The Biscayan chef Eneko Atxa has just launched a new venture blending traditional and avant-garde Basque cuisine in an iconic establishment in the Alcántara district of Lisbon. In an interview with FaceFoodMag, he tells us about his new restaurant, Eneko Lisboa, in the capital city on the banks of the Tagus, at the iconic, old Alcántara café located in the neighbourhood of the same name.
Eneko Atxa is a young, rather shy, pleasant chap. He is softly spoken and has a certain delicacy in his expression. His attitude is extremely self-deprecating. Nevertheless, the chef of Amorebieta (Biscay) has developed a Midas touch in the kitchen, as his meteoric career demonstrates. In 2012, barely 7 years after opening his restaurant Azurmendi, he had already earned his third Michelin star. Five years later, “Teresita and Jesús Mari’s son” (as he is known in his home town) has succeeded in obtaining two more of these coveted stars at Eneko Larrabetzu and at Eneko Bilbao. He already has a presence in Tokyo and London and, from the end of September, he will also have a restaurant in Lisbon.
Eneko Lisboa, he tells us excitedly, is a personal venture of his. From the outset, he has been hooked on the city, its people, its culture and, of course, its cuisine. He adds that Portuguese diners have a genuine love of cooking and a particularly sensitive appreciation of good food. All this prompted him to make the leap to Spain’s neighbouring country, and to set up in its capital city—just as one of his mentors, Martín Berasategui, did a year ago with Fifty Seconds. This new restaurant is a twin-pronged venture in that it combines two projects in one. On the one hand, there is Eneko Lisboa, an intimate space for just 24 diners, with live cooking and very attentive service, based on his approach to work at Azurmendi. On the other hand, Basque is a much more informal eatery, based on Basque street food but with a contemporary twist.
The restaurants are located in an old café in the city—the Alcántara café which, according to Eneko, is a “place with soul, and a very special spirit.” In fact, when they moved in, the chef expressly requested that “nothing should be touched”.
When we express surprise and ask how he is not only able to manage so many projects simultaneously, but also to do it successfully at the age of only 42, he replies with his characteristic modesty that “it’s not a question of whether or not you have the time, but of the people you have around you.” And he adds, “that is what allows you to diversify.” The head of the team at Eneko Lisboa is Lucas, a chef who has worked for many, many years side by side with Eneko at Azurmendi. As Eneko Atxa himself puts it, “when the opportunity came to open a restaurant in Lisbon, who better to take on the project than someone who has worked with us for so many years?”.
One last question: how does he cope with the pressure of his success, and the fame it has brought? His response? “I never think about fame. I think you have to defend your reputation every day. When you get out of bed in the morning, you are stripped of all that you accomplished yesterday, and today you have to achieve it all over again; to the people who come to eat at your restaurant today, it doesn’t matter that you might have won a prize yesterday. What matters to them is that you feed them well today and that you make them happy. And there’s no better prize than that”.