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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).
Zapzi, 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, Zapzi 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. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Mina Bilbao.

Some years ago our friends were telling us they were visiting Bilbao, "oh you must go and eat at Mina" we told them. They wisely took our advice and naturally loved it as we had expected. The thing was, our friend Mark had never really experienced 'fine dining' before. He now completely understood why we travel and spend lots of money on just a lunch. He really 'got it'. Mina I suppose was his gateway drug. In hindsight, Mina was a perfect choice. Since then our friends have been with us to the wonderful Bar FM in Granada and now we returned to Mina together, somewhat appropriately. 
If anything, it was actually better than last time. After some serious discussion, we all opt for the longer tasting menu. There was just too much good stuff to miss out on. The real draw here at Mina are the intense flavour bombs, this is what we come here for. The food is sensational with no apparent weaker dishes.
Oyster Gillardeau, gin and a citric touch.
Mussels in lemongrass, coconut soup and hot tomato. 
Spider Crab topped with passion fruit emulsion. 
Black Cheese, mushroom and crunchy chicken. 
Smoked Txitxarro, cauliflower and cider.
Aubergine confit with red tea served with white prawn. 

The purple onion from Zalla. 

Roasted scallop served with vegetal broth.
Smoked Bluefin Tuna belly pastrami served with herbs curry.

Bone marrow cake served with spiced potato crunch.

Charcoal grilled Txipiron with roasted bird broth and mushroom stew.

Lobster & Foie.


Tamarind, Perrins and toffee. 

Farmhouse milk, Ras al Hanout and persimmon.  

The flavours are clear and intense, like electricity on your tongue. As I was pontificating at the meal admittedly two bottles of wine down): in all honesty, it's a bit of a joke that Mina has just the one Michelin star. I've eaten in a couple of disappointing one stars this year that can't hold a candle to this restaurant. To my mind the food is on a par with anywhere in Spain and (along with Martín Berasategui) is my favorite meal of the year.

Postscript. 
When I came up with the idea of Nacho & Friends at Ibérica. (where we invited the best Spanish chefs to cook for us here in Manchester), chef Álvaro Garrido was the first person who I asked. He was keen to come but sadly this is unlikely to happen due to a change in personnel at Ibérica. It would have been amazing to have chef Álvaro cook for us here.
Previous review here.