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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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!!!!

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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San Tomas Fiesta…in San Sebastián

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Scenes of San Sebastián on a December Winter’s Day…Still Folks Swimming @ La Concha Beach!

We had attended the San Tomas fest last year, but in our local abode Hondarribia, where it all seemed extremely tame & crowd free. But many of our Basque mates said we absolutely had to go to San Sebastián to witness how the pros do San Tomas. We were also urged to get an early start as it was the place were most of the world wants to be for San Tomas, and we would find ourselves cheek by jowl with the local Basque hordes.

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Top: Inventive Day of the Pig Chistorra Signage; Funky Hair Do Chook in the Farm Section; Big Bread.

The cheap & cheerful background story on San Tomas fest is that it was the day the country folks ambled into town to pay their taxes, and generally they made a day of it by bringing in their families, a few prized animals from the farm to show off and to get all gussied up in their traditional Basque finest attire for a wee social conclave.

The honoured & traditional taste treat at the San Tomas fest is the txistorra (or chistorra in Español) – a wonderfully delicious local sausage that is especially flavoursome if cooked in a bit of Basque cider. The main method of presentation at the fest as seen in a dozen or more stalls is to serve it in a hand pounded corn tortilla that is then lightly grilled.

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The Day of the Pig – Chistorra! Chistorra!

We caught the 8:15am E21 express bus & stepped off in San Sebastián at 8:45am only to find most folks still setting up their stalls and no chistorra even being cooked yet :-(….so we toddled off to our new fave coffee joint Sakona for as close to a Melbourne or Christchurch class coffee to be had in Spain.

There were stalls EVERYWHERE – with a good mix of food & drink, deli specialties, charcuterie, cheeses, chocolates, breads, pastries, and a extensive range of artisan Basque products that ranged from jewellery to clothes to toys to shoes. And speaking of shoes, both human Hounds quite surprised themselves respectively in that we each bought a pair of shoes from shoemaker Zapatari – not in the mainly-eat-chistorra-and-drink-cider-plan, go figure.

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Top Left: Pigs in a Blanket; Recyclable Festival Cider Cup!; How Basque Cider is Poured; Corn Tortillas in the Making.

So now it was chistorra time & we followed Hound #2’s Dad’s Golden Rule per choosing a place to eat – look where there are lots of people (preferably local) and/or a healthy queue and you have found the right spot. And we did & we queued & we nailed the perfecto chistorra stand. Crispy tortilla with a melt in your mouth, perfectly cooked, tender as chistorra tucked away inside. Our only fatal mistake was to order just one to share – but in our defence it was only 11am & a bit south of the traditional 12pm starting line to begin: (a) serious meat consumption and (b) imbibing something of an alcoholic nature.

We were VERY impressed with the council or fest sponsors for providing (for a euro per glass but refundable) a re-usable plastic glass for your cider pour. One of the things that is so upsetting about events like this is the massive waste…cups, napkins, plates, cutlery, etc…that just ends up in landfill somewhere. So a HUGE HATS OFF to the folks who thought this scheme up….we kept our glasses as souvenirs and to use on our camping or picnicking trips.

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Basque Father Christmas Olentzero Atop the Brexta Market; Wee Fellows Gobbling Chistorra in Traditional Clothes & Caps; Da Crowds.

By 1pm it seemed like the entire population of the Basque Country if not Spain had descended on the San Tomas Fest…so it was doing our heads in a wee bit & we needed some quiet space & a bit of a sit down, so off we went to the Tabakalera, a stunningly re-developed old tabacco warehouse that is just starting to spread its wings. It is a wonderful space for art, music, food & wine, films, quiet reflection…with an amazing view of San Sebastian from its rooftop deck space.

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Two of Alberto Schoomer’s Photos of Andy Warhol & Spanish Sculptor Chillida…and some Basque Punk.

So our second San Tomas Fest ticked off & under our belts (or over from the chistorra consumption) and we each have a new pair of Basque handmade shoes as a souvenir…excelente!

Toddling Off To The Tolosa Market…

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Tolosa Saturday Market – White Arched Building Sitting on the banks of the Oria River…

We Hounds are a wee bit passionate about exploring our local markets, and we have ticked many market boxes since arriving in Hondarribia, Spain in June 2015. But one that stubbornly still remained on our ‘to do’ list was the Saturday Tolosa Market, which many Basque foodie mates of ours had vociferously said was a ‘must do’. So we mustered ourselves out of a comfortably warm bed @ 7AM, piled into Gertie the Land Rover & bounced & jounced our way to the town of Tolosa (which, BTW, is rather infamous for being the home of the Elósegui Basque beret, of which I am a proud owner).

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Market Madness…Shopping Ops Galore!

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Market’s Kicking Off Early Saturday Morning…

And our Basque foodie mates where damn right – this is a sweet market. Not too big, not too small, not at all limited in its products on offer – just a perfect balance of all the things (in season) you’d be looking for to make a meal or fully stock your pantry. It is called the ‘mercado del tinglado’ which roughly translates to the ‘shed market’, with the actual shed being constructed on this site in 1898 (the market has been going in Tolosa for yonks).

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Tolosa Scenes: Top Left – Market; Crazy Vino Man; Lettuce Seedlings; Market & River Reflection

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Yum – Fresh Figs In Season & At Their Peak; Shiny Carrots; and Sweet Cauli…..

While Hound #2 got into the thick of it right off the bat at the very first stall with several purchases (including PERFECT aubergines – 3 for a euro…deal!), I decided to have a good squizzy of the market hall & inspect all of the vendors for potential purchases. Well, everything looked spectacular – and awesomely cheap. We were most impressed with the cheese stalls – lots of variety (many Basque market cheese stalls seem to sell the exact same cheese or minor variations on a theme) and prices to beat the band. A quarter slice of a beautiful, creamy blue which we thought would set us back €5 only rang the bell @ €2.7!

Hound #2 was on the prowl for late season figs (see picture above) & voilà! A single stall was in possession of 4 magic trays (at €2.5 a tray) of perfectly ripe figs – score! Something good & tasty will come of that I am sure…

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Cheese Galore; Local Special Beans; Chorizo!!!

And folks we are knee deep into prime fungi season here in the Basque Country, with most of the hills covered in woods of various tree species providing the perfect spawning grounds for this epicurean delicacy. They were here in all shapes & sizes & flavours (and prices)…completely hand foraged.

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It’s Mushroom Season Folks!!!

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Market Scenes…

And after some very busy shopping, a cafe con leche & sweet treat were called for…we were pointed (by several stall holders) to the Solana.4 cafe, smack dab adjacent to the market buzz. And once again our Basque advice was spot on – the best cup of java we have had in a while and pastries stuffed to the gills with deep, dark chocolate. Excelente!

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Caffeine Stop @ Solana.4 – Estupendo Coffee!

And now that we know about the Tolosa Market, we will mos def be back…even if it is just for the coffee!

To The Cidery We Will Go…

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Itziar’s Home Sweet Home…and Dogs & Cats.

We have a very good mate named Itziar who, like us, is struggling to learn a second language – for us Spanish, for her English. She’s quite good with her English but for practice we spend a bit of time each week in what is called an “intercambio”, where half the time we speak in Spanish and the other half in English. We first met Itziar at one of our absolute fave restaurants, Cantina de Guadalupe, where she works along side many folks from her family. During one recent visit to the Cantina, Itziar presented us with a bottle of her family’s cider which we promptly took home, chilled & drank as our evening beverage. Estupendo! was the general consensus.

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Cider Making Stuff

We conveyed those sentiments to Itziar upon our next meeting and she offered up an invitation to pay a visit to her parents home & see the cider making workshop and…buy some cider! Yippee! So off we toddled one fine summer’s eve in Itziar’s car, winding our way up several back country laneways, making a slow ascent toward the foothills of the Jaizkibel Mountains.

We pulled into a courtyard where a passel of folks were having a chat, buying some wonderful cider while the dogs & cats wandered freely about. Itziar introduced us to her Mum & Dad, and then launched into a tour of the cidery, explaining each piece of equipment & how it is used, as well as a timeline of events from start to the finish – cider to sell & drink. Post the tour, samples were poured all round and after a couple or three doses of cider, we headed up the hill for the late evening views.

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View from the Hill

It was a warm and slightly humid evening, which left a vague haze across the valley but the view was still stunning. We had a close inspection of the neighbour’s txakoli vineyard which appeared to be coming along nicely. Txakoli is the only native Basque Country grape and it makes a wonderful crisp, low alcohol, slightly fizzy white wine that is meant to be drunk within a year of bottling. Traditionally it is poured from a decent height when served to punch up the effervescence factor.

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Apple Orchard Trees & Sheep Shed

Post a tour of the orchard and the veggie garden, we got down to business and procured 12 bottles of this wonderful liquid. It is our favourite cider that we have tasted so far in the Basque Country and on all our trips through Spain. Long may it last or at least Itziar’s family supply stock! We hope to buy more…and maybe lend a helping hand in next season’s harvest….

Going Vegetarian in Hondarribia, Spain

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Going Veggo In Hondarribia @ El Curry Verde

Having a vegetarian restaurant in Spain is almost an oxymoron as Spain is the king when it comes down to eating meat – especially pork or jamón. Hondarribia is not short of a bar or twenty that will readily serve up all the wonderful Spanish carnivorous treats and you are quite hard done by to get any green veggies with any ordered meal. We had wandered by El Curry Verde hundreds of times (it is on one of Hound #1’s fave walks), read the menu and said “we have to go here”. But we didn’t…until Hound #2’s vegetarian-bordering-on-vegan Dad paid us a week long visit which prompted our initial & most enjoyable meal. But we had to return…

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El Curry Verde offer an a la carte menu but they also have a version of the infamous menú del día  where for €17 you get a first & second course and a dessert or for €14 you can choose a second or main course and a dessert. Unlike most menú del días in Spain, wine is not included in the price but the wine list is quite modestly priced with bottles of red, white or rosé starting out at an accessible €8.

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Top Left: Hound #1, Sweet Rosé, Veggie Spring Rolls

For vino we opted for the Egiarte rosado which we thought, on its own, was a tad too sweet for us but it worked wonders with the food. We both love El Curry Verde’s version of spring rolls so I had them as my primero course with my €17 menu while Hound #2 talked them into making them up in a main size for her segundo course. Stuffed with vermicelli noodles & diced veggies these are a taste treat – just be careful you do not burn your mouth being too eager to bite into one!

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Falafel Tacos…

My main course was a tummy filling falafel taco – perfectly cooked & full of flavour with a sensational salsa on the side. Loved the generous use of fresh herbs & veggies that lent the taco a crispy freshness and as I said before, a bit of a rarity in the Spanish restaurant or food scene.

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And to finish off our estupendo meal we both chose the inventively served cheesecake – filling up whole insides of a mason jar. Delish it was too — crispy, crunchy topping with a tart & sweet cake.

We will mos def be going back and if you are in Hondarribia, crave some super flavourful veggie comestibles, make a bee line for El Curry Verde!