Bilbao – Abando – Eating at the Guggenheim

The key to Bilbao’s regeneration is the famous Guggenheim museum which has turned the city into a major tourist destination.

Outside the main entrance you’re welcomed by Puppy (pronounced ‘Poopy’) a gigantic flower arrangement of a Scottish terrier by Jeff Koons. 

The museum is based around a large central atrium with galleries on three levels radiating off it in unpredictable directions.

One gallery is given over to the permanent sculpture ‘The Matter of Time‘ by Richard Serra.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to coincide with an excellent exhibition by David Hockney, a fellow Yorkshireman, called ‘A Bigger Picture’. I was never really a fan of his until I saw these paintings of East Yorkshire landscapes, bizarrely painted in lurid colours, all of which further added to the feeling of being in a home away from home.

While I’ve only been to one exhibition, I’ve been here twice to eat, because the Goog is also home to two very good restaurants.

In June 2016 I thought I’d treat myself to a bit of Michelin luxury at Nurea. It’s a little hard to find as it’s round the back of the museum but go down the steps at the side…

…under the legs of the giant spider ‘Maman’ (Louise Bourgeois, 1999)…

…past the shimmering ‘Tall Tree & The Eye’ (Anish Kapoor, 2009)…

…and keep going until you’re virtually under Salbeko Zubia, the huge bridge that crosses the River Nervion.

If you’re early you can kill some time watching the boats on the river. The rowing crews were practicing in their traineras when I was there. Here’s my video.

The restaurant entrance is very discreet but it’s the hole in the wall in this picture.

Nerua (High Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandabarra (around the back of the Guggenheim Museum), www.nerua.com

It’s possible to order a la carte but most people opt for one of the three tasting menus. I had the smallest, ‘9 products’ menu for €105 (the others were €145 for 14 and €175 for 21) with a wine ‘maridaje’ add on for €42.

The food was fantastic, chef Josean Alija was a student of Ferran Adrià, but it was the wines that particularly blew me away.

Don’t recall what the amuse bouches were sorry, but they were very good (A). The green drink might be some kind of plankton concoction which is a thing in contemporary Spanish cuisine at the moment (see my Puerto de Santa Maria post).

The first wine was a Catalan Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon called ‘Taleia’ by Castell d’Encus which was heavenly (A). I’d like to buy a crate but it’s fairly expensive at £15 a bottle before postage.

‘Ostra, Esparrago, Cerveza, Lima y Guindilla’ or oyster, asparagus, beer, lime and cayenne chilli (A).

Then an off-menu dish of fresh baby broad beans in a broth, which was wonderful (A).

The next wine was a volcanic Malvasia from Lanzarote called ‘Canari’ from Bodegas El Grifo (A). It’s actually a sweet dessert wine but it worked with what I was eating. You can get it from Vinissimus at £10 for a 500ml bottle.

‘Alcachofas Confitadas, Praline y Fondo de Hierbas Aromaticos’ aka confit of artichokes with praline in an aromatic herb stock (A).

With this a glass of white Rioja called ‘Tierra Fidel’ from Bodegas Tierra (A). It’s around £30 a bottle from Lavinia.

‘Sopa de Mariscos y Pescado, Navajas y Verduitas’ or seafood and fish soup, razor clams and baby vegetables (A).

‘Anchoas, Enokis Guisados en un Fondo de Berberechos y Salvia’ or anchovies, stewed enoki mushrooms with a sauce of cockles and sage (A+).

To drink, a glass of Travaglini Gattinara Riserva DOCG from Piedmont, Italy (A). The 2000 vintage I had is now £115 a bottle according to Wine Searcher but the 2011 is £25 to £30.

‘Merluza Frita, Hojas Guisadas de Crisantemo’ or fried hake, cooked with chrysanthemum leaves (A).

The next wine was a 2014 Pedro Ximénez called ‘Exceptional Harvest’ from Ximénez-Spínola. Usually PX grapes are dried and made into a very sweet dessert wine (which I love) but here they had just been treated like a normal white wine grape, to good effect (A). This piqued my interest as you’ll see below. You can buy it for about £14 a bottle from Decantalo, or write directly to the bodega as I did…

‘Foie Gras de Pato, Zanahorias y Makil Goxo’ or duck foie gras, carrots and liquorice (A++).

‘Cabello de Angel, Manzana, Limon y Helado de Shiso’ or angel hair, apple, lemon and Japanese mint ice cream (A).

My old friend Itas Mendi ‘Urezti’ made a reappearance for dessert. It’s around £12 a half-bottle from Decantalo or Gourmet Hunters.

‘Aguacate, Helado de Alholva, Aceituna Negra y Café’ or avocado, fenugreek ice cream, black olive and coffee (A).

And some petit fours to finish.

I adore Spanish brandy so for a final treat I had a look at the list of brandies and spotted a new one (for me) by Ximénez-Spínola, the same bodega in Jerez that made the PX above. It was absolutely stunning (A+).

I did a bit of research and discovered that Ximénez-Spínola don’t advertise their products and don’t enter any wine competitions or apply for VOS or VORS labels. Instead they prefer to just do their own thing and sell to a select client base. I wrote to them directly and, as a Xmas present to myself, got a bottle of one of everything from their range (several kinds of sherry and PX, vinegar and two kinds of brandy). The brandy I had at the restaurant, the ‘Tres Mil Botellas’ was spectacular as I say but at £135 a bottle, a bit hard to justify. However I discovered that the lower one in the range, the ‘Diez Mil Botellas’, is nearly as good and ‘only’ £70. I’m now on my third case and get a 10% discount as a regular customer!

So that was the end of a very memorable meal. The food and wine was stunning and the service was exemplary as you’d expect. One of the reasons I come to these fine dining places is to tap into their knowledge and each server was able to talk expertly about the food and wines, in English.

This experience wasn’t cheap, I’m guessing around 150€, but I felt I got good value, not just because I ate and drank very well, but also because I learned a lot. I definitely recommend Nurea if you can stretch to it.

In 2012 I went to…

Guggenheim Bistro (Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandoibarra, www.bistroguggenheimbilbao.com

The Goog Bistro is one of the top picks in many of the guidebooks. In July 2012 went for the lunchtime menu-del-dia (€32) and paid an extra €9.50 for the ‘maridaje’ or wine-matching.

To kick off, a Watermelon Gazpacho (must make this refreshing summer soup when I get home) which came with an interesting combination of chunks of Tuna Tartar and green pepper (B). I wasn’t too sure about the accompanying Aperitif which didn’t go well at all and tasted artificially of strawberries (C).

This came with an excellent glass of Txacoli ‘Itas Mendi’ 2011 (A) which created a bit of an overkill of liquids and I was playing catch up for the rest of the meal.

Next came a delicious Rock Oyster Paella (A) topped with a Mayonnaise Foam (B+), although for me this wasn’t an improvement on a good garlic aioli.

This was matched with an excellent Verdejo ‘Aura’ 2011 (A+).

After this a forme of Roast Lamb with Pumpkin Puree (A) and dried coffee (C) which went very well with a glass of Rioja (Bai Corre Crianza 2008) (A+).

Finally, French Toast (B+) with Vanilla Ice Cream (A) and a shot of homemade Vino Dulce de Naranja (sweet orange flavoured wine) which smelt great but tasted less so (C).

Overall though I felt I got good value for my money at the Goog Bistro and would happily go again, perhaps in the evening next time.

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

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