Restaurant Arroka Berri – Excelente!

Restaurant Arroka Berri (The Rocks), Hondarribia, Spain

We Hounds keep a bucket list of places we want to try for a meal & a beverage and Arroka Berri was quite near if not at the top of our list. We heard some good mumblings amongst our Basque mates and the restaurant became an ardent follower of Hound #2’s Instagram feed, but the final push or raison d’être was our Aussie mates David & Carolyn were visiting us.

The Crew; Arroka Berri Logo

We arrived promptly at 8:30PM as we English, Aussie & American folks tend to do, only to find the restaurant 100% empty, and our arrival seemed to cause a bit of front of house consternation & chaos. We retreated to an outside table for an aperitif of a chilled bottle of José Pariente Verdejo (perfecto) whilst we waited for the staff to receive us. At 9:15 or so, más o menos, we sat down at our table…

Vino of the Night – Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas Mencía…Estupendo!

First order of bidness – vino. The wine list @ Arroka Berri is not only very interesting but stunningly affordable. We opted for some bottles of red with a few glasses of white thrown in for Carolyn. I was most curious to pop a cork on the Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas – a wine from the Bierzo region which is famous for the use of the Mencia grape & a bottle of which I have resting on my wine table. This wine costs me (at the retail level) €13.50 euros but Arroka Berri lists it at €16 – deal to make ya squeal! A stunner – to borrow an old mate’s phrase, a velvet Elvis.

Platter of Ibérico Jamón…Yum!

Now to the business of starters – I & Hound #2 were going to order 2 of the Ibérico Jamón & Lomo platters but our waiter discouraged us down to just 1 platter – and he was right as we struggled to finish it! Layered on wee toast points & drizzled with the savoury tomato sauce, jamón heaven…

Foie & Arroz Bomba

David decided on a super rich dish — foie gras. The foie gras was a la plancha (grilled) and sat atop a mushroom based risotto…not missing any gigantic flavours here.

Cordero Asado (Roast Lamb)

On to the Mains…and mostly meaty ones at that. Carolyn decided on the Cordero Asado (Roast Suckling Lamb) with Baker’s Potatoes…the pictures here do not do these dishes justice but the flavours were astounding.

Carrilleras de Ternera (Beef Cheeks)

David ordered, sort of on my high praise for beef cheeks, the beef cheeks (Carrilleras de Ternera) and promptly devoured the plate….man can eat but then again he’s an Aussie.

Cochinillo de Segovia (Roast Suckling Pig)

For my plate of the night I opted for Cochinillo de Segovia, a beautifully roasted suckling pig with ever so crispy skin & perfectly cooked potatoes. This was finger lick’n good…we took the remains home to Hound #1 (Billie) for dessert.

Torrija Caramelizada

And speaking of dessert, the guys opted out but the girls opted in – Hound #2 decided quickly on the Tarta de Queso and Carolyn decided to try the Torrija Carmelizada. It was the Tarta de Queso that merited the multiple thumbs up. And the boys were not truly left out as we ended out our Arroka Berri meal with free glasses of Cava and Patxarán! Needless to say, we all wobbled home at around midnight – a typical happy Spanish repast…

Arroka Berri Tarta de Queso (Cheesecake) – Excelente!

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Fly Fishing Asturias & Cantabria…


We recently went on our second big adventure to lovely Asturias where Hounds #1 & #2 planned to hit the beaches while I thrashed a bit of Spanish water in search of trout. Asturias can be a tough fish, as many of the rivers close to the coast are also classified as highly prized salmon rivers for which the permits or licenses are obtained via a lottery system that you had to have put your name in the ‘hat’ the previous October. And, as they should, they heavily favour locals. And in some of my own research into Asturian rivers I found that for every 100 salmon beats you will typically find only 4 or 5 trout beats, often on wee tributaries (most likely dried up in mid to late summer) to the real deal like the Rivers Deva or Cares or Sella. And given I only had 2 or 3 days to fish, I made an executive decision to hire a guide to cut to the quick & catch some trouts rather than fritter my time away in search of elusive river access & fish. I chose Oscar at A Mosca Cantabria and he was estupendo! Hard to go wrong with Spain’s two time World Champion (been in to top 4 four times and placed in the top 10 every year for the past 10 years) and a guide with extensive and intimate knowledge of the rivers, their current conditions and, most importantly, where the trout are.

As we head into our final stretch of time here in Spain, I am trying to squeeze in as much fly fishing on Spanish rivers as is humanly possible. I am now the proud owner (sort of) of 6 fishing licenses as you need one for any or all of the Spanish provinces that you want to fish (if you are a Spanish native you can obtain a multi-province license which covers I think 7). I am thinking about writing an article on the Spanish fishing license debacle as it is as close to Hell on Earth as you can get…

Some of the Trouts Caught in the Deva via Czech/Spanish Nymphing and Dry Fly & Dropper

When Oscar picked me up for our first outing, he explained that given the VERY mild winter where there was virtually no snow, combined with an extremely dry Spring in Cantabria and Asturias, that many of the rivers he wanted to fish had seriously low water levels and were close to unfishable. So his plan for the day was to head to the pueblo of Potes near the Picos de Europa to fish a catch & release section of the River Deva. The Deva’s source is in the Picos de Europa where the high valley that the Deva originates from actually faces South. The South had had a decent amount of rain recently so the Deva’s level and flow were good.

We rigged up 2 rods – one for Czech/Spanish nymphing and another as a dry fly & nymph dropper. As most fly fishing folks know, to say the Czech/Spanish/French nymphing technique is productive is truly the definition of an understatement. We soon had a posse of trout to the net but as we cruised into the afternoon we made the decision to: (a) head a wee bit farther out of Potes, up river for a less urban/more wild setting and (b) to have lunch.

Río Deva, near Potes, Asturias: Top Left – Me; Guide Oscar & Mate Dario; High Mountain Flows of the Deva

After a couple of hours or so fishing the upper Deva stretch (with some success), Oscar decided we should head 45 minutes due East to the river Nansa where as early to mid evening rolled in, the Big Boys came out to feed. We arrived at the river bank shortly after 8PM and scanned the river for any activity. Not much to see but Oscar said it usually kicks off into high feeding gear just after 9PM.

And almost like a trout alarm clock, when the face of my watch registered 9:15 the sips & sucks began to happen. Big sucks and sips…clearly gulps. But the trout were clearly wary from fishing pressure – I had one decent take but my reaction time @ 9:30-9:45pm was a tad slow & the Spanish trout are VERY, VERY quick, so no Big Boy prize…

The next day the weather turned ugly as it was forecast to be a day of rain…and more rain. And for once in their sorry forecasting lives they were 100% right. Oscar said we would head for some other stretches of the river Nansa, a bit higher up where the river was narrower with pocket water & flat stretches to fish.

River Nansa on a VERY Wet Wednesday: Top Left – Best Trout of the Day; River Nanasa & more River Nansa (Almost looks like New Zealand) and final Fish Shot.

Despite the despicable weather conditions (I was soaked to the bone), we fished and we caught some trout…and my best fish of the trip – who rose from the dark, deep water depths to a perfectly cast & drifted (if I say so myself) CDC dry tied by Oscar. Sweet fish, great fly fishing & estupendo guide Oscar – muchas gracias!

A Walk On The Wild Side – The French Basque Country…

Village of Bera, País Vasco…

The weather forecast called for a near perfect Spring day recently, so we decided a Sunday tiki tour was in order to: (a) shake the cobwebs off Gertie, the 1975 Land Rover, and (b) to explore & visit a bit of the French Basque country since it’s just over the border.

We sorted out a circular road trip which had us headed for the Spanish village of Bera as our first stop of the day. We arrived earlier than planned, so the village was more than quiet, though it was quite obvious that things be shake’n in Bera as for a village its size it appeared that it could feed Napolean’s army with the number of dining establishments spotted.

We wandered up to the town church and puttered around the graveyard which was peppered with fascinating old, Basque tombstones. Then a wander down a crooked laneway for a wee stroll & then a return via a path along the village river. The water looked sweet & we quickly spotted numbers of trout holding their feeding positions…one looked to run to more than 1 pound which is a decent size for these parts. Hummmmm????

We decided it was time to move on if we were to make our lunch date in St. Jean de Luz & be able to pay a visit to 2 or 3 other French Basque towns. As we left town though, headed for France, we were a tad disappointed that we had not wandered farther along as Bera has a decently sized Old Town section where they were hosting an agricultural machinery fair…damn!

Crossed to the French Side – Cute As Village of Sare…

From Bera you climb up & over the foothills of the Pyrenees and descend down into the first Basque Country village of Sare. You have or hate to admit it sometimes, but the French truly do have a grand sense of style and that was on display in spades in Sare. Tidy as, almost movie set perfect & clean as a whistle…we tested one of the local cafes with a café au lait & it passed more than a muster. A bit of souvenir shopping was completed, then a good zig zag wander round the village lanes & back to Gertie the Land Rover.

We literally made a pit stop in Ascain, it was nice but did not seem to hold a candle to Sare and there appeared not to be a soul on the streets. We made a pause for a bit of refreshment (local brewed beers), in some sun facing deck chairs before making the decision to move on to our lunch destination…

Lunch on the French Basque Coast @ St. Jean de Luz…

Hound #2 had read somewhere, about some cafe or bar that was someplace on the beach, somewhere near or close to St. Jean de Luz – I know, not exactly the directions you can put into Google & achieve success. But lo & behold we managed to find not 1, but 2 bars/bistros on the beach & opted for La Guinguette d’Erromardie. It just had the too cool for school look, with lots of hip folks taking in the sun & beach vibe and clearly tasty food & drink.

Yum Food @ La Guinguette d’Erromardie – Top Left: Caesar Salad; Grilled Fresh Sardines, Baked Potato & Salad; Coastal View with 2 Hounds; Drinks & Flowers Beachside…

The Daily Special was all Hound #2 had to see – grilled sardines with a baked potato & salad – choice made & she was happy as Larry (so was Billie). I thought I’d be healthy & have the Caesar Salad & get my dose of greens, but was disappointed to see the chicken in my Caesar came deep fried, not simply grilled. No serious complaints – all very tasty & washed down with some red vino & chilled cerveza & sweet, sweet staff. This place must rock @ night on the summer weekends.

Top: The Company Car; Beach View Towards St. Jean de Luz; Sunday Buzz…

This type of day needs, needs to be repeated before we depart for the UK, then New Zealand…so close & so interesting…and they have trout!!!!

Casa Manolo….The House of Goat

Restaurante Casa Manolo in the Barrio of Amute, Hondarribia

We have made a bucket list of places we want to eat at in Hondarribia & surrounds before we depart in August to work our way back to our home in New Zealand. Casa Manolo was put on our list due to several good recommendations from some very trusted Basque mates. So on a sunny-almost-Spring-day we made a wander some 20 minutes to the south to partake of some comestibles @ Casa Manolo…

Da House Red – Pretty Tasty When Chilled to the Bone 😉

We’d dropped in before one or two times for a beer or two, but now we wanted to eat…from the web site it was not at all clear whether a menú del día was on offer or that it was a strictly an a la cart place (and with no prices). What the heck, it was worth a gamble….

A wee bit of initial confusion ensued as we wanted to dine outside (because of Billie The Dog and it was a sunny, fresh Spring day) which caused a bit of consternation & disbelief but all was quickly sorted & our waitress arrived table side to read off our menú del día (yeah!!!!) choices. First things first – para beber, vino tinto! And quick snap arrived a bottle of the vino de mesa that was especially bottled for the establishment at a local bodega in the pueblo of Orio. Decently chilled it went down well…

Two Hungry Hounds Waiting for Da Food…

My Starter – Peas, Potatoes, Carrots & Jamón Topped with an Egg.

For a starter I went with the Peas, Potatoes, Carrots & Jamón topped with a perfectly cooked egg – excellent in my flavour book. Hound #2 opted for Alubias Rojas (Red Beans) which she did not want me to take a picture of as it is not much to look at, just tastes damn good. The house goaty red was superb with these dishes ;-)…

Tuna Atop Sliced Potatoes Smothered in a Tomato-y Sauce…

For Hound #2’s main, she (as usual) went all fishy and ordered up the Tuna on Sliced Potatoes topped in a savoury tomato coulis. She gave it a solid B+ score and finished the plate…

Star Dish of the Day – Cabrito (Young Roasted Goat) con Chippies…

I truly lucked out & ordered the dish of the day – Roasted Cabrito with Chips. Casa Manolo’s specialty is goat (just in case you had not noticed all the goat pictures or drawings so far) in many forms and I find it very hard to find goat just about anywhere so the decision was easy. A dish worth going back for – perfectly roasted to within a tender bone of its life, with a seriously crispy & flavour packed crusty skin. Yesssssssiiiiiiirrrreee folks – the real deal. I thought is was so good I had to include two photos of it to display it in its full roasted goaty glory….

Close Up & Personal Goat…

As with all menú del días, dessert is included and as usual I forgot to snap a pic but managed to artfully reconstruct my Chocolate tart back to picture worthy shape. Alex had decidedly demolished her Flan so no pic was worth taking…

A damn delicious meal had by all (including Billie, The Jack Russell) for the whopping sum of €10 a person, yes folks, that is €10 per person for a 3 course meal & a bottle of vino. Gotta love Spain!

Mutriku Mackerel Madness – Déjà Vu!

Welcome To Mutriku!

The Hounds made the pilgrimage to the Mutriku Mackerel Fest last year, but because detailed info on the when, what & how was next to non-existent, we opted to set off quite early in old Gertie the Land Rover to avoid any crowds & parking hassles & pulled in just short of the 10AM mark. The town was absolutely vacant, and we had a couple of serious doubts about the possible success of our mackerel fest quest. But a quick chat with the Tourist Information folks confirmed that it was all a “Go!”, but kicking off shortly after 12PM…

Mackerel Pintxo Numero Uno y Dos! Our First Port of Call – Taberna Ametza.

The only substantial mistake we made last year was that we missed the BIG MACKEREL GRILL OFF that capped the day at around 6PM (due to driving & drinking restrictions). So included in this year’s operational plan was an overnight stay. There are only 2 places to sleep with a dog in Mutriku & we lucked out with one of the 3 rooms @ Hostal Rin. Perfectamente location…

Our greatest advantage in attending this year’s fest was that we pretty much knew the score, and queued up for our fave spots from last year. First stop, Taberna Ametza, where we sampled 2 different mackerel pintxos washed down with a pair of  zuritos (small beers) on the town square – off to a solid start…

Batzokia’s Excellent Mackerel Strips in Olive Oil with a Drizzle of Balsamic…Top Pintxo By Far!

We next made a bee line for our top voted bar from last year’s visit – Batzokia. The front of house service @ this taberna is all women & they were: (a) super friendly and (b) massively efficient. In a brief chat with one of the women we learned (if our Spanish was up to snuff) that the bar/restaurant is run as a co-operative and is somehow part of or supported by a Basque political party called EAJ-PNV (we have one in Hondarribia). And, once again, we were not disappointed to find our most desired pintxo still being dished out in quantity (and free!) at the bar. We found it hard to leave…

Mutriku Scenes…

The Weather Gods, though not fully co-operating, were indeed most kind to us. As every time we headed into a bar or taberna for a drink & a snack, the heavens opened up & hosed Mutriku down. Then, miraculously, just as we zipped & buttoned up to battle the elements, they flicked a switch & it all ceased & desisted. Two hats off to the Weather Gods!

Mutriku Scenes – Billie Strolls the Harbour…Buildings of Mutriku.

Top Left: Mackerel Pintxos & a Croqueta; Event Poster; Yet Another Taberna – Bar Zubixa; Mr. Mackerel Stokes Up the Crowd

Top Left: Bar Zubixa Political Poster; Da Marching Band!; Boat

Top Left: Mutriku Port; Boat Houses; Family Pic; Duck Fountains

As the arvo wore down, it was fast approaching the kick off time for the Big Event – a grand scale mackerel grill up & pintxo fest port side. We developed a plan to: (a) make an initial foray into the crowded fest as Hound #2 had a great fear of missing out on some mackerel a la plancha; then (b) return Billie to our hostel room for a siesta; (c) wander the Old Town & sample some more pintxos at any bars we might have missed; and (d), end up back at the port for some more mackerel pintxos & some live music.

The Big Verdel Event – Top Left: Plate of Grilled Mackerel & a Cold Beer for 1 Euro!; Da Crowd; Festival Menu in Basque; Up Close & Personal Verdel Pic; From On High Crowd View

Parts (a), (b) and (c) all went to plan & success was achieved on all fronts…but when part (d) rolled around, something was clearly amiss. We arrived back at the port shortly after 9PM (give to take 15 minutes) and everything & everybody had vanished – no mackerel food stalls, no people, no stage and no music…party over! We were going with the general consensus view that the Spanish like to party & stay out late, but I guess the stall vendors & musicians had other ideas. But it was true that the gente (people) fullfilled their mantra ‘eso si que es la vida‘ (this is the life) & saw the sun rise…we could hear the riotous crowd noises from our paper thin walled room. And it was not much help on the sleep front when our two neighbours stumbled in (and I mean stumbled in) around 4 or 5AM.

Top Left: ‘Mackerel Day’ in Basque; Professional Txakoli (local white wine) Pourer; Two Fun Late Night Pubs…For Young Folks.

Zumia Pit Stop…

Up early for a quick walk round the Mutriku port, then headed home with a quick stop in Zumia for a second coffee and a wee squizzy around the Old Town section…safely back in Hondarribia for lunch. Excellent adventure had by all…

Cider Time…

Well it’s almost, almost Spring here in the Basque Country – the primavera smell is in the air & the birds seem to think it has arrived already, but the winter weather gods have another thing or five up their sleeves. So it was a perfecto day to be inside, at a local Basque sideria sampling this year’s vintage from the barrels. And once again, our good mate Idoia had sussed & sorted all the details out – all we had to do was make it to the bus stop on time. This year, as opposed to last year, was a luncheon (versus a late Basque dinner) date which held the promise of being a wee bit more on the tame side…

Idoia had chosen a sideria called Gartziategi – a very old school sideria with a serious history. The main building sits on the banks of the River Urumea in a caserio (country house) dating from the 16th century and it most definitely feels like 16th century – cold as and a tad damp which added to the cidery atmosphere. Julian Arrieta was the core bloke behind the start of the cider house in the early 20th century as cider making is a big & honoured tradition here ever since the French, post a battle defeat, ripped out all the Basque grape vines.

Idoia told us that many local folks (both French & Basque) flock to the siderias starting in January, but she feels the cider is far too young then & needs some time in the barrels to settle down & mellow out. But you cannot wait too long as the bottling process for the new vintage kicks off sometime in April and your chance of a visit & a sample vanishes.

The ‘process’ (called a txotx in Basque – pronounced ‘choch’) follows a set pattern both for food & drink. Once seated at your table, a baguette of bread & small plate of sautéd mushrooms & caramelised onions arrives to pleasure your taste buds while you wait for the first shout out of ‘Txotx!!!’, which triggers the mass migration to the cider barrels. You queue up, taking your turn to slip your cider glass under the continuous stream of golden, slightly cloudy & effervescent liquid until all are satisfied.

Back to your table where the second comestible has arrived – a bacalao (salt cod) tortilla. A perfect foil for the crisp, slightly acidy cider that comes from a specific barrel, made from specific apple variety or varieties. This is a lot of the fun – to sample the various barrels and try & pick your fave to return to. Then the shout of ‘Txotx!!!’ is heard again & back we all go…

Top Right: Bacalao Tortilla; Dessert of Basque Cheese, Fresh Walnuts & Apple Paste; Serious Chuleta de Vaca (Ribeye); Steamed Bacalao; Sautéd Mushrooms & Caramelised Onions; Devoured Chuleta

Next table delivery is a chunky, chunky slice of steamed bacalao smothered in sweet onions & sautéd scallion greens – yumbola! And once again (it is repeated A LOT OF TIMES) the call to drink, ‘Txotx!’, was shouted out & we have another barrel to slay…

And then the pièce de résistance awaits us at our table – a perfectly wood grilled chuleta de vaca (rib eye) that could feed a small village (or Billie our Jack Russell). We make a mess of it, but it is all carne fenomenal and tasty as (the 3 French dudes sitting next to us requested another chuleta de vaca – they were BIG FELLAS).

We close out this marvellous, festive feast with a more modest, lighter plate of Basque cheese, freshly harvested walnuts & apple paste…perfect counter-balance to all that preceded it, but of course more cider was needed…

Top Left: The Txotx Pour Begins; And Continues from Another Barrel; 2 Txotx Chicas; Wooden Apple Art

Basque Artisanal Beer Fest In Irun…

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Artesanal Cerveza Fest!!!!!

Another week in Spain, another festival! It seems a week just cannot go by without a festival or carnival or big event happening here. This past weekend was the artisanal beer fest hosted by our next door neighbour, Irun. Artisanal beers have, as in the rest of the world, hit Spain like a big cerveza tsunami. People seem to be craving for and are enjoying brews with a bit more punch or flavour than the bog standard bar pours like Heineken or Amstel. And like elsewhere, the Big Boys are taking notice with several small breweries being snapped up by the corporate big fellas.

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The Beer Bash Kicks Off…

This was a 2 day event held at the Irun event centre called FICOBA. It is a vast hall with garage doors an 18 wheeler could easily pass through with space to spare and there were at least 2 dozen breweries in attendance as well as a dozen or so pop up food trucks. The admission fee was €5 which got you in and a ‘special’ tasting glass, but to actually drink the beer costs a wee bit extra :-(. As a general if not universal rule, artisanal beer cost a tad more than your normal pour, and that was the case here. Our special glasses held 200ml of the precious liquid (a normal caña of local beer like Mahou or Keler is around 350ml or more depending on the pour & runs 2 euros – $3NZ, $2.80AUS, £1.72BP, $2.1US) and the general price was €2.5 ($3.75NZ, $3.5AUS, £2.15BP, $2.65US) but sometimes €3. We have a great specialty beer bar in the Casco Antiguo area of Hondarribia called EtxeBerria, which only serves artisanal brews and a small pour is normally €3-4 and a caña size is in the the €5-7 range (sort of like the rest of the world).

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Serious Artisanal Brewing on show here…also very high alcohol levels…like 7% or 8% for most.

One of my all round favourite styles of beer is the IPA (India Pale Ale), so that was the theme I stuck to for the day and sampled about 5 or 6…tough to do much more embibing as the alcohol levels averaged 6-8%, so even after just 2 you could feel the buzz and drinking during the day is not my usual modus operandi. I tend to like my IPA a bit chunky, with serious flavour & what can be described as chewiness so the Little Bichos (‘bicho’ translates to ‘creatures’) IPA took the fist place prize. And it was slightly ironic given my fave beer in Australia was Little Creatures…not sure who copied who!

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Da Food Trucks – Big Help!

And thank the Food Gods that be that there were a series of decent pop up food trucks on hand, otherwise it may have all been over before it began! We had a good squizzy and everyone opted for the appetising Gala hamburger stall – Hamburguesa Tex Mex to be precise. Generally an excellent dish (which I washed down with another IPA from Naparbier) but Hound #2 complained – ‘Not spicy enough for a Tex Mex burger’…oh well, she’s a tough one to please.

All in all a most fun event – not too tough an assignment to drink well crafted artisanal beers on a semi-rainy Saturday arvo with next to no crowd hassles & loads of way cool beermeisters manning the stalls to talk shop. Can’t wait till the next fest ;-)…

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Top Left: Box of Special Fries & Hot Sauce; Gala Food Truck Burger Menu; Gala Burgers on Display; Our ‘Special’ Beer Glass

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Top Left: Bob’s Beer (Bob’s English) from France; Brew & Taps from Bar Boulevard; Dos Borachas (2 Drunks); Naparbier from Navarra; Free Lions Beer Coaster

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