Now I spend quite a lot of time in Southern Spain every year now my post-COVID Spanish friends moved back home. I usually visit the foodie Mecca of Barcelona and upon a recent visit, my Catalan friends told me if you like Catalan food then you must try the Basque Country also!!
They said think divine selections of meat and fish, a huge selection of crafted wines across the region, and unique sophistication of flavour held closely to Basque traditions. They also said the real difference between Basque and Catalan cuisine is more about the use of different ingredients, different cuts of meats, recipes, and seasonal changes that happen in seafood and vegetables. I took this as an opportunity and as I have never been to the Basque Country I was excited to be introduced to Ardoa Restaurant and taken on a Basque foodie journey right here in the UK, Greenwich, London. Ardoa Restaurant is a delightful Spanish kitchen & wine bar, conveniently located just minutes from the O2 Arena in North Greenwich and right on the banks of the Thames. When you arrive you are taken right into the heart of San Sebastien by the owners Keith Lyon (the wine expert and connoisseur) and Idoia Guzman (head chef) who are both quick to make you feel right at home when you enter their cozy but spacious restaurant. Their expert menu focuses on their take on Basque cuisine with a tasteful twist. The menu is designed to share at the table, which I just love to do as you get to sample many more dishes sharing the flavours with your dining partner, opening up a conversation and an experience. We started off proceedings with three plates, a plate of specialist bread called Coca, a type of bread flat in style, crispy exterior, and super airy and soft in the center. A plate of roasted sweet red Romano peppers with toasted Pumpkin seeds and a very delicious serving of Jamon Iberico. One clear thing from the get-go was that this restaurant really knows its ingredients. Keith and Idoia really care what they serve as all ingredients are actually bought in and sourced from Spain (where indeed it can’t be sourced locally) and other ingredients right here In London from the likes of Borough Market for the freshest organic vegetables or Billingsgate Market for the freshest of fish. Even the bread was told that they source from a master baker that only makes this type of bread and it really did shine through!! The peppers were deliciously sweet with the crispy pumpkin seeds giving you texture and a burst of flavour, the Jamon Iberico was perfectly cured, sweet and salty. Next up was the Octopus, Avocado, and Grapefruit with oriental dressing. A stunning and incredible dish that was superbly fresh, straight off the grill, and cooked to perfection. The addition of grapefruit really worked and matched with the avocado was a masterstroke of genius by the chef!! To pair the dish we had a glass of finest Rioja from the incredible selection of quality wines, expertly sourced by Keith who actually also conveniently owns a wine company. This pairing of in-house wine expert and restaurant ensures that the wines really match your dish and having expert advice really helps to choose from their wide wine selection. Next, we tried the pepper crust sirloin of beef and tataki, a rare plate of sliced beef that just fell apart in your mouth. The quality of the meat was sublime and matched with the spicy tataki and pepper crust was out of this world. This is one dish that was punchy with flavour. The star of the show for me, however, was the next dish, a pan-fried sea bass side with garlic butter a flick of cayenne and served with steamed potatoes and chives. This was the day's catch which can change therefore it is recommended to ask when you arrive as if the sea bass is to go by, the fish should be ordered on every visit! The fish was, my goodness, expertly cooked, soft and meaty, flaky, fried until a little caramelized and drizzled with olive oil. Probably one of the best sea bass I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. We also ordered the suckling pig which sounded intriguing and we just had to give it a go. We were too astounded again on the flavour and texture front. An expertly cooked piece of pork straight from the full suckling pig they roast right there in the restaurant. The cracking was crispy and packed with flavour and the pork moist and soft. It was filled with olives and a side of roasted aubergine and Iberico gravy! Just sublime!!! To round up, what better way to end our culinary trip to Basque Spain than to try the famous Basque burnt cheesecake! A surprisingly savory cheesecake is delicious and with a hint of sweetness to round up the meal. It did not disappoint and was ever so sweet and creamy, cheesy and the burnt caramelized crust was to die for! I really really loved Ardoa and thought it offered a real experience of Basque Country cooking right here in London. The owners put their heart and soul into the restaurant, are well informed, experienced, and super friendly, and source the finest of ingredients and the freshest of meats and seafood. Such great food and service are becoming rare in the capital and I will sure to be back! I thoroughly and highly recommend visiting this unique restaurant.