What happens when Spain’s most decorated chef arrives in Madrid

Spain’s most decorated chef is at the helm of recently opened Etxeko restaurant, promising homely fine dining that draws on Berasategui’s Basque roots.

Sunday, December 22, 2019,
By Joel Porter
A dish at Etxeko.
Etxeko loosely translates as ‘at home’, a reference to both the style of food, which draws on Berasategui’s Basque roots, and the homely nature of the restaurant.
Photograph by www.robertocastano.com

A quick glance at the CV of Martín Berasategui, the chef in charge of Etxeko, the restaurant at the newly opened Bless Hotel in Madrid, should be enough to get anyone very excited for dinner. An undisputed heavyweight of Spanish cooking, he’s officially the country’s most decorated chef, with his restaurants collectively holding a whopping 10 Michelin stars; two are three-star establishments — one in Barcelona and the other in his native San Sebastián.

Berasategui began his culinary career at his parents’ restaurant, Bodegón Alejandro, at the age of 14, before going on to hone his craft in the high-end kitchens of France. As a teenager, he trained with culinary heavyweights such as Alain Ducasse, Michel Guérard and Didier Oudil, learning the intricate techniques required for Michelin-worthy cooking, before taking over Bodegón Alejandro aged 20. By 25, he’d already won his first star.

As well as his restaurants in Barcelona and San Sebastián, Berasategui has outposts in Tenerife, Portugal, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but aside from a brief spell consulting on the Amparo Restaurant in 1994, he’s never owned his own Madrid restaurant. His new role as the ‘gastronomic guru’ of Bless hotels has led to the opening of Etxeko, and his arrival in the Spanish capital is big news, not least for Berasategui himself, who says it was “a dream come true to return to Madrid after 25 years.”

Etxeko loosely translates from Basque as ‘at home’, a reference to both the style of food, which draws on Berasategui’s Basque roots, and the homely nature of the restaurant. The menu, which draws inspiration from his long career, is “a 44-year-old recipe book with authentic flavours but cleverly updated for cosmopolitan Madrid”, according to Berasategui.

Of course, anyone who dines at Etxeko will be able to tell you that the food is a far cry from home cooking. Yes, the menu includes steaks and ‘señoret’ seafood rice — a close relative of paella — but you’ll also find a cold ‘lasagne’ of marinated anchovies layered between finely chopped vegetables and topped off with a shot of velvety smooth gazpacho. And then there’s the ajoblanco, a classic soup of bread, almonds and garlic, which elevated to even greater heights with the addition of smoked sardine, green apple sorbet and herring roe.

It’s showstopping food, the work of a chef who’s truly mastered his craft. But, despite this triumphant first step into Madrid, Berasategui doesn’t currently have any plans to open more restaurants in the capital. “At the moment, I’m focused on Etxeko being the best it can be, and that all who visit us want to return.”

Three more of his restaurants to try

Martín Berasategui, Lasarte
The restaurant that made his name was awarded its third Michelin star in 2001 and has held onto all three ever since. It’s the epicentre of the chef’s empire, with the tasting menu providing a snapshot of his signature dishes over the years. Expect oyster with green olive juice, a puff pastry cake with apple and ice cream; and stuffed Iberian pig’s trotters with quince paste and crunchy black pudding ‘pearls’.

M B, Tenerife
The only two-Michelin-starred restaurant in the Canary Islands, M B brings Berasategui’s signature Basque flavours to the The Ritz-Carlton, Abama. Menus are created by the chefs depending on what they find in the local markets that day. Standouts include calamari with parmesan crisp and bacon, and tuna with tomatoes and pickled spring onions.

Fifty Seconds, Lisbon
Martín Berasategui’s Lisbon restaurant takes its name from the 50-second lift journey that whisks diners 394ft up to the dining room, at the top of the Myriad by Sana hotel. It’s an intimate space, with just 35 covers, and each table is positioned by a window, offering views across the city and the Tagus River. The eclectic menu includes cod brandade with Manzanilla and yuzu mayonnaise, and grilled ox fillet with char chlorophyll and a cheese bonbon.

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