-Nerua is located in the innovative Guggenheim museum, carrying through some of its avant-garde sensibilities into its dining space.
– Executive Chef Josean Alija is a disciple of Ferran Adria and has earned his establishment one Michelin star.
-Nerua is an ancient Latin name for the Nervion River estuary where the restaurant and museum is located.
-The restaurant is situated beside Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time display on the banks of the Nervion river astuary. To enter, you must find the private restaurant parking lot underneath the bridge, where you buzz in, give them the reservation name and they will open up the gate.
-Inside, the space is a tabula rasa of sorts- a bit of a blank slate. Designed by Frank Gehry, the dining room features clean white calls, whimsical curvy chairs, cylindrical white pillars and simple white linens atop tables with plenty of room in between.
-A modest open kitchen allows diners to track the action and watch the chef plate at the large pass.
– What stood out most about the space are the unusual wave-details in the ceiling, the texture of which is exaggerated by sporadically spaced spotlights.
-When we arrived to our 1:30 PM reservation, we were a bit frazzled and 25 minutes late. Long story short- our rental car (an automatic) was unavailable when we went to pick it up, so we were left only with a manual to drive into the busy city. We had left super early from San Sebastian, anticipating a few wrong turns, but our GPS was really outdated and there were numerous blow-in-bag-and-pray moments. For example, at one point, the stupid GPS told us to go down this super tight, car-lined steep hill,which ended up being blocked off. #FML. That meant we had to back up – UP hill and we pretty much stalled for 20 minutes straight- moving about a half foot each time until we got back up. #Puke. Oh yah, then there was driving around the Guggenheim a million times trying to figure out how to get in (see my helpful note above). When we finally saw the entrance, we had to make a no-no U turn that put us face to face with a speeding subway car about 2 seconds away. You can imagine I needed a drink when I finally got inside. So- where was I going with all this.. oh yes, service.
-Well, when we finally arrived, the room was pretty much empty with the exception of one other large party of men. I gave the host my name and he rushed us to our seats- “come on!” he exclaimed. After too many near-death experiences, I was admittedly not that hungry so we didn’t feel like going with any of the tasting menus and instead decided to order and drink light. That may have annoyed our server friends because they pretty much ignored us the rest of the meal. I later found out that the table next to use was occupied by one of the most famous, well respected CEOs in all of Spain, so I guess we were significantly less important.
-While the entire meal wasn’t excessively long (about 1 hour 40 minutes), we purposefully didn’t order very much so we could get to the museum as quickly as possible, and yet, still I found there were crazy long waits in between dishes. For example, twice we sat with soiled dishes for a solid 5-10 minutes before they were removed (even though the wait staff walked by and observed many times). The worst account, however, was after we finished dessert and I immediately asked for the bill. It then took our server literally 15-20 additional minutes to bring it to us- going back and forth to the kitchen frequently to deliver bread and refill water to other tables. It turns out what we were likely waiting for were the petit fours they served at the end, but I would have happily forgone these for quicker service.
-An extensive wine list showcases a variety of Spanish vintages, as well as varieties from around the rest of the world.
-The pre-fixe menus each have the option to add a wine pairing (for 25, 35 and 50€, respectively, for 6,9, and 14 item meals.) You can also opt for a non-alcoholic pairing if you’re worried about falling asleep in the museum after too much wine. That definitely sounds like something that could easily happen to me.
-After our little brush with death, my partner could only stomach a housemade iced tea (which was deliciously lemony and mild, by the way). I on the other hand needed something a little stronger to kill the nerves so I went with a generously poured gin and tonic. Boozy- perhaps they could sense I needed a good hit.
–Chef Alija’s menu is of simple Spanish fare, featuring recognizable ingredients and recipes like fried anchovies, tomatoes and hake, but served with modern clean presentation.
-You can select to dine a la carte, a 6 item menu (65€), 9 item menu (89€), or14 item menu (130 €). A la carte options are divided into starters (14-33€), fish (25-35€), meat (26-35€) and dessert (10-11€).
Olive Bread (Complimentary)
Delicious first little bite of pillowy salty goodness.
Corn Bread (Complimentary)
Served fresh from the oven, the bread was so warm, the servers had to wear heat-resistant gloves just to serve it. This was unlike any other cornbread I’ve had in that it featured the sweet flavour of corn but without the dry chalky texture of cornmeal. The result was a wonderfully hearty crispy crust and a blessedly moist inner crumb. I admittedly ate 3 pieces throughout the meal.
Potatoes with Streaky Bacon (Complimentary)
Perfectly cooked sweet starchy potatoes paired with salty tissue-thin bacon and served in a warm, comforting broth. Heaven.
Tomatoes, Herbs, Capers (14€ – Split Portion)
A selection of sweet slightly smoky heirloom cherry tomatoes that literally exploded into sprightly juices to contrast the briny savoury broth.
Stewed Spinach, Almond Milk and Olive Oil (12€)
An unusual dish but tasty nonetheless. The sturdy and smooth greens were bathed in a bowl of what seemed to be curdled almond milk and oil. Simple, mildly flavoured and deeply comforting.
Asparagus, Avocado, Arugula and Green Wheat Extract (15€)
A simple dish of bright verdant flavours – the sweet asparagus, the buttery avocado, the peppery arugula and the mild bitterness of the green wheat dressing. Perfect amidst a sea of very rich meals.
Cow Tenderloin (26€ – Split Portion)
Red Beet Gnocchi and Juice of Peppers
Flawlessly fluffy sweet potato pillows that paired gorgeously with the delicate ripe pepper flavour and the tender rich beef. Something should be said for simple food done well, and here is how a few wholesome ingredients can be done very well.
Early Fig, Mint, Nut Mousse, Early Fig Tree Milk (11€- Split Portion)
The best part of the meal, by far. I loved the sweetness of the ripe fresh figs against the satiny ice cream and the ethereal mousse. Absolute heaven.
Tiramisu Macaron, Kefir, Citrus Doughnut
A nice selection of sweets, my favourite of course being the fluffy sweet doughnut, though I quite liked the pucker acidity of the kefir, as well.
-For the 3 starters, 1 main, 1 dessert, a gin and tonic and an iced tea, the bill came to 110€ ($150 CAD). While the food all tasted quite nice, I did feel it was a touch understated to justify the price- especially since there was only one alcoholic drink involved. I also found the room bland and the service a bit careless and distracted by the VIP next to us in the room.
– Alas, a good meal- just not one that I felt I could justify the price or time commitment for a lunch meal again.
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.