Saturday, 14 May 2022

San Sebastián Pintxos Tour 2022.

 It was over the New Year 2019-2020 that we last visited the greatest place on earth for food, San Sebastián. Back then, we sedately celebrated the New Year with fireworks over the city hall and out to sea. This was supposed to be a great year! Little did we know. Over the long Covid period we had a trip cancelled so couldn't wait to finally return.



It's amazing to be back, La Concha beach as big and beautiful as ever. Everything looked the same on the surface but how about the Pintxos bars in the old town? Would all our favourites still be there? Most still were but some have sadly gone. Old favourite, Zeruko, has closed for good at both locations. I still remember our first trip to this bar and being blown away by the display, still the greatest bar top at any pintxos bar I've ever seen. A Fuego Negro has also permanently shut down. This was always a must visit at some point on a bar crawl, so sad to see this place shut too. Zazpi has changed venues and is a proper sit down restaurant which didn't appeal. It seems some of the charm of the old place has been lost by some accounts. 
However most other places were open and this occasion was probably my favourite of all our trips as we visited all our old favourites and discovered some new places and some that we'd somehow missed before.
One of our traditions is to always go to Borda Berri as a first stop and order their risotto. It seems a good start to begin our first session doing this but sadly it was closed (only temporarily I believe for holidays).

So instead we ordered Foie & Truffled Rice (€4,70) at Mendaur Berria plus some squid and 10 beers between  6 of us. A fine start to the weekend. (€62,80). Interestingly, this place is Number One on Tripadvisor if you hold any merit in that. I find it can be useful in quickly checking what a bar is especially good at.

Down a few doors to Casa Urola. Another absolute must visit. We always order the scallops here.
(€4,70) this time we also had some gorgeous Mushroom Tartlets. (€2,60), some more beer and wine to follow.Total Cost €36.


 

This is where it gets a bit hazy, maybe we went to La Cuchara de San Telmo at this point, which was surprisingly not insanely busy. I've seen this place when it's almost impossible to get in but we've been training for this for some years so we squeeze onto the last table outside. I forgot to order the Pig's Ear but we do manage some divine Foie Gras (€6). I send a quick message to Luke Unabomber who I know loves this place. Quite right, La Cuchara de San Telmo is another absolute must on a visit to the old town. Plus as it's sister to the closed Borda Berri it felt good to go here at least. Ordering more, we all enjoyed the Bacalau (€4) and a fine black squid ink risotto. We ended up spending about €60 here but again it was between six of us and who's counting? It had been too long.

For editing purposes I'll write it up as one long boozy lunch but it was actually several sessions. It's good to have a plan but you must be flexible to be able to break that route if somewhere is too busy or a bar not on your map looks inviting. It's all part of the fun. I wanted to visit all the old favourites, plus some bars I've hardly been to over the years. Txuleta is one of those places. I'm not sure why but it's never been on my must visit list, but it's as good as anywhere. We visited twice and loved it. We didn't even care that the young bartender was so moody with us especially just because we cheered when the cheese arrived. Why worry with food this good? The croquetas (€2 )are superb here as is the steak as you'd expect. They give you free chicken drumsticks here which are good and I recall a wonderful plate of scrambled eggs and wild mushrooms, so full of flavour.
Another one is
Txepetxa. I'm a real lover of anchovies so this is an obvious stopping point. Sat here with a beer and a pintxo, you start to wonder, how are they all this good though? If you're a fan of anchovies, try the fine new place in Bilbao Antxoa Taberna.

We always end up at Atari Gastroleku it seems. I doubt I've visited totally sober. It's always super busy, the beer is always good and no matter how crowded it seems, ordering never seems a problem. A round of French Toast and Cream Cheese Ice Cream finishes us off. 


Walking over to the Gros area. First stop is always Bar Bergara. Forever in my Top 5, I just love the little pastry dishes we get here. It's difficult not to order everything on the menu. The Udaberri (€3) is a must as is the Anchovy Tortilla. Amongst several (€3.50) other pintxos, our bill here comes to €85 for 6. Amazing value for food this good. We also try out Eguzki Bistro Bar another busy bar, we enjoy their croquettas.
We have some raciones at another favourite place over the years, Gure Txoko Taberna. The cod and the squid were both good although their veg in tempura wasn't the best, being a bit soggy. The owner though enjoys a glass of cava at the end of another long shift.
Back to the old town Goiz Argi is rightfully famous for their prawn skewers (€3.30 each ) but we also enjoyed a crab dish I think. 
People often mention Bar Nestor as one of the places on any pilgrimage here, it was finally time we did this place justice. We did, our first visit was for the amazing steak. The following day I queued up at 7pm for the most exquisite Tortilla whilst my friends and Mrs Bacon enjoyed drinks at a bar over the street. Of course it was worth it, probably the best tortilla and not just because I had to queue for it and wait an hour. So moist and gooey inside Nestor was never going to disappoint.  I think we all enjoyed their military super organised ordering system.
We also had some fresh seafood and oysters at Hemeretzi. Off piste, we just walked in at random. Of course the food was excellent, in a modern clean setting and waiter service.

We went to La Vina twice for cheesecake, always amazing and always a must do.


Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, so it was at Bar Sport one afternoon. We managed to get an early table the last one left outside and planned to have a few and leave for somewhere else. We didn't leave for several hours. On Saturday afternoon in Donostia, tables are hard to come by. Why leave? Beside the food was so bloody good, I especially remember the Crab Crep and squid stuffed with crab and mini steak frites. I don't think we've ever been here, partly put off by the name (I hate Sports Bars but it isn't one) and the fact that it always seemed impossible to get into. But it's so worth it. Chatting, drinking and eating the finest pintxos known to man. Could there be a better way of spending an afternoon?



Postscript. Where is good for Breakfast in San Sebastián? We like Argitan, an excellent café and bakery in a prime spot. Also The Loaf great coffee and bread in this minimalist café .They have a few branches in the city.



Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Baratxuri at Escape to Freight Island, Manchester.

Way back in May 2014 (I had to look it up on here) we were stood outside the shuttered doors of Levanter in Ramsbottom waiting for it to open for the first time. We were their first customers that day and were impressed with their authenticity from the start. As I started taking photographs professionally, Fiona and Joe were amongst my first clients, especially when Baratxuri opened. I think we were there on opening night, eating pintxos and documenting the occasion.
I like to think that as they have developed their restaurant business, I have developed my photography and we have worked together ever since. I've tried to repay their loyalty by always creating the best set of photos I possibly can for them.
I wasn't expecting a phone call from Fiona a few weeks ago as we're in the middle of a restaurant covid related shut down, only now are my clients opening up or considering doing so soon.
At that time Escape to Freight Island wasn't on my radar, I think it had been under wraps, and I'm no longer on social media so much, so I had no expectations and no real knowledge of what it was. I should have known that if Luke and Justin of Volta another of my regular clients The Refuge were involved, it was going to be a winner.
Fifteen years ago when I used to travel by train up to Yorkshire every day, I would park my car around these what were then run down dodgy back streets of Piccadilly near the station. Now this, the Mayfield Depot has been developed to the tune of £1.4 billion. It's just the beginning of this site I believe but it's a fantastic space and there's easily enough room for social distancing too. I've been twice now, once just working and a second time to shoot a little more and eat ourselves though the fine menu at Baratxuri.
I think Joe (pictured below) has been inspired by the open air grill cooking found in the Basque country Asadors.
Restaurants like Etxebarri in Atxondo and Kaia Kaipe and Elkano in Getaria have inspired our taste too. Give me this robust cooking over Michelin-style frippery any day, although I didn't always feel this way. Although seen as perhaps more traditional, I view this less is more simplicity as actually more modern than most over elaborate overly expensive, fussy high end restaurants, especially in this area.
Whole fish cooked over coals, BBQ'd meat, char-grilled veg, it's such enjoyable food to eat and to watch the theatre of it cooking on the flames and smoke.
I work with lots of chefs in my job. Their work ethic is a constant inspiration to me. It's quite rare to keep hold of the same chef over the years. Chef Rachel Stockley (pictured below) has been at Baratxuri from the beginning. Rachel's passion and skill with Spanish food makes Baratxuri a perfect team.
Whole Vegetable Skewers. Skewered whole red pepper, red onion and sweet potato, baked deep in the fire with chilli and garlic salsa. (£8).
Shell on BBQ king prawns. Whole king prawns, grilled over oak embers and served with bomba rice cooked with shrimp and clams. (£16).
Whole Grilled Sea Bass charred over the fire served with roasted new potatoes. (£16).
Rump Steak. Herefordshire 10oz rump steak with fire salt crust served with vine tomatoes and salsa verde. (£18).
Fire Roasted Pork. Pork Belly slow roasted over the wood fire with smoky new potatoes and chilli, garlic and sherry vinegar. (£9).
Some shots of the site.
We loved Baratxuri at Escape to Freight Island. It's an exciting space and the food is exactly the kind of food we like to eat.
To see the full set of photos in high resolution have a look at my photography website here.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020.

I like to describe what I do as a 'restaurant photographer'. It's a little bit different from a studio based food photographer although a large part of what I do is photographing food and drink and the people who make it. As a restaurant photographer, every job and shoot location is different with its own particular challenges. Light is the main one, it's taken me years to hone a lighting technique that I'm happy with, to replace an ideal beautiful natural light set up, as good lighting in restaurants can be in short supply, especially in the dark Winter months. I'm often working quickly to strict time limitations and around customers and in tight spaces. You often have to think quickly and adapt to the working environment.
I love what I do and I miss the 'buzz' of it now I don't have it, living in lock-down. We don't know when restaurants will reopen properly but they'll most likely be the last industry to get back to 'normal' again.
I'm entirely self taught as a photographer, I started this blog several years ago, just for something to do and gradually found that I was enjoying taking food photos more than I was as a freelance illustrator which I was originally trained in and did for many years.
Photography technique I developed by trial and error but there are times when you wonder is this the right thing to do? Is this any good? Self doubt drives me forward but too much is unhelpful.
I look on old work that I loved at the time in self critical horror, every new job I work extremely hard to try to make incremental improvements, you see the progression as your work improves.
Who knows if all my regular clients will reopen once all this ends? One certainly hopes so. I'm generally an optimist but hope is in short supply at the moment in the restaurant business which I consider myself a part of.
Which brings me to the Pink Lady® Food Photographer of the Year 2020.
After coming second in 2019 in my bloggers category (see photo below) in all honesty I wasn't sure if I was going to enter again this year. Why not leave it on a high?

 My work is improving I think all the time but you need a striking and memorable image like this one I believe to get through the strict judging process that's needed when so many amazing talented photographers enter from all over the world. I feel that you really need a unique photo-shoot scenario, but a lot of what I do isn't really going to lend itself to this as the work and food looks really good but this isn't enough, it needs to be a little different to get though to make it memorable and stand out. You're competing with the best in the world!
Then I got one of their final promotional emails, and a successful competitor from last year said she wasn't going to enter but did and ended up winning. I thought, 'what have I got to lose?' So I entered a few of my favourites shot this year, thinking I may just get through to the exhibition if I'm lucky. The odds were really against it I thought after last year. There's a part of me that thinks I just got lucky last time.
I was extremely surprised to get an email that a few of my photos had got through to the final stage and that this photo below would be in the exhibition. 
This photo was shot yet again in the kitchen in The Boathouse in Lichfield, quickly shooting chefs as they worked. I liked the simple composition of this one. Simple and beautiful is how I like to create images and it tells the story of the chef going through all the processes, laboriously making pasta properly.
Again as last year, to get though to the exhibition is an amazing achievement, especially as a self taught relative newcomer to photography. To be chosen amongst the best in the world is a real honour and huge confidence booster. It's a flag that says you're a part of the industry and deserve to be there.
We loved our trip to London last year to the exhibition and result at having come second. Full of high spirits, we taxied to Barrafina on Dean Street to do what we do best, eating copious amounts of tapas , the food was so good, I recall big red Carabinero Prawns and drinking my favourite Spanish beer,  cold foamy Estrella Galicia. It was a special night that we'll never forget.
This year would be different of course because of the Coronavirus. But it really worked virtually online with pop star and cheese-maker Alex James presenting the awards again. 
I had seen the amazing images in my category and thought I have absolutely no chance. I couldn't believe it when my name was announced as coming second again in the bloggers category for the second year running! I was honestly astonished. This is the best food photography awards in the whole world and I'd won a prize yet again.
This really means an awful lot to me, especially in these strange times when I don't know when I'll be shooting professionally again. 
See the awards in full below.

I received an award in 2018 for this photo of Turbot on the grill at Elkano Spain. This was my first taste of success at the awards. Seeing the print on the walls of the exhibition at The Mall Galleries was wonderful.
CHECK OUT MY AWARD WINNING PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO HERE BACONONTHEBEECH.
2ND PRIZE. PINK LADY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2020.
 
2ND PRIZE. PINK LADY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2019.
HIGHLY  COMMENDED. PINK LADY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2018.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Rothay Manor, Ambleside.

It seems pointless writing this review now, in the middle of the Corona Virus, where all restaurants here in the UK have closed but I have a lot of time on my hands now with my diary of all forthcoming photo-shoots inevitably and worryingly cleared but I know this is nothing in comparison to restaurateurs. In 48 hours alone, Rothay Manor owner Jamie Shail said the hotel had in the region of £30,000 worth of cancellations. Frightening and shocking times.
It seems a good time to recall happier days, first shooting for Rothay Manor (cards on the table, they're a client) then visiting as customers with our dogs in tow. Unique I think in Ambleside (which has no shortage of quality dining hotels) is that you can take your dogs into a separate elegant dining room.
Head chef Dan McGeorge is fairly new and makes a statement of intent along with a £1 million pound refurbishment. His food was awarded three AA Rosettes last year which is was well deserved. I'm sure the Michelin inspectors will be (back?) in when all this is over.
We sampled the 9 course longer Gourmet Taster menu (£90), the photos below are a mix of what we ate and what I photographed on two different occassions.
Hand Dived Orkney Scallop. Jerusalem Artichoke, Apple, Marigold.
Squab Pigeon. Faggot.  Turnip, Buckwheat, Green Strawberry.

Dover Sole with Salsify, Onionm Sea Beets and Lemon. (our replacement for the pigeon).

Turbot with clams, Alexander, Haricot Blanc and Elderflower.
Skrei Cod,  Cabbage, Kale Bacon.
Suckling Pig Loin Belly, Brawn, Onion, Chervil, Douglas Fir.
English Rose Sirloin of Veal with Walnut, Leek, Potato and Truffle.


The food is elegant and intricate and most importantly, the flavours are all there. We knew we were in for a good night when the first canapés were all excellent. (Cumbrian Venison Tartare pictured below).
I'd prefer a slightly faster pace on a long taster menu but I am fairly impatient.
The staff are delightful and especially kind to our two dogs, and we loved the stunning huge room we stayed in with its' own patio to the beautiful gardens.
When this is all over, hotels and restaurants are going to need our custom and I'm looking forward to the day that we embrace again the true joy of eating in restaurants like this one.

See the full shoot here.
To commission me for a photo shoot, email Bacononthebeech(at)gmail.com.