Wellington Weekend…Part 2

Wellington’s Good Humour – Street Crossing Signs Doing the Haka.

Wellington Weekend Continued…

After our Moore Wilson Fresh visit, we felt our feets needed a wee rest, so we ambled back to our room & had a lie down & a bit of a read. And before you knew it, cocktail time had rolled around, so we freshened up & headed out the door.

Up front FYI: Not a lot of photos from Saturday night out as in some cases folks did not want them taken (Ascot) and other places it was very atmospheric (i.e., very dark – Capitol).

Our first port of call was a wine bar called the Ascot – a hot tip from a wine store guy. He said it was way better than the ‘stuck up’ (his words, not mine) Noble Rot, far more casual & cool (owner Cosmo Hawke calls it ‘lo fi wine drinking’), with staff that really knew their vino stuff. And all that info was spot on…not super easy to find, but the Ascot is a mere 3 flights of steps up to the rooftop where you will find a very cool space & interesting wines & gourmet hot dogs. Yes, gourmet hot dogs. Hound #2 had Googled the Ascot & was a tad puzzled to find it only got an overall rating of 2.9 with LOTS of 1 star reviews…but when you actually read the 1 star reviews, folks absolutely loved it. The bartender told us they did that on purpose to put off the Tripadvisor type of people :-). Like their thinking…

Capitol Restaurant

From the Ascot we zig zagged our way to Basque – a bar we had to pop into having lived in the real Basque Country in Spain for 2+ years. Well, the best we can say is they tried, but it does not hold a candle to the real Basque world of food, drink and culture that we came to love.

So onto the big dinner splurge of the trip – Capitol. When we did a reconnaissance trip more than a decade before to search out ideas & inspiration for my eventual restaurant London Street in Lyttelton, Capitol was one of our favourites & a model to admire. It struck all the right chords with us – excellent ingredients, cooked superbly in a casual & relaxed & intimate setting. Amazing to still see it going & I have all the more admiration for them in doing so.

We quickly made our beverage order – a bottle of James Millton’s Crazy By Nature Cosmo Red – yum – a wine to suit any occasion. For nibbles we opted for the fried squid with aioli. Perfect. Then I fell for the free range chicken breast with shaved brussels sprouts & bacon and Hound #2 picked fish of the day (Kingfish) on celeriac puree with grilled fennel salsa.

And a nightcap was had by all @ Tequila Joe’s…probably not needed & a big step down from cozy Capitol.

Harbourside Market – Every Sunday.

Sunday morning we were met with another striking day, so it found us up & at’m to check out the Harbourside Market. The market technically starts @ 7:30am but I’d ignore that time slot unless you only want some fruit & veggies. We were there a wee bit after 9am and most of the other stalls (coffee, meat, cheese, bread, etc) were still getting set up.

Common Sense Organic Food Shop

While headed off in search of another coffee, we stumbled across another old favourite – Commonsense Organic Food. We had visited Commonsense on our decades old recon trip and had been suitably impressed – as we were this time too. Hound #2 spent mucho dinero $$$$ on packet after packet of organic seeds for the garden. So glad to see Commonsense still here & thriving!

City Gallery

Then we felt like a bit of culture – so on to the City Gallery. The Gallery had a smart exhibition of Theo Schoon’s work – a bit of a controversial artist along with Gordon Walters as they apparently plucked many of their ideas & inspiration from a mental patient while working at a psychiatric hospital. Nonetheless, a fascinating exhibition  (the Gordon Walter’s exhibition  was on at Te Papa).

Theo Schoon’s works….and gourds.

Theo Schoon Quote and a Rita Angus (a contemporary) Painting

From the City Gallery we headed for the Wellington Cable Car – an easy-on-the-wallet $5 (one way) ride to the top of the hill to start a beautiful, relaxing amble downhill through the Botanic Gardens to the City centre with lots of nature pauses along the way to listen to all the bird song (LOTS of Tuis).

Once down at the main gate, we had a wee wander in the historic Tinakori precinct which is chocka with Wellington’s famous hillside clinging gingerbread houses, antique shops and is home to the  Premier House which is where the Prime Minister resides.

Cable Car Ride to the Top; Wander Down Through the Botanical Gardens

We had a 1pm booking in the tiny Hillside Kitchen + Cellar. Hillside is a vegetarian restaurant and we both agreed the experience was really wonderful, but we’d not rush back for the food – not bad, but just not quite ticking the taste bud boxes.

I started with the Wairarapa Carrot Tartare (which actually came with carrot seeds to take away & grow) which was my favourite dish of the meal and Hound #2 decided to try Smoked Broth & Dumpling Soup which also got a solid thumbs up.

Our mains were the same – Quinoa, Vadouvan & Walnut. This dish was served cold or at room temperature and for me it had an odd, almost incense-like taste which was not my cuppa tea.

Hillside Kitchen + Cellar

Top: Quinoa, Vadouvan, Walnuts; Wairarapa Carrot Tartare; Smoked Broth & Dumpling Soup

With the glorious afternoon still blazing away, we set off for the CBD to run a few errands & stopped off to lend support to the climate change protesters posited in front of Parliament – for an effing 81 days when we stopped by!

Tuatara Brewery – AKA The Third Eye

When cocktail time rolled around – so conveniently consistent – we decided to stick to our house rule & have beer before wine. To that end we set of to check out a few of the local craft brew houses. First pit or pint stop was Tuatara – VERY close to our hotel & an easy amble. I have always liked their beers ever since I carried them in my restaurant London Street (only in bottles, no kegs back then) almost 13 years ago. Quality is still there in spades & we sipped away on the Tuatara APA and the Session IPA.

The Garage Project

Next up was the Garage Project in the Aro Valley – a wee toddle but the evening was clear & crisp. The Garage Project has both a taproom and a cellar door for takeout. We first popped into the Cellar Door not knowing there was a taproom, so we did a few tastings & were told to march a block or so down the road to the taproom. All beers sampled were excellent – but one general complaint about all the Wellington brew scene is that for $12-$15 you should get or deserve a REAL pint – not this 400ml shite. Rant over.

We had made cheap dinner plans to hit Golding’s Free Dive bar & order pizza in from across the alley at Pomodoro’s, but our plan mostly fell to custard as Goldings was closed for a staff dinner…but luckily Fortunes Favours Beer was willing to accomodate us & our pizza.

Te Papa Museum

Monday morning we’d made plans to visit Te Papa – better to not be a weekend day as potentially far less kids & tourists. And we were mostly right & stuck to the art exhibition which was not a favourite of the kiddies.

Te Papa is truly a national treasure, and if I resided in Wellington I would make it a regular monthly stop as there is SO MUCH to absorb. Post an hour or more our minds were stuffed to the brim with information & visual treats so we headed off for a coffee before our lunchtime destination – Egmont St. Eatery.

Egmont St. Eatery

Grilled rice cakes, cockles, housemade XO sauce, slow egg & aromatic salad; Harissa spiced lamb, giardinera, labne, watercress pesto, polenta bread.

We are not sure when or where the term ‘eatery’ was first used or by who, but it is certainly the word de jour in the hospo business. That said, we thoroughly enjoyed a superb lunch @ Egmont St. Eatery. Being a Monday afternoon, we were able to walk right in with no problems.

My first & only choice from the menu was the harissa spiced lamb, giardinera, labne, watercress pesto on polenta bread & what a choice it was. Super flavourful with an excellent mix of spices & spiciness from the harissa and I absolutely loved the polenta bread. Hound #2 had an inclination towards the grilled rice cakes, cockles, housemade XO sauce, slow egg & aromatic salad and she did not regret her choice. And all washed down with Maior de Mendoz ‘Fulget’, Albariño, 2016, Rías Baixas, Spain. 

Well that’s Wellington done & dusted for a wee while – though Hound #2 is back in October to celebrate a sister’s birthday…with lots of recon filed away for her trip.

 

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A Wellington Weekend…Part 1

Ride the Cable Car, Get this View & then Walk through the Botanic Gardens!

We felt a mid-winter’s break was in order – a change of scene, a change of faces, some new & different food & drink to try and of course, culture. We had not been to Wellington in over a decade, and our memories of it were still on the good side, so away we went for a long weekend in Wellington…

Noble Rot Wine Bar…

Since the Noble Rot Wine Bar was just around the corner from our hotel, we decided to break a Friday night rule – beer before wine – and popped in to a bustling joint (it was Friday after work). I opted for an old time fave, Samuel Gorge’s Grenache which was in peak form & Hound #2 went the bubbles route…

HUSK Brewery

The vino was a nice start, but our house rule rose to the fore & we were off in search of a bar/brewery nearby on Ghuznee Street called HUSK. This place covers a lot of bases – brewery, roastery & eatery…but it was the cervezas we were here to imbibe. Like many craft breweries / bars these days, they are quite accomodating & generous with wee tastings of a good chunk of their range and what a range it was. Hound #2 likes her stouts so a tipple of the Power of Voodoo White Coffee Stout and Shakeit Chocolate Milkshake Stout were quickly swallowed & loved, but she felt like something lighter, so a 1/2 pint of City of the Wind IPA. My choice was, appropriately,  I’m Afraid of Americans West Coast IPA. Excelente!

With a good beverage head start to the evening, it was now time for some food. So off to make our 8:30pm dinner booking @ Mr. Go’s.

This a fun & lively & affordable place folks – hard to go wrong here on any front. Packed & buzzing on this Friday night, we quickly settled into our assigned seats & perused the extensive menu. We started with a bottle of the Arriba Tempranillo which is a house fave @ home & put our order in…Hound #2, in the last month, has gone vegetarian & Mr. Go’s menu suits that preference to a ‘T’…

Mr. Go’s is designed to share & share we did: Kung Pao Cauliflower (Fried cauliflower, Kung Pao sauce, peanut salt), Tofu Popcorn (Marinated and fried tofu pieces, Fix and Fogg satay sauce), Green Beans (Dry pan-fried green beans, Chinese spices, pickled mustard greens) and Go’s Fried Rice (Bok choy, edamame, peas, spring onion, spring onion oil, furikake). Yum!!!

We awoke Saturday morning to yet another amazing day in Wellington (stayed stunning our entire visit) as for any folks that have never been, Wellington has a reputation (deservedly so) for having nasty, brutal weather…that’s why its nickname is Windy Wellington (you can add rain to that monicker too).

We quickly popped in to Hangar for some warming coffees & some edibles before heading to the Wellington waterfront / harbour. In Lyttelton where we live (on the Banks Peninsula outside of Christchurch on the South Island), we have a beautiful harbour too but access is very limited – you can always look but rarely touch. Wellington has a lot of public space waterside & we made the most of it & enjoyed…

Wonderful Wellington Waterfront…

Wellington Museum

One of the highlights for both of us was a visit to the Museum of Wellington – highly recommended & well worth your time…amazing use of modern holographic imagery to tell historical and mythical tales and the section on the tragic Wahine disaster is heart wrenching but informative.

Weeeeeeeeeeee!

Lunchtime came upon us faster than we thought (time flies when you’re having fun & food & drinks) and we made a bee-line for Pre-Fab on Jessie Street. This is a real hustling & bustling kind of industrial kitchen that was created by the folks who started the iconic Cafe L’affare, the place that kicked off the cafe scene in Wellington. Though we had to queue, everything moved quickly & within 5 minutes we had seats….

Prefab, Jessie Street

We’d previewed the menu beforehand & made our choices – the classic Rueben Sandwich for me & the Grilled Halloumi Baguette, Avocado, Smoked Beetroot & Dukkah for Hound #2. Both dishes nailed the hunger pains to the wall – some of the tastiest tucker on the trip for me.

Top: Reuben Sandwich – Yum!; Parrotdog IPA; and Grilled Halloumi Baguette, Avocado, Smoked Beetroot & Dukkah.

Post a wonderful lunch, we were in the hood of Moore Wilson’s Fresh – my absolute fave food store in all of New Zealand. I mean, what’s not to like or love here? One of the biggest & best offerings of food & et al in the country, with everything from fresh as fruit & veg to meat & fish to cheeses of the world to condiments galore…heaven. And it has certainly grown over the years, but managed to maintain its super high quality while expanding its breadth of offerings. Only draw back is: (a) we had no kitchen or fridge where we were staying so no cooking and (b) we had only brought 1 checked bag so not loads of space for transport home :-(…

Moore Wilson’s Fresh – Estupendo!

Cheese! Cheese! Cheese!


Meat & Fish…

The Wine Section….

So onto Part 2 of the trip in the next posting….

 

Déjà Vu Melbourne…

We were in need of a pre-winter break so we packed our bags & headed to Melbourne to catchup with several friends and, of course, eat & drink! Melbourne is not too bad a town to spend a week or two…I often say it is Australia’s version of San Francisco with an overall awesome, energetic & creative vibe across multiple fronts – food & wine, culture, music & art, history, etc…

And we could not have lucked out anymore with the weather as most days it drifted into the low 20’s with beaming sun & the bluest of skies. And since we are serious walkers, it made our exploration all the more enjoyable to be free of many layers & no rain gear.

The Big Metropolis; St. Kilda’s Luna Park; Shrine of Remembrance

One of our first target destinations was one of our regular favourites when we lived in Melbourne – the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria in Fed Square). A stunning space to have a wander and experience a serious collection of art – and about 95% is FREE! And if the NGV ticks your boxes, then you need to toddle over to the NGV International just a hop, skip & a jump down St. Kilda Road (and it’s FREE! – except for special exhibitions).

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria International

Besides revisiting our old friend the NGV, we made a point of checking out some of our food stomping grounds that left us with a vey warm & flavourful memory when we departed Melbourne for the UK. We are not really the ‘fine dining’ types, but rather prefer excellent quality food, cooked well, in a relaxed setting & so our big splurge was to lunch @ Cumulus Inc. Andrew McConnell knows a thing or two about food & restaurants & this is our fave out of his bevy of joints (Cutler & Co, Builders Arms, Supernormal & Canteen, Marion, Meatsmith, Cumulus Up wine bar). And it is always a delight for us to be seated at the kitchen bar & get a first hand, close up & personal view of the food proceedings. We had some fun chats with the staff who, despite a busy lunch hour, had plenty of time to answer our questions and offer some insights into Cumulus Inc.

Cumulus Inc.

Bundarra Pork Cutlet & Pickled Witlof & Butcher’s Sauce; Tuna Tartare, Goat’s Curd & Crushed Green Pea

Excellent Juice from Stephen Pannell – Tinto

And of course when in Melbourne, you must visit the markets…it is a habit we have no matter where we be to have a good squizzy at the local market whether an established fixture (e.g., Queen Vic or South Melbourne or Prahran) or a farmers market (e.g., Vegout, Abbotsford).

Prahran Market

I was always impressed & amazed at the range of goods on offer at the Melbourne markets. I swear there is a better selection of European goods like olive oils, vinegars, olives, etc…in the Melbourne markets than I could ever find in most of Europe.

Queen Vic Deli Section

And of course where there is great food, there’s great drinks…so we made the rounds of most of my old wine haunts (Cloudwine – fave for hard to find vino & great prices, Prince Wine Shop, Blackhearts & Sparrows various establishments with extensive choices, The Wine House, City Wine Shop – small but excellent selection & food is great too & Wine Republic – amazing selection & best new find) & scooped up a solid half dozen (New Zealand’s limit) examples of Australian’s finest. Yum…

Melbourne’s Wine Stores…

Another Andrew McConnell joint – Marion Wine Bar

One of the things on our ‘To Do’ list was to have some top notch ethnic food as Lyttelton/Christchurch New Zealand is not as solidly blessed with such an extensive immigrant community as Melbourne does in spades.

We had an interesting Turkish dinner at Tulum with mates from Balaclava but one of our go to places is Don Don, a Japanese restaurant that is fast as and super cheap (by Melbourne standards) and damn good! I ordered our 2 lunches & before I could put my change back in my wallet, 2 steaming bowls were before me!

We had also read some good write-ups for a place called Paper Plate (Vietnamese) where the kitchen was manned by one of chef Geoff Lindsay‘s ex-fellas of Dandelion fame, but at a far cheaper price point. Super crisp & clean flavours – you could see & taste that everything was made from scratch…

Paper Plate in Richmond; Vietnamese Chicken Salad & Vegetarian Pho; Hanoi Beer

One Sunday morning we met some mates for breakfast @ Industrial Beans in Fitzroy – excellent food but busts the wallet @ $90+ for 4! But post breakfast, our friends said we had to see the mural of our Prime Minister (Jacinda Adern) painted on a silo in Brunswick. So we piled into their car & off we went…very touching & excellent job.

Industrial Beans & Grace, Fitzroy

New Zealand Prime Minister Mural in Brunswick

Melbourne Street Art; Melbourne’s Booming Skyline; Melbourne’s Infamous Laneways…

So if you have never been to Melbourne – GO!!!!! It is a city that has so many nooks & crannies to explore you won’t get bored…and if you do get bored of Melbourne, head out to the country to visit the Yarra Valley wine region or the wonderful Mornington Peninsula or hit up Daylesford or Kyneton for a savoury food experience.

The Noble Merchant Opawa…

Thr Noble Merchant Opawa – Bagel Sundays!

The Hounds keep a fun-things-to-do-list ready @ hand so that whenever we read or hear about something that would make a decent distraction, we put it on the list & then try & check them off ASAP. So I’d read about this fairly recent cafe/store opening that was just through the Lyttelton Tunnel called The Noble Merchant & for the month of July (it may be extended if it achieves success) they were trialing a Sunday bagel breakfast.
So off we toddled @ just after 8am (the web site & Google said it opened @ 8 (Monday-Sunday) & promptly arrived there at about 8:40am only to find out it was clearly still closed, apparently ready for a weekend opening of 9am – no worries…took Hound #1 for a nice stroll along the Heathcote River and we rather like Opawa anyways compared to many other Christchurch suburbs on the flats…some beautiful grand old villas & houses & lots of park space in view of the lovely Port Hills.

Baked Goods from the Bellbird Bakery – Yum.

We headed back to deli @ exactly 9am and it looked open, but the owner/barista was still milling about & the footpath signs were not out yet, but a couple of local yokels could clearly be seen inside, so in we went…Hound #2 made a joke with the owner (who was British born but grew up in Christchurch) about his opening times and that we were keen  to try the bagel breakfast & he fired back straight away “2 free coffees!!” for being the first through the door for bagels…you do not get shouted much of anything in New Zealand so good on him.

The owner had a good dose of the British banter and his bagel maker was on site to put together the bagel platters & he told us he was from Israel and a very good bagel maker, but a very bad Jew :-). A good bit of amusing & convivial chat was a wonderful way to start a Sunday…

There were 3 bagel options – a traditional smoked salmon & cream cheese (Hound #2’s choice), a venison salami & Dijon infused cream cheese (my choice) and a roasted red pepper & cream cheese  – all for the mere sum of $9.50 and served with sides of olives, pickles, caper berries, cheese & pesto.

Bagel with Salmon, Cream Cheese, Pesto, Caper Berries & Olives….

The final verdict? Excellent bagels, super toppings & sides and an A+ for presentation! And besides the bagel Sundays, The Noble Merchant is also a well stocked deli & grocer if you happen to be in the neighborhood & need to stock up.

The owner also has a cafe & gourmet food store in Lincoln called, funny enough, The Lincoln Pantry, which we had seen on one of our other Sunday outings to Lincoln that I wrote about in one of my other blog posts

So if you want an authentic bagel experience, head to The Noble Merchant on Sunday morning & give your taste buds a thrill….

Bagel with Venison Salami, Cream Cheese & Dijon Mustard, Olives, A Cheddary Cheese & Pickles…

Great Vibes @ the Ohoka Farmers Market….

All Happening on a stunning Autumn morning @ the Friday Ohoka Farmers Market…

We have been back in New Zealand since November 2017 but we have had to stay seriously focused on our house & all its related hiccups (e.g., property is a enormous jungle, earthquake damage repairs and a decent slip hitting the house in July 2017). But we try to book in short escapes to break the house routines and so it was last Friday we put on our schedule a series of enjoyable errands (.e.g, get our bikes put back together, pick up paddle board caddy, visit a nursery, etc…) but also a fun visit to the Ohoka Farmers Market for a Real Food Revolution Friday (their slogan). My good friend & fly fishing mate Craig (who is also a damn good pie maker & has a stall – Hope River Pies – here as well as Lyttelton Farmers Market) said it had a great vibe and was a decent market, so off we went for a bit of a toddle…

Grown Veggie Stand Chocka with Seasonal Produce

As we arrived @ the Ohoka Farmers Market, it was about as pitcure perfect a New Zealand autumnal day as anyone could wish or hope for – blue skies & sun, just the right level of fall crispness in the air (but not cold), and no wind or rain in sight. The market is a decent size with probably close to 30-35 stalls (I was told in the summer it is heaving with stalls, filling the field) that cover many of the usual farmers market suspects (e.g., fresh veggies, fish, meat, breads, etc…) but the market may be, due to it being this time of year, a wee bit heavy on the value added products like baked goods and prepared foods. Which has always struck me as a bit odd given New Zealand produces 9 to 10 times more fresh food than we consume (I know lots of it is exported) and here we were, smack dab in the middle of lush, verdent farming country with paddocks in every direction that you could cast an eye, but few local farmer folks on site…more bakers & deli products.

Top: Spanish Stall with Excellent Tortillas & We Spoke Spanish!; Mate Craig’s Hope Pies on Offer; Spanish Menu….

But one of the value-added products we mos def enjoyed was the Spanish Food NZ stall, where we sampled the excellent tortillas and had a good lively chat in español! Excelente! Having just returned to NZ after 2 years in the Basque Country of Northern Spain it was a fresh breath of a treasured past life…

And as much as it is a wonderful experience to come across something or someone new, it is equally nice to see old Lyttelton Market friends such as Emilio’s Cheeses, Volcano Market Olives, Grown and the Sausage Shed & Lovat Venison. We are fairly regular customers @ the Lyttelton Farmers Market and just glad to see their familiar faces at Ohoka…

Lyttelton Farmers Market Regulars – Emilio’s Cheeses & the Volcano Olives & Dressings…

One of the more interesting, new discoveries (besides the Spanish Foods NZ) @ the Ohoka Farmers Market was the Little Bone Broth Company. I think if you were going to offer a value added product for sale @ a farmers market then this is a truly, serious value-added product worth considering as many of us, including me, would not have the time nor inclination to do this on any type of regular basis @ home. The difference between bone broth, stock & broth can be found here…I did not purchase any on this visit (I forgot to get cash out :-() but it is on my short list for the future.

New Product to Me – Bone Broth…; Fresh Fish!

So if you are lacking something fun to do on a Friday morning, then a trip to the Ohoka Farmers Market (they are celebrating their 10th year in operation!) would make for a pleasurable outing…stock up on some awesome fresh products as well as decent pantry items and enjoy a coffee & pastry or three and soak in the good vibes…hasta luego!

We are good cusotmers of the Sausage Shed @ the Lyttelton FM; Beautiful & Delicious Fruit…

Gíjon – Magical Town…

Our distant impression of Gíjon from various readings & conversations was that it was a seriously heavy industrial port town & maybe not worth a visit, but we had heard from several good friends that Gíjon was mos def worth a visit. These were friends who had lived & spent a chunk of time in Gíjon and, we assumed, they knew of what they spoke. So as part of our return trip to our fave area of Asturias, we put it on the list…

La Galana…Not So Galamorous – Looks Good But Pulpo Tough and My Fabada Vey Weak on Flavour…

We broke up our long Land Rover drive with a brief stop in Noja and pretty much have nothing to report…so on to Gíjon to arrive in a pissing down chubasco (rain storm) & struggling to find a park. But we did, and then zigged & zagged our way to our AirBnB flat that was strategically located in primo territory (Cimavilla). After a warm welcome by our hosts, we headed out with Billie in tow to luckily find a break in the weather! We made a bee line for the Plaza Mayor with a wee bit of hunger & thirst on the burn & several folks had put in a good word for La Galana, so it was our first port of call. This place was the definition of style over substance – staff were surly & rude, prices a tad on the high side and the food was more than a few steps below average. Hoping things would improve…

Gíjon Street Scenes…

Coastal Park Near our AirBnB flat in the Cimavilla Barrio…with a sculpture by Eduardo Chillida

Our AirBnB flat was located within a 3-4 minute walk to the coastal park of Cerro de Santa Catalina which suited Billie to a ‘T’ for his early morning piss & poo walk. Stunning 360 degree views capped off by a wonderful Eduardo Chillida sculpture titled ‘Elogio del Horizonte‘.  Billie was very impressed…

It being Saturday, and Gíjon having a reputably damn decent mercado, we made a bee line for the Mercado del Sur to stock up for our coming days of camping by the sea at Camping Troenzo. And boy did we score! We’d made a list of special Asturias items that needed to make it into our basket & we found several stalls that were packed to the gills with our desired delectable items. By pure accident, we did most of our procurement at a deli stall called Pimienta y Perejil (Pepper and Parsley) that many folks outside the market and post our visit said was THE BEST. The man knew his Asturias products like…well, an Asturian deli expert, so we grabbed some jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, some Cabrales queso and some fat & big Asturias white beans.

Awesome Mercado del Sur - Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

Mercado del Sur – Gíjon’s Major Market…Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

And as luck would have it, the monthly artisan market was on for that very Saturday – double score. We picked up some more Asturias queso de cabra cheese and some primo cecina from the Gancedo stall — all organic, all home grown, all in the family and free range.

Artisan Market in Plaza Mayor…

And if our supply shopping could not get any better, in the barrio del Carmen we chanced across Coalla, Spain’s version of the famed US of A’s Dean & Deluca. This joint was a taste & smell sensation – our camping pantry was now past fulll…

Coalla – The Spanish Version of Dean & Deluca…Impressive.

As we edged into our Saturday night, one thing we needed to continue to continue ticking off was a decent taste of ciders as Asturias and the Basque Country are THE makers of Spanish cider. So just round the corner from our flat was La Tabacalera which suited all our minimal requirements just fine – it was a sideria and they had cider.

Sideria La Tabacalera…Top Left: 1st Cider of the night, Zapica; Hound #2 Gets In Some Pouring Practice; Chorizo in Cider; Marinated & Spicy Olives; Da Place…

In most other parts of Spain it is quite customary to just order a glass of cider, but in Asturias you have to have the whole bottle. Not too potent @ 6% or so on the alcohol scale, but it does sneak up on you. Asturias is also one of the provinces where a free pintxo comes with your drink…here we were first plied with some spicy, garlic olives. But our hunger was a tad bigger than that so we put in a racion order for sauteed chorizo with, of course, cider!

Way Cool Bar – La Vida Alegre…

Our next destination was the barrio (neighbourhood) del Carmen which our good mate Terra had tipped us off as THE COOL & HOT area of Gíjon, chocka full of bars, restaurants, cafes & stores. And she was spot on…

We started with a wee cerveza rest stop outdoors @ La Vida Alegre (The happy or joyful life) and enjoyed the excellent people watching as the Saturday night crowds began to stuff the streets….

Hop’nest Bar of the Night – Turnedo! Top Left: One of our 3 Free Pintxos @ Turnedo; Outside View; Excellent Vino Selections; Da Crowds; Menus…

Then it was on to Vinatería Turnedo – now this was the definition of popular…but even though super busy, the staff was more than up to the challenge with quick service and always with a smile.

Yawn…More Bars…Tough Life.

Tierra Astur – More Cider!

Almost happy that Saturday night came to an end – our heads & livers thanked us…so up early & in need of a decent, pre-leaving-Gíjon-coffee we had only one choice – Raw Coco, who’s acquaintance we’d made the previous morning. And it was a case of déjà vu too with the same order of two cafe con leches & a slice of sinful carrot cake.

Raw Coco – Fave, fave Cafe

So we waved a sad goodbye to Gíjon, but we were not too sad as we were heading  for a lunchtime rendezvous @ Casa Juanín…

 

A Salamanca Weekend…A Savoury Visit.

salpalenciascene

Pueblo de Palencia…Top: Plaza Mayor & Town Hall; Local Band; Church.

We had decided to opt out of a Valentine’s Day Valentine’s Day with all it requisite paraphernalia & fluff and instead, 2 weeks later, have a romantic weekend (minus our ‘child’ Billie the Jack Russell) in Salamanca.  With our time in Spain rapidly diminishing (we leave on August 1st for the U.K. to prep our New Zealand return), we have assembled a decently long list of to do’s & Salamanca was top of the list.

It is a reasonably long drive (5+ hours) so we sorted out a few pit stops along the way which was a tad difficult as there seems to be, by all appearances, nothing much of real interest on the road to Salamanca (Burgos is great but we’d already been there). We have a Spanish friend who was born & raised in Palencia, so that was where we headed for a roadway breather & something to eat…

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Bar Alaska, Palencia – Estupendo!

Though many of our guide books or articles gave Palencia a minor pass, we made the most of it & headed straight through the Old Town to highly recommended Bar Alaska. And the reviewers were spot on – our only mistake was we did not take stock of exactly how good this place was & simply stop here & enjoy. But no, Hound #2 had read about a Turkish place called El Rincon de Istanbul which by Tripadvisor ticks was the bee’s knees for Turkish food outside of Turkey itself. Not…we were both slightly suspicious when the menu was: (a) almost longer than the Bible (obviously not freshly cooked); and (b) the menu & the restaurant walls were plastered with florescent plastic photos of their food.

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Lunch @ Rincon de Istanbul, Palencia – Not Too Good…

And our gut instincts were right – the falafel came out of a frozen packet, the bread was also a packet product and my curried chicken was almost stone cold & Hound #2 summed it up precisely by stating that it looked like ‘sick’. Onward to Salamanca…

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View of Stunning Salamanca & the Roman Bridge that crosses the River Torme (trout are in there!)…

Our arrival into Salamanca was easy as due to the fact that our hotel Vincci Ciudad de Salamanca, was right on the outskirts, only a 10 minute walk into the centro, so easily avoiding all the driving & parking hassles of a central Old Town space. We quickly settled in & headed out for a Friday arvo / evening stroll to the City Centre – across a beautiful Roman bridge over the River Torme. Once again, the Weather Gods smiled upon us and we had a perfecto winter’s day of blue skies, sun, no wind & mild temps…

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Beautiful Architecture Round Every Corner….

The Old Town is, thankfully, very pedestrianised so walking or strolling is a breeze. Salamanca is a big university town & has one of, if not the oldest, university in Europe. And it is chocka with students – we heard more American/Canadian/British accents in one weekend than we have heard in our entire time in Hondarribia. We were late to find out that this weekend was El Carnaval weekend – so a wee bit fearful of possible chaos & craziness. No problema…tranquilo…sweet as.

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Top Left: Back Street View, Cathedral in the lights, Plaza Mayor – Excellent Space!

Salamanca is a bit closer in modus operandi to the South of Spain than the North, which means that many places open later (round 8PM or after). So with a small chunk of time on our hands we made a bee line for La Vendimia Vinoteca – tienda de vino supreme!

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Tienda de Vino Excelente!

It is ALWAYS a great pleasure to peruse a wine store that offers up a distinctly different range of vino bebidas….not your bog standard super mercado or local bodega selection but different juices from small producer folks that I only seem to read about in magazines. Several bottles were purchased (and 3 more the next day) and off we went into the Salamanca night…

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Bodega Cuzco – Our Salamanca Fave….

At the top of our list & just about everyone else’s was Bodega Cuzco which offered up caliente made-to-order pintxos paired with a superbly chosen wine list. The staff were top notch too – friendly & super efficient. I had the chicken curry mini burger while Hound #2 went with her usual favourite – pulpo (octopus) a la plancha (grilled).

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Bambú – Another Great Choice for Friday’s Comestibles…

Next on our visitation agenda was Bambú – again a crowd pleaser and a highly rated establishment. A really well oiled hospitality machine (not President Trump’s kind) that was cranking on all cylinders & buzzing with Friday night crowds filling the place to the max. Salamanca is technically reputed to be a city that falls into the category of a free pintxo with every drink order. What we found were 3 distinct offers: (a) order a drink & get a gratis pintxo; (b) order a drink & not get a free pintxo but notice that most of the locals were getting one so we asked…and usually, begrudgingly got one; and (c) you pay for your pintxos (like at  Bodega Cuzco) . Bambú fits into the first bucket so with our first round of cervezas, I got the universal Spanish sandwich – jamón with pimiento pepper on a wee roll. Hound #2 scored with a smoked salmon wrapped around cream cheese & dusted in bread crumbs. Round 2 was accompanied by some delicious meatballs or albondigas as they are called here.

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Salamanca Scenes…

Up early on Saturday to have a full on day in Salamanca, first port of call was the Casa de las Conchas. Unfortunately, La Casa was undergoing some renovation works so the full beauty of its facade was hidden by some serious scaffolding. But still a marvel – and we had a nice chat with the librarian (yes, there is a library inside) who told us a bit about the history & construction and said it was VERY difficult to find qualified people to do the restoration so they had ONE woman doing it bit by bit as they could afford to pay her.

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Casa de las Conchas….

Next on our Saturday morning agenda was our required visit to the local mercado – the Mercado Central de Salamanca to be exact. An always fascinating adventure to walk the aisles & floors (2 levels here) and have a decent perusal of all of the local products on offer. Salamanca has a reputation as serious ‘meat country’ in all its various forms – fresh beef or pork or veal or fowl or ox; charcuterie of all shapes & sizes like chorizo or jamón sliced or full legs, salchichon (salami extraordinaire), morcilla (blood sausage), sausages & cecina (dried beef or ox).

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Mercado Central de Salamanca….

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Mercado Central de Salamanca: Top – Serious Spanish Beef; Veggies Galore; More Meat & Charcuterie…

And of course you will find a decent collection of veggie & dry goods stalls too, and as icing on the cake, a magnificent fish section stuffed to the gills with everything possible from the sea or fresh water. The Spanish love their seafood and we are quite blessed living in Hondarribia as it is a fishing port town so we see el pescado as fresh as it can be.

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Mercado Central de Salamanca – Fish Section….

Post our mercado visit, we paid a second visit to La Vendimia vino store and then set our course for Calle Van Dyck. This street is a renowned student haunt due to its cheap eats & drinks. We were hesitant to see it in all its glory, late at night on Carnaval weekend so we opted for a mid day visit to see what the fuss was about.

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La Cocina de la Yaya (affectionate term for grandma)…Top: Braised Mushrooms; A Moruno skewer – usually lamb but this was pork…

We did a couple block walking tour, sticking our noses into various joints & decided we liked the look of La Cocina de la Yaya (Spanish for grandma). And yes folks, the price was right – 2 cervezas & 2 LARGE pintxos for all of 6 euros. The students have sussed this out correctly…

We popped into one other taberna on Calle Van Dyck before aiming ourselves to return to the Old Town & we came across Restaurante Don Bustos in our wanders. Following, once again, Hound #2’s Dad’s Rule – if it has loads of local folks inside there is a high probability it is a keeper. Score for Dad’s Rule – busy as & buzzing with Spanish. Two cañas (beer) ordered straight away & 2 pintxos gratis of fried eggplant handed across the bar. Delish.

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Restaurante Don Bustos….Pintxo of Fried Eggplant. Place was hop’n!

We had built up a respectable ‘to do’ list with regards to bars & pintxo places, so we next made our way to La Casa de Las Pulgas (House of the Fleas) which was warp speed busy with only one bartender, but scored a sweet pintxo of chickpea stew with diced shrimp & mussels. Yum.

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Casa de las Pulgas (Fleas) – Chickpea Stew with Shrimps & Mussels…

And just down the street on Plaza Angel was a super popular place called Casa Vallejo which people spilling out onto the street & plaza. And here the free pintxo was a white bean stew with various bits of diced chorizo mixed through it. Perfecto…

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Casa Vallejo – Busy As…

Queued up next was La Cocina de Toño, a place known for its hot, freshly made pintxos (versus cold or microwaved off the bar). This place got the 2 thumbs (maybe 4) up as super tasty, excellent pintxo snacks at a fair price with a great vino selection and, thankfully, in a slightly less hectic atmosphere than our previous 2 bars.

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La Cocina de Toño – 2nd Fave of the Trip…Top Left: Chickpeas with Shrimps; Back Bar & Hanging Jamón; Pulpo (Octopus).

After a wee siesta back at the hotel, we geared up for a Saturday night in Salamanca with Carnaval supposedly in full swing. We were again quite relieved to find out that carnaval in Salamanca, despite all the youngsters, was a quiet affair.

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A Return Visit to Bodega Cuzco – Great Again…Top: Goats Cheese with Caramelised Onion Topping; 2 Copas de Toro; Duck Confit Fajita.

We made our plan to be @ Bodega Cuzco spot on the 8PM opening to avoid the inevitable throngs. We got two cozy seats at the bar & placed our order for two vino tintos de Toro and 2 pintxos – Hound #2 had warmed Goat’s Cheese with a topping of Caramelised Onions while I satisfied my duck craving with a Duck Confit Fajita.

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2 Blogger Favorites….

We popped into to several other places on our list like La Viga and Bar Montero but ended up just having a wine. La Viga was packed with locals but the food on offer was not our cuppa tea – fried pork crackling & other fried things. Bar Montero seemed a bit more formal with very little being offered on the bar and only a full menu to order from.

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Live Music @ Local Salamanca Dive Bar….

We decided to call it a night & zig zagged our way through the narrow back streets & stumbled across a teeny tiny bar & decided on a nightcap. Happy to find that they served Alhambra Reserva 1925 but even more surprised to see a group setting up to play. We hung around for some tunes which, again, were not our cuppa tea but a fun way to end the evening…

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Goodbye Beautiful Salamanca…

We felt we had seen what we wanted to see in Salamanca, so we set off early to take advantage of another spectacular winter’s day & drop in on Valledolid as we had never been & had no plans to visit.

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Stretch Your Legs Pit Stop @ Valledolid….

We spent an hour or so wandering around the Old Town, stopping off @ Plaza Mayor for some coffee in the winter sun and finding 2 serious wine stores right next to each other but closed (it was Sunday) – damn!. We concluded it was a city mos def worth a night & day’s stay…

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Lunch in Burgos @ La Pez…Simple As – Tuna Fillets Topped with Pimiento Peppers & Then Turned Over – Yum!

With Burgos up ahead on our road trip home, we made the executive decision to make it our lunch destination. We had had a stupendous time in Burgos on another trip and had fond memories of its Old Town section & excellent food. We laid out a direct walking line to Plaza Mayor & its various side streets and popped in at an old fave – Meson Los Herreros. Two pintxos & two cervazas down the gullet we navigated to La Pez de la Senda which is a very different pintxo bar from your bog standard. La Pez had just recently opened on our first visit to Burgos and we found the staff super friendly and they seemed to be always giving us free pintxos or samples of vino or vermouth. La Pez is also a mini deli with various products available for sale to take home. Our pintxo of the day was a beautiful jar of the local tuna  topped with cooked pimiento peppers, then turned upside down – what a presentation! Tasted great too…

So if you have never visited or heard of Salamanca, it is a city to put on your Spanish to do list. You will be rewarded with awesome architecture, old world charm, food & drink to please any palate – go!!!!!