guggenheim museum bilbao

A Day At The Guggenheim

I had a day to kill in Bilbao, Spain before my long journey to Nicaragua so I spent the afternoon at the Guggenheim Museum soaking up some art, culture and outstanding cuisine at the Guggenheim Bistro Bilbao.

A modern and contemporary art museum, the Guggenheim draws you into its creative flow before you’ve even stepped inside. The architecture of the building itself is incredible; designed by architect Frank Gehry, the ever-changing shimmer of the titanium plates armoring the outside of its abstract walls, stand out as a 3D cubism-like scultpure contrasted against the harsh lines of the surrounding city buildings. Guarded by Jeff Koon’s giant flower Puppy and Louise Bourgeois’s Maman the Spider, the building emanates artistic flow along the banks of the Nervion River.


Puppies, flowers and spiders

Before you get to the Guggenheim Bistro Bilbao, a walk around the entire building is a must. The giant flower Puppy at the entrance of the museum is sure to put a fat smile on your face! Something about an abundance of colourful flowers and a puppy on a mammoth scale will always put you in a good mood right? Built with an internal irrigation system, the West Highland Terrier breathes life into the city and they change its “coat” with the passing seasons – how cool and creative is that!?

Behind the building along the riverside sits a rather ominous giant spider, appropriately named “Maman”, meaning mother. 30 ft in height – (man that was not good for my arachnophobia!) this giant bronze spider, dutifully protecting her precious eggs encaged in her stainless steel body, represents the artist’s own mother and resonates the vulnerability of childhood fears. Bourgeois’ work is featured more in the Guggenheim, exhibiting a deeply emotional and rather dark representation of her feminist views and troubled past.

flower puppy - guggenheim bistro bilbao maman the spidergraffiti

A feast for the senses awaits!

The museum is open from 10 am till 8pm, but it gets super busy in the morning so I recommend going in the afternoon. Take a walk around the building first, head up to the Michelin starred Guggenheim Bistro Bilbao for lunch at 1pm ( I will go into detail on that in a minute – so worth it!). Then walk it off with a tour of the museum – the queues will be a lot shorter! You will need about two hours to explore the whole museum. Admission costs 16 Euros for adults and this also includes an audio guide which is great if you don’t want to spend all your time reading the descriptions for every piece as the artistic jargon can bring on a bit of a headache after a while!

You are then free to explore as you wish through the Guggenheim (however taking photographs is mostly prohibited). Discover collections from the likes of Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer, Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg and of course Louise Bourgeios. Not to mention other well known pieces from revolutionary artistic movements such as cubism, surrealism, expressionism and more. Make sure you take a meander through Richard Serra’s installation, “The Matter of Time”. A collection of 8 huge sculptures made of weathering steel (so don’t touch). The artist takes you on a journey of space in motion created by a maze of towering ellipses and spirals – truly awesome!

The Guggenheim Bistro Bilbao

OK – now we get to the best part – the Guggenheim Bistro Bilbao. No offense to the artists but being a chef this is where MY creativity lies – the food!

Basque Country offers many Michelin starred restaurants, varying in level and pricing. The Guggenheim has a little cafeteria-style restaurant where you can get refreshments and some small Spanish style snacks. But what you really wanna do is check out The Guggenheim Bistro Bilbao. It holds one Michelin star and they offer a couple of set menus for an unbelievably good price. For 29.50 Euros you can get a 3 course meal, homemade bread, olives, a bottle of water and a bottle of wine – WHAT!? AND they throw in some petit four treats at the end! They have a couple of other menu options at different prices too. I went for the 3 course menu so I could get a good variety and of course I was stoked on the bottle of wine! It was an interesting menu and hard to decide but I went for these guys:


Chicken Eggs at low temperature, Cod, Onion, and Peppers

I was really intrigued by the low temp eggs and I’ve gotta say I was not disappointed. They were definitely cooked but their texture was so soft and silky. They fell apart as soon as you touched them, as if not coagulated – god knows how they got them on the plate! The balance of the meal was perfect; the combination of the soft fragrant veg and subtle hint of the cod coming through. Every now and then the punch of a salt crystal. Served with the delicate eggs on top and the thinnest roasted garlic crouton I’ve ever seen which just melts on your tongue like a snowflake. Really delicious.

I have to add here that generally the service was really good and quick (at times a bit too quick – clearing the plate while I was still chewing my last bite of my main). They brought fresh cutlery immediately and all that – BUT…they didn’t top up my wine or water once throughout the meal. So I was left to feel like a lone “alchi” sitting in the corner pouring herself glass after glass! This might sound a bit picky but they are rated with one Michelin star and restaurants have to work really hard to earn this award, so I feel I can nit pick.

Main Course:

Lacquered Pork Cheeks with Roasted Quinoa and Wild Asparagus

I really wanted the Roast Lobster, Leek and Turnip Ragout with Ginger and Basil (8.50 Euros supplement), but it wasn’t available unfortunately. So I went for the pork cheeks instead. I was highly recommended the Scallops with Pea Sauce, Crumbled Potato and Field Peas (6,50 Euros supplement) but I’d had scallops a few days before so declined that.

The Pork was extremely tender and tasty but “lacquered” as they so eloquently put it with something that kind of resembled Bisto gravy (something that my little brother would call school sauce) – I’m sure it wasn’t but that’s just what came to mind unfortunately. The quinoa was delicious, flavoured with a Pecorino or something similar and delicately sweet roasted cherry tomato quarters. The wild asparagus added a really nice crunch to round off the meal.

Cue another glass of wine. I was getting nice and tiddled by this point – I needed the inspiration for my long trek around the museum right?!


Pan-Fried Caramelised French Toast with Ice-Cream

Now this…oh my god THIS was no ordinary French toast. Again, a recommendation from mum (and sometimes mums really do know best) it was a sensation! Thickly cut, the softest bread you’ve ever come across – almost doughtnut-like, or was it maybe brioche? Soaked with a thin warm custard sauce, like a Crème Anglais, so no raw egg taste through the middle. It was literally oozing with the stuff but still light and melt-in-your-mouth. Brûléed on the top for a sweet caramel crunch and one side crusted with some kind of almond praline. Served with a perfect quenelle of banana ice-cream, creamy in texture and delicate flavour – not too sweet.

All of these sensations combined; hot and cold, silky soft bread and crunchy nutty crust, not to mention the balance of flavours, were just heaven. Like two couples where opposites attract, brought together in a perfect friendship where no personality overpowers the other. This will certainly send you into a food coma of the best kind. Had I had a hammock nearby I would have happily drifted off into La-La Land, where the French toast was my pillow and I could inhale it all afternoon long. Bliss.

Craving French Toast? Try my recipe here for the perfect brunch!

Croissant Pain Perdu, Chili Maple Bacon and Clementine Mascarpone

Still not quite finished…

I was offered coffee after my dessert but still had some wine to plough through so I kindly declined. Just when I thought I couldn’t consume anything more, a mystical little wooden box was brought to the table which I actually mistook for the bill. Upon opening it I discovered more lovely little treasures – well of course I simply HAD to try them. Have I mentioned before that I have no self control when it comes to food? A beautiful selection of Petit Fours that I couldn’t resist. Hazelnut Friands, the darkest, richest chocolate brownie cookies you’ve ever had – slightly salty – beautiful, and something that I think was a raspberry sherbet marshmallow? Correct me if I’m wrong here Bistro chefs! So soft and fluffy, no ugly marshmallow skin, they just melted away on your tongue like a distant summer’s dream.

After the Guggenheim Bistro Bilbao

So by now I had literally died of a food overdose and gone to heaven – and I still had the museum to explore! A good way to walk it all off…By then it was nearly 3pm and the queues were short so it was quick to get in. All in all it was a perfect afternoon. Thank you, Guggenheim!

Happy exploring and Bon Appetite!

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