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!

GOÑI Ardoteka Vino Market…

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One of the things I really miss since leaving New Zealand and Australia to live in the UK & Spain for a wee while, is a decent amount of regular, interesting & affordable wine tastings. Melbourne was a seriously sick place for wine tastings as it was almost harder to sort out & decide what not to do versus searching to find a wine event to do. Usually, every weekend some wine store (like the Prince Wine Stores or Seddon Wine Store or even your local Dan Murphy’s) was featuring a tasting & typically with the producers doing the pour – for free. And to add wine tasting insult to injury, there was almost always a massive wine event happening every other week or so with the likes of the Barons of the Barossa rolling into town or The Taste of Tasmania making a Melbourne splash. My head (and liver) hurts just remembering all of these vinous opportunities!

The UK is pretty much bereft of these kind of gustatory pleasures unless, of course, you are able & can afford to live in London or even Bristol or Bath, or some decently sized pueblo. And we couldn’t, so we didn’t, so we did not  have easy access to a regular rasher of sipping & tastings…for effing out loud people, even Christchurch, New Zealand (population 350,000 más o menus) puts on a decent juice show with Vino Fino or Decant doing the city honours.

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When we first arrived in Hondarribia, I discovered GOÑI Ardoteka in San Sebastián quite early on, and it is, by almost any measure, an estupendo wine store – great selection, knowledgeable and pleasant staff, fair prices and easy peasy access from Hondarribia via the marvellous E21 autobus. I signed on to their regular email newsletter for updates & started to see some notifications of tasting events. But I was a bit hesitant to jump right in & sample as, to me anyway, many tasting sessions seemed a wee bit dear – like €40 to €60 dear for the option to test out a few new unknown vinos. As I mentioned above, many of the regular Australian tasting sessions were 100% free and if not, they would hit up your wallet for a modest debit of round $20+ or so (same thing in New Zealand) which is like €13…eso es no problema.

So I was more than delighted to see in my inbox the news notice for the Christmas Wine Market @ GOÑi Ardoteka – wines & bubbles & beer & producers and FREE! I have no hesitation in stating it was the best wine event, so far, that I have attended in either Spain or the UK – and the producers were: (a) super knowledgable and generous with their information & time and pours (and my crappy Spanish) and (b) they be pouring the good shite! We are talking the top of da vino line folks – the cava bodega I started with finished our tasting round of 5 different bottles of bubbles with their 2005 Reserva that would set you back a tidy €93 ($140 NZ), so clearly not in the Lindauer league.

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The Wine Market Bad Boys…

And to add more foam to the froth, all the wines (not just the Wine Market wines) were smacked with a 15% price reduction – whoa nellie, hold on to my wallet! Fortunately (for my wallet), I was a bit constrained as I only had my modestly sized backpack with me and my allowable maximum wine allowance (by weight) was 5-6 bottles. So purchase I did & hauled my delicious treasure back to Hondarribia on the E21 autobus to savour at a later date…keep it coming GOÑI Ardoteka!

A Txoko Experience…

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Club Nautico Hondarribia – Our First (and maybe last) Txoko Experience.

We had heard or read about txokos and we had seen quite a few of these slightly mysterious Basque men’s gastronomic societies or eating clubs in our wanders around Hondarribia and San Sebastián. But they remained a wee bit of a mystery to us, as they appeared almost impossible to get into without some form of  invitation. We came so close in our first month or so here when, by sheer accident, we stumbled into a group of chatty txoko folks round the corner from our flat. Once we made it clear that: (a) we lived in Hondarribia proper, in the Casco Antiguo and (b) we really liked our food & wine, a convivial older hombre said a visit just might be arranged. But nada happened…

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Awesome Txoko Group

Until my wonderful Spanish teacher Gloria came through, once again, with a special Spanish opportunity. Gloria’s mate Andoni (and sweet partner Carmen) is a member of the Club Nautico Hondarribia which is not only a full on sailing club & school (with fishing too), but also a txoko, with a splendid port side club space with great views of the marina.

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First Course – Vegetarian Pizza

Txokos have been around in the Basque Country for more than 100 years and got their start as places where the fishermen & workers could bond & chat & tell stories over food & drink. They have been pretty much 100% male up until a few years ago when a few opened up their doors to women – only to eat though, as all the cooking is usually done by the men folks (Andoni’s txoko allows women in the kitchen).

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Gloria Fast @ Work on the Main Course…

Boy, it’s a lot of fun folks! Andoni’s txoko, like all txokos, has a top notch professional if not better kitchen which is shared amongst the members (you need to reserve a space). You bring all your required meal ingredients but the txoko also has a bar for beer, wine, cider & soft drinks (you can also bring in your own bebidas). It is a serious social affair – muchas familias were there that day, cooking & drinking up a storm & chattering away. The table just behind us was having a grand old time post draining half a dozen bottles of Moët bubbles, which is when the boisterous singing began…and we left.

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Dessert & Cava to Wash It Down With…

So a big muchas gracias to Andoni, Carmen, Gloria and Bernard for an estupendo time! So if you are ever in the Basque Country and somehow manage to wrangle a txoko invite – GO!

A Paella Party….

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Paella Poster That Started It All…

It all started with the poster above…we could not decipher the Basque words other than ‘April 9′ and ’17:00’ so we queried our mate Marina at our local cafe Amona Margarita as to the relevant details. She told us it was essentially a youth effort but if we wanted the best paella outside of Valencia, she was our woman. A flurry of Whats.app messages ensued and the date was set for the coming Sunday – yippeeeeee!

We three piled into my trusty (usually) old Land Rover and headed to Hendaye (France) where Marina’s friends Yolanda and Santiago reside and the gorgeous site for the Sunday Paella Fest…

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Master Chef Borja Starts The Prep…

The day, weather-wise, was far better than forecast with bright blue skies and PLENTY of warm sun that had a few of us winter white folks burning up! Introductions were made all round (in addition to Yolanda & Santiago we had Borja – our Master Paella Chef – and Enrique, up from Valencia & Da Kids) and drinks were soon in hand with plates of olive tapenade & fresh bread…and then the paella process began…

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Lounging Hound #2

The paella pan is a serious piece of work – not one burner, not two burners but three burners a burning! Once the olive oil & salt had reached a prime temperature (hot), Borja added the meat course (chicken & rabbit spiced with fresh rosemary & moderately minced garlic) to sizzle off to a golden, crispy brown…

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Step 1: Pan Hot, Meat (Chicken & Rabbit) Goes On…

Just when the meat had achieved its perfecto caramelised colour, it was moved to the pan’s edges & the green beans are added to the mix to gently soften. Last but not least in the veggie section was the addition of the artichokes – in season here and the perfect size.

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Super Sous Chef Assists in Step 2: Green Beans Go In…Then The Artichokes…

Then it is aqua & more aqua & a saffron dose to create a stupendous, simmering broth…which simmers away until it has reached a special notch on Master Chef Borja’s cooking spoon. Then it’s the perfect time for the last ingredient – the rice!

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Step 3: Mucha Agua & Saffron Added to Create A Wonderful Broth for the Rice….Simmer & Simmer….Team Paella Making Adjustments

All is left to simmer & bubble away for some minutos to deepen the flavours and cook the rice…

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Salads & Vino Course Whilst Paella Simmers…

While the paella perfected itself, we retired to the deck table for the entree offering of 2 tasty salads – an endive, orange & cranberry mixture with a nice balance between sour, bitter & sweet and a Spring-y greens & cherry tomatoes ensalada…ah, Spring.

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Paella On The Table!…And On Da Plate!

The ‘All Done!’ announcement was made by Borja & the massive paella pan was brought to the table – steaming its savoury goodness for all to smell. Serving utensils were handed out all round & we dug in! Estupendo! De hecho, estaba para chuparse los dedos! (It was finger licking good!). Several helpings were had by all, emptying the seemingly endless pan till we reached the ‘socarrat’ – the crispy rice bits that have caramelised to the pan’s bottom & a much desired Spanish taste treat. A wee bun fight ensued as folks took turns scraping the socarrat off & generously serving out portions.

Nos lo pasamos de maravilla estupendamente!!! Muchas gracias to Marina, Borja, Yolanda, Santiago, Enrique & Kids. Esperamos veros otra vez pronto!

Christmas Day in the Jaizkibel Mountains

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Christmas Day Hike in the Jaizkibel Mountains

The dawn of Christmas Day brought us yet another example of our endless summer with sun shining down from radiant blue skies and temps at t-shirt levels. With the weather forecast proving itself reasonably accurate (very dubious chances here on the Atlantic Coast in Basque Country), we set about implementing our day’s plan – a hike in the Jaizkibel Mountains topped off with a picnic.

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Hound #2, upon our arrival in Hondarribia in June, promptly purchased a set of walking trail maps…in Spanish. And we have been slowly exploring some of the walks, getting some things initially wrong, but eventually sorting through some of the various vagaries and idiosyncrasies so that we felt 100% confident our our Christmas Day plan. We picked one of the longer walks (10+km) but it looked easy peezy as it followed the horizontal ridge contour lines,  thus minimising the dreaded multiple steep ups & downs.

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Perfect Picnic, Perfect Day

Our delectable picnic nibbles were mostly procured from the Santo Tomas Festival (the Day of the Pig) where we nabbed some extremely tender & flavourful cecina de buey, some sharp & pungent blue cheese and 2 massive jars of cornichons, pickled onions & olives, bread…and of course a beverage – some brut cava washed it all down wonderfully.

Long may the endless summer last….