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Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The New Zeruko, San Sebastian.

I love the buzz of a busy pintxos bar in San Sebastian but Saturday night can be a bit too manic especially the likes of La Cuchara de San Telmo. We leave Borda Berri at 8.30pm and people were already spilling out onto the street. Luckily we'd booked a table at the brand new Zeruko which is a just few doors down from the old branch, still open on Calle Pescaderia in the old town. 
 I've always been a fan of the old Zeruko which is a bit more modern in it's approach but the food to my mind is more often than not successful. 'La Hoguera' is a must, smoked cod, brought to you on its own little grill. We sampled that again the previous evening.
The new Zeruko (just open this July) has a brand new, totally different menu and it's all sit down tables and waiter service. It has a more relaxed, modern vibe. The prices remain very keen. Pintxos are around the €5 mark and friends were drinking bottles of red for €10, a very drinkable rioja I think. We were enjoying delicious cold Keller beer.
We knew nothing about the food before we came here but it was fun, and inexpensive so I keep ordering, I'm on a roll. 
We all enjoy the Stone Cooked Tuna. (€7.50) You get it raw and lightly season and cook it on hot stones. A bit of a gimmick true but the tuna is good quality and it's all good fun, especially in a group of people. 
Also the fish and chips (€5) in a little basket. Better than any fish and chips I've had in the UK, beautiful fish (a different one each day I can't remember what it was, possible seabass?) and light batter with perfect chips. I also enjoy the kokotxa surf and turf cheeks (€4.50) and the razor clam in it's own citrus and chicken broth (€5.90). You have to fish the razor clams from a jar. There's also a Lamb & Potato and Tabbouleh (€6) and our favourite, Pig's Snout and Foie Gras (€5 see pic below). This is full of jellied fat and flavour almost too rich but so good.
The new Zeruko is a great success. Service was actually very good, the food is a little gimmicky but underneath all that it's actually very good especially for the price. Besides, I enjoy the kooky presentation, it's like being at a Michelin star restaurant for a fraction of the price. We all really enjoyed it and will definitely return on our next trip to Donostia.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Etxebarri, Axpe Valley, Spain.

We make the return journey to Etxebarri on our recent trip to The Basque Country. All the food is simple and unadorned here, it's all about simplicity and quality of the finest product cooked on the famous charcoal grill. Highlights were the sensational beef chop (photo below), the Prawns from Palamós (head sucking is an absolute must, more squeamish friends let me such their heads, that's what friends are for right?). The tomato and tuna dish was also memorable. The tomatoes were like the memory of tomatoes from childhood, they were magical.
We had the taster menu (€176) as follows* on the terrace.
Anchovy, salted.
Chorizo. This is home made of course.
Butter goats milk.
Buffalo fresh cheese.
Tomato spring onion, watercress & belly white tuna.
Pod razor & green pepper emulsion.
Prawns of Palamós.
 Sea cucumber & green beans.
Baby squid & its Ink and caramelized onion.
Cod kokotxa.
King bolete & aubergine.
Red mullet & peas and carrots.
Beef chop.
Milk Ice Cream, beetroot juice. Probably my favourite dessert ever. Perfect.
Pumpkin & Cherry.
There's a reason serious food lovers continue to make the pilgrimage here. Of this type of product restaurant, Etxebarri is unsurpassed.
See my earlier review here.
* We also ordered the oysters as an extra course. highly recommended.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

10 Best Meals of 2017.

We tried to be more selective this year in choosing the very best for our budget but inevitably there will be some favourites. Here are our favourite ten.
Mina. Bilbao, Spain.
A sensational taster menu with electrifying food.Even better than our last visit.
Star Dish: Lobster & Foie.
Martín Berasategui. Lasarte-Oria, Spain.
In my top three meals of all time, this was a lesson in how the very best service and food come together in the finest way possible. Excellent in every way, a real three star experience. Star Dish: Red Shrimp Royale and dill with Venta del Barón oil.

Bar FM, Granada, Spain.
A temple to some of the finest seafood I've ever eaten. We were blown away and can't wait to return next year.
Star Dish: Sashimi de Ventesca. (Tuna Belly).
Los Marinos José, Fuengirola, Spain.
Another brilliant example of the simple Spanish product restaurant at its best another one we intend to return to to eat more. One of the best seafood restaurants in Spain in my opinion.
Star Dish: Carabineros. 
Alameda, Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, Spain.
We had an excellent Basque taster menu at this one star in May.
Star Dish: Butakaku (Pork Belly).
Zazpi, San Sebastian, Spain.
One of the most enjoyable lunches of the year and so cheap too for food this good. Our current favourite among many great pintxo bars in this town.
Star Dish: Txuleta Pintxo.
A Wong, London.
We made our own taster selection with most of the Dim Sum menu (at lunchtime). It was a wonderful and different experience, I loved everything I ate here.

Moor Hall, Ormskirk, UK.   
A superb birthday meal as you'd expect from Chef Mark Birchall. The service too really excelled. It inevitably gained a Michelin Star and I expect more to come too.
Star Dish: Retired Holstein, barbecued celeriac, mustard and shallot.
Northcote, Lancashire, UK.
We had an absolutely superb and faultless lunch at Northcote will one of the best in the North West.
Star Dish: Herdwick Lamb, Sour Onions, Nasturtium, Whey Reduction.
Kaia Kaipe, Getaria, Spain.
Simple and excllent turbot and seafood at this Basque traditional restaurant.
Star Dish: Turbot.


Saturday, 18 November 2017

San Sebastián Pintxos Bar Crawl Part 2.

This is a companion piece to my San Sebastián Pintxos Bar Crawl post from our last trip back in May. We return in October for a last minute trip, meeting up with friends who've not been here before. I am determined to show them as many pintxos bars as we can handle and some new ones (for us) too. We drive from Bilbao airport to San Sebastián, not always the easiest of cities to drive in, with an impossible tangle of one way streets. Finally rid of the car, we walk to our cheaper Pension Irune (only €60) in the narrow streets of the old town, past bronzed surfers coming off the beach as the sun sets on a clear blue sky. We're on our own on the first night, so we head off to Casa Urola which is about a minute away from our pension. We're here for the pintxos bar downstairs not the Michelin star restaurant upstairs (which looks good though). We order taco chuleta (photo below) foie, scallop ajo blanco and truffled egg ravioli. We enjoyed it so much we return with our friends and eat it all again over the next few days. 
A little further down the same road Mendaur Berria didn't look too promising early on in the evening. With a giant TV showing football and few people in, we decided to give it a go anyway. I'm so glad we did. The food is very good. We have sea urchin, a superb truffled rice & foie (pictured below), hake, 'falso risotto' and crab. Again we return here and eat pretty much the same when our friends arrive.
A few drinks into the night, we wander into Beti Jai Berria as it's there. It's a small modern bar with a few bar top pintxos which we sample a few of although I can't for the life of me remember what they were as we're pissed and off piste now, the night disappears down the rabbit hole.
The following day with our friends, we head for a favourite La Cuchara de San Telmo but as it's temporarily shut for a refurb we instead go to sister bar Borda Berri. 
The pintxos here are excellent as always, we sample the carrilleras (beef cheeks), tako de atun rojo (tuna) and a heavenly risotto (pictured below). 
Note, we have a dog with us too (Rufus pictured above) and none of the bars here batted an eyelid to letting him in including Borda Berri. He got a taste for foie dipped bread.
As I said in the last guide, the best thing really is to have a rough idea of where you're going but then the joy is always to leave that behind after the drinks start flowing and you start to wander around aimlessly. In our case, we often head for the corner for drinks around Atari, A Fuego Negro and Sirimi. We finish the night off with some cream cheese ice cream at Atari and a cocktail or two over looking the church outside Sirimi.

Heading over to the Gros area the following evening, we stop off again at Kata 4 for oysters and black squid croquetas. We also enjoy Bar Bergara again, especially their beautiful array of pastry based pintxos, Txalupa; mushrooms & prawns,  Udaberri; courgette & crayfish tart and the anchovy tortilla.
A new one for us this time is Gure Txoko which is buzzing on Friday evening, with a younger crowd maybe. The food is all good yet again, we sample the bao crab roll and various croquetas all superior to the standard hit and miss affairs you get in most Spanish bars.
The following lunchtime, Zazpi was a revelation. In the shopping area near to Ibai, we all agreed this was our absolute favourite of the weekend. We stood outside eating, drinking and laughing all afternoon. Is there a better way of spending the day? Starting off with 3 or 4 dishes, inevitably we had to reorder they were so good; txuleta pintxo (very good), crab ravioli, "green rice", oxtail ravioli, bacalao, foie, truffle egg and ham, cod, spider crab and turbot. The staff were notably friendly here too.
After a few hours I was expecting a large bill but it was only €67 between four of us. Remarkable value for such lovely food.
That evening we pop into Ganbara as it's just a few doors down from our pension. It was just opening, so we sample some of the pintxos from the attractive bar top display. They are very good although not cheap. We had some lovely mushroom tarts straight from the oven.
On the road that leads down to the harbour, there's a new place called BareBare  
It's a large modern bar with an attractive bartop display, jamón hanging and meat maturing in cold storage displays. I seem to recall a large fish tank of lobsters too. We have a few bits from the bartop and some squid in black ink and rice.
Saturday night is often madly busy of course, so we had booked in at Zeruko.
I had booked via twitter DM and there seemed to be a bit of confusion with our booking but we settled at the back on a table for six (we've no idea if this is actually our table or not). They've taken a bit of a step back from the mad creations of a few years ago and it's better for it. We have "La hoguera" again (smoked cod on it's own little grill), kokotxa (cod cheeks) langostinos and some beautiful scallops. 
We head back to A Fuego Negro for more drinks and into the night...
We're already planning our next trip.