Monday, 18 May 2015

Mina, Bilbao, Spain.

Mina is exactly my favourite sort of restaurant. It's in Spain for a start which helps. It's contemporary, small, local and friendly. The food here is relatively simple yet still innovative. Most importantly, it's just a real and absolute joy to eat here. It's not really on the tourist trail yet, in the same way that the big three starred restaurants are but the food is equally as impressive, to me anyway. It has one Michelin star right now but it deserves another at the very least. Mina is very reasonable too, with a 7 course taster menu setting us back at just €69. I can guarantee that no restaurant in Manchester can hold a candle to the food they're producing here right now and yet they're selling it at such reasonable prices. £50 is more or less the price of dinner at an average mid range Italian chain restaurant in our city. This is exactly why we come to Spain. The quality of food and value for money is incomparable.
I'd recommended it to more than one group of friends who were in Bilbao even before we'd gone ourselves. One pal who has never been to a Michelin star restaurant before, said that he understands what 'it's all about now' and why we do what we do; travel and visit places like this just for lunch. On this grey Saturday morning, we make our way across the river and past the grand ornate food market opposite. Chef Álvaro Garrido visits here every morning before deciding what he'd like to cook that day. Of course we're eagerly early, (all the chefs are eating their lunch and look on our arrival with some surprise). So we retreat to sit outside a local grungey but friendly neighbourhood bar for some cold drinks before heading back at 2pm for a most memorable lunch. You enter up the stairs to an elegant, modern, light dining room with windows along one wall, looking out over the river. It's empty when we arrive but totally full (of locals) within the hour.
We begin with a light taste of Crunchy cod skin. Something like this sets the scene and gives you a feeling you're on for a good one.
Panna cotta of black garlic.
 I love everything that is put in front of me here but this Mussels in lemon grass and coconut soup and spice tomato sticks in the memory, such vivid flavours.
Oyster Gillardeau, gin and citric. 
Cod and grapefruit soufflé. Quite acidic with the grapefruit, overly so for some of our party. I love the way the light, fluffy soufflé melts on your tongue.
Season asparagus served with 'bearnaise' sauce and blood orange. 
More wine?
Norway lobster and fennel.
 The partridge ravioli. Even Mrs B with her slight aversion to partridge loved this one. The flavours are strong and intense but never unbalanced or overly salty.
Hake from the Cantabric Sea, roasted and served with seasonal vegetables.
Grilled sirloin steak served with balsamic pumpkin.
The Sea". Crème brulee, pear and frozen Amaretto.  All the desserts are extremely accomplished.
Not only is the food a real pleasure to eat, the service is actually the best we encounter on this trip to The Basque country and the taster menu is well paced too. Yes we all loved Mina. I'd strongly suggest a cheap flight to Bilbao and a visit there yourself, we couldn't recommend it highly enough, it's one of our best meals of 2015.
Larger photos here.  

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Tattu, Manchester

I rarely go to opening nights, they're just not for me but I was tempted to visit Tattu last week as I thought it'd be a good place to photograph; it was. The glamorous interior is very well realised and has clearly been done at some expense. Here's a sneak preview of what's on offer.
Chicken & Truffle Shumai. Fresh shaved truffle & truffle soya.

Beef & Foie Gras Gyoza. Teriyaki & soya beans.
Black Angus Fillet. Shitake, asparagus & caramel soy.
Saffron Miso Black Cod. Razor clams, lap cheong, sea spray & sweet jelly wine.
Cherry Blossom. Chocolate Miso & cherry.
If you'd like to commission me for photography please email
See the photos larger here
Tattu on Urbanspoon

Monday, 11 May 2015

Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Achondo, Spain.

Going to Asador Etxebarri is all about the journey. Travelling down narrow winding roads in our hire car from Bilbao on the road to San Sebastián and though verdant grassy mountainous countryside. It's also about a wider culinary quest for the finest food to be found in this fantastic country. A journey that we started seriously over a decade ago in Cala Montjoi near Roses and now leads us here.
It's been a long time coming. Of course I knew everything about it already, how chef Victor Arguinzoniz built his own bespoke wood fired grill, utilizing the freshest local ingredients possible, an obsessive quest for simplicity and purity over open flames.
We arrive early onto a large open cobbled square. Kids are playing this Sunday morning and cyclists in lycra stop to get fresh water from the fountain at the church opposite. This and the restaurant appear to the main two buildings in the village, surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery and lush green fields. You can even hear the bells tinkling in the distance from the nearby goats.
We sensibly hold ourselves back from the impressive looking pintxos on the bar and sit in the sunshine with drinks (mine a fresh tasting tangy home made beer I'd guess).
At exactly 1 PM we go up to the restaurant but are offered the outside terrace area which is a perfect spot, with children's drawings of purple headed mountains as the dramatic backdrop.
We start with a simple smoky Bocadillo de chorizo, it's a given that the chorizo will be high quality but the bread is superb too and served generously throughout the meal. They're both home made in house.
Queso fresco de búfala, miel y avellanas.
Mantequilla de cabra. Wow, this goats cheese butter churned in the kitchen is something else, a denser texture and a strong pungent flavour.
Anchoa al salazón sobre tosta de pan. The freshest tasting anchovies without even the merest hint of over salting, something that in hindsight is constant through the meal.
Ostra y espinaca. I prefer my oysters naked and raw so this would be better pulling back from the grill and letting the wonderful product do the talking.
Gambas de Palamós. The famous prawns from Palamós in the Costa Brava, the best you can get in Spain if not the world. Tender, buttery and the freshest you could imagine, like they've just been swimming in the open sea. The very best thing of course is sucking all those lovely juices from the head (not for amateurs this one).
Pulpitos cebolla caramelizada y su tinta. These are soft and tender.
Revuelto de zizas. 
Guisantes. A simple and lovely dish with the freshest peas you can imagine.
Cabrilla y pimiento verde. 
Bacalao con su pil-pil.
Chuleta de vaca. Another signature dish, the famous Basque steak, probably the finest I've eaten. It has a different texture to the British beast, a fleshier fattier mouth feel and a crunchy salty skin. One of the differences is due to the age of the animal. In the UK, the slaughter takes place at around 30 months (when it's financially most viable) whereas here the cows and oxen are around 8 years old. The older meat is fattier (we all know that in ourselves) and more fat equals more flavour. It also helps that they have perfected the cooking method here too so you get the exact combination of fat, deep mature flavour and salt.
Helado de leche reducida con jugo de remolacha. A huge surprise to us were the desserts. Our friend Dr Dawn declared this the best pudding she's ever had. It'd be hard to disagree with this, they're so simple and yet so good.
The Flan de queso is superb too.

Mignardise et eclats de cacao.
Service is perfunctory, service with a smile doesn't seem to be the Basque way and this place is no different. Our friends who take the wine flight are explained the wine in one succinct word, 'dulce' (sweet) for the dessert wine for instance. But if anything this adds to the rural charm of the place.
The pilgrimage to Asador Etxebarri is a well trodden one for food travellers but it's one that's well worth it. Chef Victor Arguinzoniz has taken simplicity to beautiful and artistic levels. It's a move away in the opposite direction from the 'fancy' food of Michelin stars although ironically it achieved a star itself in 2010 and has rightfully kept it ever since. It's simple, traditional and pure with a real respect for the impeccable produce found in this wonderful part of the world.
If you take your food seriously, you have to eat here at least once in your life.

The Taster Menu cost us €125.
More photos here.

Basque and Galician beef is imported to the UK by