Inaki Bolumburu is deeply connected to his family roots in the Basque region of North Eastern Spain, located near the foothills of the Pyrenees mountain range. This lush, green region is home to some of the finest ingredients in the world and is famous for grilled meats (especially lamb), sheep’s cheese, and fish (especially cod), often presented in dishes served with local tomatoes and sweet peppers drizzled in locally produced olive oil.
So it’s no surprise that the Basque Country produces some of the finest chef’s in the world and has been awarded a grand total of 34 Michelin stars to 24 restaurants spread across its territory, including the iconic Asador Etxebarri, the spiritual home of famous Basque master chef Victor Arguinzoniz.
This Basque Nomad chef, who recently graced the Octo Tapas Restobar kitchen on 75 Ho Tung Mau first fell in love with cooking and perfecting family recipes at home with his mum before heading to hospitality colleague at the tender age of 15. Inaki grabbed his first break in the Michelin-starred kitchens of Mugaritz before advancing through a number of iconic European kitchens, including Nomu in Copenhagen, The World’s Best Restaurant 2022.
Surely, Inaki will open his own dream restaurant someday, but he’s currently on a mission to travel the world as a nomad chef sharing his passion, learning new cultures, and challenging himself to maximize his potential. His adventures recently included a three-month residence at the innovative Fulgurances Laundromat in New York, and he actually arrived in Saigon via Singapore and plans to visit Bangkok and Phnom Penh next.
Octo Tapas and Restobar, helmed by Head Chef Le Van Trieu, was recently awarded the official “Restaurants from Spain” certification in Vietnam and was the perfect stage to host the talented Nomad Chef, who would also cook alongside his friend and well-known Saigon resident Kike Gallardo who is originally from Madrid and brought his culinary passion to Vietnam this year.
Inaki curated a delicious seven-course menu starting with a flavor bomb of a potato croquette, followed by oysters, then a crab salad, a monkfish dish into a memorable pig’s ear terrine to be rounded off with two nutty and fruit-forward desserts.
Inaki always serves his mussel croquette as the first dish at all of his pop-up events, igniting an explosion of flavors from this little taste bomb to fire up his guest’s taste buds. He’ll tweak the recipe depending on the local ingredients, and this time he used the fish sauce from Phu Quoc to deliver a dash of familiarity with Saigon’s gastronomes.
However, it was his oysters drizzled in olive escabeche that had most of the diners first reaching for their iPhones. An “escabeche” is a method of finishing or preserving certain ingredients, using a juice or salty brine that intensifies natural flavors. This lovely liquid's unique taste profile resulted from a magical medley of onion, carrot, garlic, black pepper, bay leaf, white wine, cider vinegar, olive oil, parsley, chives, and thyme.
Vietnam is, of course, home to some of the most plentiful, diverse, and delicious seafood in the world, and The Daily is a fresh, new supplier to this business carving out a stellar reputation for transparency with slick and quick service that ensures that their seafood arrives to the kitchen in the best possible condition. The Daily supplied the fresh cuttlefish from Kien Giang, Ca Mau Mud Crabs, and the Green Mussels and Blood cockles from Ca Mau that formed the cornerstone of Inaki’s next two dishes.
The pig’s ear came next, which seemed to somewhat divide opinion between Vietnamese diners who are familiar with this dish compared to the international guests who approached it almost like pork crackling.
Unanimous applause followed for the last two courses, desserts, which concluded Inaki’s menu. A cheesecake, mixing several types of cheese with peaches infused with strawberry and aromatic herbs atop the fluffy brioche offered a beautiful balance of savory versus sweetness and provided a perfect segway into the pots of goodness that rounded off the menu.
His lemon curd with honey gel and a hazelnut espuma was served with a “break glass” caramelized cover beneath, which consisted of a medley of rich, layered citric sweetness with nice nutty notes.
An ongoing theme of this series at Vietcetera is the 2+2=6 notion whereby food and drink are thoughtfully matched actually to enhance the taste profile of each other. Mr. Julien Thabault, the owner of Octo Tapas and Restobar curated a special card of notable wines sourced from regions close to Inaki’s beloved Basque country. Julien’s list was dominated by the northern Spanish regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, world famous for their red wines and predominantly produced from a local Spanish grape called Tempranillo.
Julien recommended a wine produced in 2019 from Bela Winery in the esteemed Ribera del Duero region (located around 200km Northwest of Madrid). The blend of grapes for this wine included merlot and cabernet sauvignon with the tempranillo, which delivered a soft, fruity, and smooth flavor profile offering a versatility that ensured it, was suitable as a match for the flavor profiles of all of Inaki’s seven different courses. A price of 1,300,000 VND plus taxes ($55) represented excellent value for money for the wine, and the food was also very fairly priced at 1,590,000 VND plus taxes ($68).
I spoke to Inaki at the end of what he described as “an amazing evening.” He said, “this is the first time I have cooked here in Vietnam, and Julien and the team at Octo were so welcoming to me.”
Inaki is not the first and won’t be the last visitor to feel the energy and the warmth of our hospitality here in Vietnam, which he described as a “super good vibe where I could feel the connection and relationship amongst the guests and the whole team at Octo.”
There is a phrase that goes something like “it takes one to know one,” and so who better to sum up the impact of Chef Inaki’s double shift than Kike Gallardo himself.
“Working alongside other chefs is the best way to discover their philosophy and feel their passion,” said Kike. “Inaki is another madman chasing his dreams with great commitment and with such an original concept. I was really happy to have been able to help support this project at Octo.”
Stay tuned for the next project of Julien and Kike named CAPOS, which will open this year in Hanoi. CAPOS looks all set to be an exciting, new Spanish restaurant and a space where Kike promises that more gastronomic initiatives like this will take place.