Spain and I certainly will be investigating further. If you fancy visiting the region you can get general information from the Spanish Tourist Office or more details from Basque Tourism.
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