‘It’s all in the hips,’ a Basque chef once told me, as he stood over a hot stove shaking a clay pot for the best part of an hour. It was a lesson in the art of making bacalão al pil pil – salt cod cooked in garlic and olive oil that, when shaken, emulsifies with the fishy juices. It can be delicious when done well, though it’s rarely attractive, with its unfortunate resemblance to green slime.
At Brasero Amatxu, a smart Basque spot in Jardins, the limberness of the chef’s hips will have to remain a mystery, since as we found, the restaurant’s contemporary take on the dish (R$65) requires no such stunts. Our perfectly (de)salted fish came grilled, with the interesting addition of brioche crumbs with olives, a creamy egg yolk, and the delicate sauce hidden away in a jug.
The dishes here are adapted from the restaurant’s sister eatery near San Sebastián. You can opt for full main courses or just pintxos (Basque tapas). We tried the croquetas (R$9), which were tasty, though the bechamel not thick enough. Navigating your way through the eclectic not to mention enormous drinks menu can be daunting, and you may be disappointed to find only one Spanish beer (Estrella Galicia) in amongst the martinis, caipirinhas and the Irish coffee.
Head past the bar to sit in the verdant, glass-ceilinged space, which has the slight air of a museum café – albeit one with a very slick architect. Plants tickled our ears as we sat watching São Paulo by night in the middle of an almighty storm, thrilled by the lightning and dreaming of equally stormy, albeit less spectacular, rainy days in Bilbao.