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.

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!

Kiwis Come A Calling…

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Paddle Board Day…Billie Goes To Sea!

We were fortunate to have our Kiwi mate Shelley and her 2 kids (Finn & Stella) come by for 3 weeks & experience & enjoy the wonderful Hondarribia (Spain) & surrounds – and we packed it in!. It being the depths of winter Down Under, our first few days were spent lapping up the warmth & sunshine. We grabbed the local ferry to Hendaye (France – 5 minute ferry ride) where the beach is magnificent, and just enough wave action to get a few boogie board rides in. It was also good weather for everyone to have a go at paddle boarding…I was not so successful (top left picture below)…but Billie on the other hand, Hound #1, is a goer!

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Hondarribia, Spain – The Kiwi Home For 3 Weeks!

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Stinking HOT in Hondy! Even I Had To Jump In!

And besides the aquatic fun, we of course dove into the food & vino experience! Shelley is a long time Food Hound and was my partner in our restaurant London Street in Lyttelton, New Zealand. And of course, Spain and the Basque Country are a bountiful cornucopias for a food loving person – not just the amazing pintxo & raciones and menú del día offerings, but also the vast array of stellar products & produce. From the fresh as fish, to the veggies, to the olive oils & spices, to the cheeses & jamón – it’s all here.

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Hondy Treats – Top Left: Calle San Pedro Pintxo Fest; Pintxo; Pintxo; Special New Zealand Juice Courtesy of Shelley

After exhausting many of our regular Hondarribia haunts like Gran Sol, Vinoteca Ardoka, Sadara, Extebarri and Txantxangorri, we headed out to our only 1 star Michelin joint Alameda, which is top of the line on the pintxos front. We loved the mackerel ceviche (twice in fact), and the patatas brava (classic Basque dish) which totally vanished (by the kids) before any photos could be taken! And we had one of our fave wines of the trip – a stunning Rioja white (95% Viura – Spanish varietal)  by Bodega Allende.

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High Class @ Alameda

Next on the ‘to do’ list was our first visit of several visits to the most beautiful city in the world by most folks counts, San Sebastián (or Donosti in Basque). You need to either hang here for a number of days, or make multiple visits (we took the bus from Hondarribia – easy peezy) to get a decent dose of this wonderful wee city by the sea. What’s not to love? Grand architecture, museums & art spaces, beaches to beat the band, food & drink to die for, vistas to make ya cry, cool shopping galore and even a 100+ year old amusement park.

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San Seabstián: Top Left – Mount Igueldo Rollercoaster; On the Climb to Jesus; Jesus; La Concha Beach & City

We had a set of priorities to tick off so we set off on a mission….first, to eat. The vast array of choices to try pintxos, or raciones and eat a full meal in San Sebastián are head spinning to say the least. It is pretty hard to go too far wrong – much of the time you get to ‘look before you eat’ as you wander in & out of various tavernas checking out the types & quality of comestibles. We sampled a few of our standard spots like Paco Bueno (serious Old School & even has a signed All Blacks t-shirt framed); Bar Goiz Argi where we go for the calamare a la plancha (grilled – pictured below, top left); Borda Berri – ex-Cuchara de San Telmo folks & super pintxos; and Bar Zeruko – the award wining champ. And of course there are squadron of other places to gobble, gobble….

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San Sebastián Pintxos

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Bretxa Market, San Sebastian – Top Left: Kids; Blue Fin Tuna; Mate @ BretxOliva; Sardines; Veggies; Shrimps

On any true food person’s must do list is to pay a respectful visit to the local market(s) and have an extended wander up & down the aisles, chat away with the producers and learn a wee bit about what that region/country is proud to sell & eat. In San Sebastián that would be the Bretxa Market & related outdoor veggie stalls. It is hard to think of anything you cannot find or buy here with an extensive fish & seafood section offering the ocean’s finest; poultry vendors & butchers busy at work carving up various carcasses into fine cuts of meat; charcuterie & cheese & delicatessen stalls that will simply make your mouth water; and fruit & veggie stalls packed with the season’s produce.

Since we were in the city for the day, perishable purchases were not an option so we got happily stuck at BretxOliva, and amazing olive-everything stand (and extremely amenable host – you must try everything! he said)…excelente! We made fast friends and weighed down our backpacks with a decent assortment of Spanish goodies.

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Tasting Vino At GOÑI ardoteca

And besides the captivating Bretxa Market, quite nearby is our favourite wine store GOÑI ardoteka. They have an excellent range of vino, including some very good French wine which can be next to impossible to find in Spain, go figure?. But the best thing about GOÑI ardoteka is the staff – always super friendly & accommodating, informative & patient. On this day we lucked out and managed to be served by William, who offered us a range of wines to taste, including some quite old (and expensive) vino. He wanted us to taste the style differences and effects of age – well done William (and yes, we did buy a few bottle)!

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La Cuchara de San Telmo, San Sebastian – Yum! Top Left: Tuna, Kids, Veal Cheeks, Tomato Gazpacho com Idiazabal Cheese, Pulpo!

Even though we had managed an early pintxo pit stop to satiate growing Finn’s insatiable hunger, it was now approaching the opening time of one of our favourite regular haunts – La Cuchara de San Telmo. Now the Basque Pintxo World is basically divided into 2 worlds, the pre-made-cold-on-the-bar (can be heated sometimes) pintxos and the hot, made to order pintxos. La Cuchara de San Telmo falls into the latter camp and it is oh so good – it pays to arrive smack dab @ the opening @ 12:30pm (or there abouts as they often open late) for a lunchtime snack as within 20-25 minutes you just about cannot get in. Words of wisdom folks…

After a week’s explore of Hondarribia & San Sebastián & surrounds, it was now time for a road trip…so we grabbed a rental bus (literally) & took off for a whirlwind tour of Pais Vasco with stops in Getaria, Laguardia, Logroño, La Rioja Alavesa and Pamplona.

First destination: Getaria. A more than picturesque fishing village just an hour or so west along the Basque Coast from Hondarribia. Though still sort of quaint, it has changed a fair bit in just the 3 or so years since my first visit, with a number of more upscale shops for the shoppers and a small tourist crush. Shelley & Finn paid a visit to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museo and they rated it a 5 star attraction – Stella & I hit the beach…as ya do.

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Getaria – Top Left: Family Pic Down Getaria Calle; Menú del Día @ Taverna Politena; Getaria’s Surf Beach; Grilled Dorado

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Laguardia, La Rioja Alavesa: Top Left – Santa Maria Church; Santa Maria Altar; La Rioja Alavesa View; Family Photo; Tower of Santa Maria

If you are ever tempted to visit the La Rioja region and taste some exquisite vino, you could not be more perfectly placed than Laguardia. And besides being perfectly placed you will be hanging in one of the most beautiful pueblos to be found in all of Spain, bar none. Like many old pueblos in Spain, it sits atop a decent hill, enclosed in an ancient fortress wall with encompassing views of the La Rioja vineyards that run right up to the start of the sheer cliff faces of the Cantabria Mountains.

Our first port of call for the day was a tasting stop at Bodegas Baigorri – one of our better go to drops. Spain’s wine scene has started to change – 3 or so years ago you needed to make an appointment & most likely take a cellar / winery tour (or even commit to lunch) before you could taste. But Bodegas Biagorri now offers tastings (only 2 wines) if you rock up on a normal working day (they do the tours/lunch thing too).

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Bodegas Baigorri, La Rioja Alavesa

It was fast approaching pintxo time, so after a fruitless search to find Bodegas Allende (the vino we had @ Alameda…we did find it, but there are no tastings or tours) we made a bee line for the Casco Viejo of Logroño which is renowned for its pintxo bars that all have a signature dish, usually centred around one prime ingredient (e.g., mushrooms or grilled pork).

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Logroño Pintxo Fest…

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Bodegas Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

On our way to Bodegas Baigorri, we stopped in at Bodegas Ysios & found that they do require a winery tour – well so be it, as we wanted to taste their wines. Bodegas Ysios only makes 2 wines, both reds and it sometimes seems to be better known for the grand winery building than the wines! They are part of the PernodRicard empire so not exactly your mom & pop operation. All in all, they were decent vinos with one from the 2008 vintage and one from the 2009 and they were generous with the pours…and left us the bottles!

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Wine Tasting @ Bodega Ysios, La Rioja Alavesa

Post 2 picture perfect & massively enjoyable days in Laguardia & La Rioja Alavesa, we packed up and made our way up & over the Cantabria Mountains with Pamplona in our sites. Pamplona as many folks know, is mainly famous or infamous for the Running of the Bulls or the Festival of  San Fermin. We scheduled our visit the day after the festival ended which was both a blessing & a curse. A blessing in that much of the craziness (and it is VERY CRAZY) had subsided, but a curse in several ways as the town was: (a) slightly dead (guess bar & restaurant owners & staff et al needed a rest); (b) it was a tad dirty & smelled of vomit in places; (c) Shelley had her wallet pinched.

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Top Left: Magina Aceites de la Sierra & Owner; Vermut @ Baserriberri; Group Pic; Catedral de Santa Maria; Final Pintxos @ Baserriberri

Despite the curses, we toddled on & managed to find some excellent pintxos at the open bars, pay a visit to the sweet wee Mercado de Santa Domingo which has one of the best & cheapest cheese stalls anywhere, and round up quite a few gourmet goodies at Magina Aceites de la Sierra shop where the owner was beyond generous and helpful (photo above).

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Awesome!

One of the awesome things about living in Hondarribia (and in close proximity to San Sebastián) is there is always something going on…and usually free! And such was Shelley & the Kids’s luck that upon our road trip return, they happened to time it right for the Hondarribia Blues Festival. Four days and nights of stellar performances from musicians from round the world, on multiple stages about the town. Not sure how or who pays for it, but it is a seriously fun event.

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Hondarribia Blues Fest – Good Time Had By All!!!

After a wee rest (except for Shelley & the Kids who headed off to Paris for 4 days! Lucky sods…), we caught the slow train from San Sebastián that goes along the coast & ends up in the Big Smoke of Bilbao, one of the Basque Country’s biggest cities. I did not expect to really like Bilbao much on my first visit – besides the infamous Guggenheim Museum, what could the industrial capital of the Pais Vasco offer? Well, a lot to be honest.

We checked into our sweet accommodation @ Casual Gurea in the late afternoon & got out for a decent wander in the Parte Viejo. As always, growing boy Finn was hungry, so we made our way to Plaza Nueva which is lined with numerous pintxo bars and fed the beast…we sampled the wares of Bar Zuga and of course had to drop in at the classic Victor Montes.

I had made a dinner reservation at El Perro Chico, a place the Hounds had managed to grab a quick lunch at on our first visit to Bilbao but it had been firmly put on the ‘food radar’ for a return visit for a full on meal…

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao – Best Food in Spain So Far!

Pretty much all we call say is a big WOW! El Perro Chico, without any doubt, serves some of the best food I/we have had in Spain so far. It is one of those rare breeds that takes the abundance & variety of Spanish food products, and gives them an innovative, international or other worldly twist. The food has no focus on a specific style or ethnicity except to make damn good tasting food, creatively prepared.

We all tucked into our respective plates and no one chose poorly – it all tickled the taste buds (even the salad starter was AWESOME), but the general consensus was Shelley won the day with her seared tuna, perfectly cooked & flavoured. We LOVED it here so much that upon paying our bill & leaving, we booked in for lunch on our last day…

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El Perro Chico Dinner: Top Left – Seared Tuna; Smoked Beef; Veal Chop; Pork Belly

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El Perro Chico Dog Bill & Dessert

On our first full day in Bilbao we opted for a full on museum day – first the infamous Guggenheim (I like the building the best), followed up by a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (far better art in my humble opinion). The Guggenheim certainly has the “wow” factor going for it, but I could easily just walk around the building having a good squizzy from all sides & be more than happy.

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum

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Guggenheim Fun…

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Bilbao Museo – Life Like Exhibition…Slightly Creepy.

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Museo de Bilbao

Post some seriously heavy museum time, we all had worked up some hunger pains so we walked as straight as the crow flies to Cafe Iruña, a cafe rightly famous for its lamb kebabs (called Pintxo Moruno) cooked over a charcoal grill & served by Ahmed. In general, Spanish food is not too spicy or highly flavoured, so it was a nice mouth jolt to bite into a clearly Moroccan flavoured skewer of roast lamb.

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Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Lamb Kebabs by Ahmed

Besides the museums, the great food market, the riverside walks, the tasty bars & restaurants and the Old Town, one of the other ‘must sees’ is the Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Centre designed/renovated by Bad Boy Frenchman Philippe Starck. Originally a massive La Rioja wine warehouse that was built in 1909, it is now a full function space with art & culture exhibits, cinema, restaurants & bars and sporting activities. We all found the rooftop, glass bottomed swimming pool of most curious interest.

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Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center by Philippe Starck

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Shelley & The Kids Take A Dip At The Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Center’s Glass Bottom Pool

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Group Fun – Bilbao, Spain

And just like me after my first visit, Shelley & the Kids really loved the Big Smoke of Bilbao. They felt they could easily have spent a couple more days there (just like me) to more fully explore the rich variety of experiences this Basque city has to offer.

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Out on the Town – Bilbao, Spain – Plaza Nueva with some Bacarones & Vermut!

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao -Again! For Goodbye Lunch…

And here we all are, back again @ El Perro Chico for our goodbye lunch (Shelley & the Kids were flying out of Bilboa @ 6:30pm for home, New Zealand) and once again, we were totally pleased. At lunch El Perro Chico offer a menú del día for the wee sum of €13.50 (they were super nice & let us adults have the kids’s vino). I also need to mention that besides the stunning food, the staff are simply superb, simply superb.

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Lunch @ El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Top – Waldorf Salad, Roasted Tomatoes & Polenta; Watermelon Salmorejo

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El Pero Chico, Bilbao – Goodbye Lunch….

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Top Left – Yellow Veg Chicken Curry, Fajitas With Beef & Crispy Red Onions, Crispy Chicken on a Parmesan Base & Thyme Polenta

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El Perro Chico, Bilbao: Dessert…So Good We Almost Forgot to Take A Photo…

So with a grand mix of happiness (great to spend such fun times with the crew & eat so well) and sadness (saying goodbye to great mates), we bid our final goodbyes & I toddled off to catch the slow train to San Sebastián with a few wee tears in my eyes. Shelley & the Kids made it home safe & sound though by a flight(s) from Hell & I hope to see them soon on the Other Side…

Bilbao…More Than A Museo.

Bilbao is the real Big Smoke of the Basque Country and for many, many years it was (probably still is) its industrial heart. Bilbao was the centre for iron & steel production, boat building, fishing, etc…and it used to be that the hotels in Bilbao gave discounts only on weekends as the majority of their trade came from business folks staying over on weeknights to negotiate trade. But it has changed and is still changing with a significant turning point being the opening of the famous Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum in 1997.

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Hound #1 Having a Snooze on the Train to Bilbao

So the Hounds decided that Bilbao was worth a decent squizzy, so we hopped on the local yokel train from San Sebastián. And local yokel was a wee understatement, it appeared to us that we made a stop about every 10 minutes or so and in some towns, like Deba, we made 3 stops in about 90 seconds. Oh well, the scenery (you skirt the coast for quite a ways) was estupendo.

We had booked ourselves into the Casual Gurea pensión and what a prescient choice that was – minutes from the train station (we were backpacked up) and smack dab in the heart of the Casco Viejo (Old Town) and pintxo action central. Highly recommend Casual Gurea for a Bilbao stay over – great staff, sweet rooms with wooden floors & baths, a balcony and an affordable price…and they allow pooches! But FYI, they are doing some renovations at the moment like putting in an elevator – it’s 3 floors up – but that was not a bother for us three.

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EL TXOKO was smok’n…

We arrived in the late afternoon so the few train snacks we had consumed had not done the trick. And with dining time quickly slipping away to closing time, we hit the restaurant right at the entrance way to our pensión – El Txoko. Txoko is the name given to the somewhat infamous Basque male gastronomical societies where, up until recently, women were forbidden (now they are allowed to eat, but not cook).

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From Top Left, Clockwise: Goat’s Cheese Salad, Grilled Fresh Mackerel, Creamed Green Bean Salad and Duck Confit

This was another of Spain’s menú del día deals to make ya squeal – €10.50 for 3 courses and a half bottle of Rioja. We now had the fuel to explore Bilbao and we were sufficiently armed with helpful gastronomic guides (mucho thanks to Amy @ RestlessFork blog…we hit all your suggestions) to navigate the Old Town laneways…

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Zuga, Plaza Nueva, Bilboa – Pintxos of Excellence

Our first port of call was Plaza Nueva but it really should be called Pintxo Plaza. A beautiful square quite reminiscent of Constitution Square (used to be a bull fighting square) in San Sebastián that is pleasantly sprinkled with a decent variety of comestible establishments.

We stuck out heads in Zuga first (dogs allowed – yay!) and the delicious pintxo display drew us in. We started out on a high as this was – by unanimous vote – the best pintxo of the trip. An almost fist sized chunk of glistening tuna topped with a fresh salsa & sitting on a tangy vinaigrette drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Worth a trip back to Bilbao…

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Cafe Bar Bilbao, Plaza Nueva, Bilbao – Fun Joint

Next on our list, Bar Bilboa, was just down the square and highly recommended by our friendly pensión host. Spot on he was – mucho friendly & helpful staff and perfect pintxos. Yet another reason for a return to Bilbao….

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Victor Montes, Plaza Nueva, Bilbao and a Selfie @ La Olla…

Then on to one of the old fellas of the Bilbao pintxo bar scene, Victor Montes. Victor Montes is most def ‘old school’ but in a very good way – an elegant blend of bar, restaurant, bodega/wine store and all around warm atmosphere. We finished the evening with a nightcap at La Olla & headed home to get ready for a day in Bilbao…

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Scenes of Bilbao

Friday manaña found us on a wee mission as Hound #2 had broken her phone…so we went in search of either repair or replacement, but snuck a few sights into the search. One of which was the Alhóndiga Bilbao, originally a massive wine warehouse that was built in 1909 but recently renovated with the design help of French Bad Boy Philippe Starck. It is a full function space with art & culture exhibits, cinema (they were featuring a Buster Keaton fest), restaurants & bars and sporting activities. We found the rooftop, glass bottomed swimming pool of most curious interest.

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Alhóndiga Bilbao: Roof Top Glass Bottomed Swimming Pool: Philippe Starck Designed Pillar

Hound #3’s usual vice on visiting a new city is, of course, wine stores and Bilbao was no different. After 2 disappointing no shows (the stores had shut down), we hit pay dirt with Bodega Urbana. A perfect mix of wine store, bistro / restaurant and wine bar – a fun option was the ability to make your own blend (and label) from the various varietal tanks on site. We tasted the house Petit Verdot – rich & velvety on the palate – and snatched up a bottle (as well as the Syrah).

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Top Left, Clockwise: Bodega Urbana Poster, House Vino, House Vino In Bottle, Wine Store

With no quick phone fix, it was time for some culture – so off we toddled in search of the infamous Guggenheim Museum (the Guggen to the locals)….

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The Guggen…

If I am really honest, and I am, the best thing about the Guggenheim is still the building. Stunning on this almost Spring day with the sun beaming down on its titanium sheets & framed against a deep blue sky…awesome and ageing like a true beauty. The best art on display was a fascinating exhibit called ‘Making Africa‘ which we were so lucky to catch its last few days.

To be continued…

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Bilbao Scenes…

 

 

Paris Birthday Bash…The End.

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We’d been hoof’n it for several days now, so a ride on the Metro was in order to give our shanks’ ponies a wee rest. We’d read that dogs were allowed on the Metro…but they had to be in a bag. Ruh roh…so we brought with us an old, flexible overnight bag to see if Hound #1 was game. I won’t say he liked it, but there were no real complaints to be heard. He got a snack for being such a good boy…

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Metro Madness…Dog In Da Bag.

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We made a beeline that morning for a  market we’d read about in the 15th Arrondissement called the Rue de Grenelle Marché. Things looked initially bleak as we seemed to be walking forever and as yet no sign of market folks. But not to worry, you could not miss this market even if you were totally blind as this was HUGE!

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The Rue de Grenelle Marché – 15th Arrondissement

Located underneath a bridge or highway overpass, this market stretched for block after block with every imaginable food option on display, multiple times. When we travel to someplace like Paris it’s a dream to rent an apartment for a month or so to take full advantage of the markets food-wise and save your wallet a bit of pain from being forced to eat out. Though that said, the Paris markets we visited did not strike either of us as ‘cheap’.

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The Rue de Grenelle Marché – 15th Arrondissement

After satiating our market tastebuds @ Rue de Grenelle Marché, we wandered in a direction to have a halfway decent view (bit overcast & misty) of the Eiffel Tower – so Paris & French & oh so expensive. Along the way, we eyed a busy pedestrian street across the boulevard – let’s have a look…

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Rue Cler – O La La…Rue de Food & Wine

Rue Cler was not on our radar in any way, shape or form – but what a find! A lovely no-cars/motorbikes walkway with all the food & wine & sweet shops that Paris is renowned for and busy as. You have to say one thing for the Parisians, they do love their food and get out to support the small local shops in force. A lesson to be learned by the rest of the world…

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Pooped Pooch, Pooch @ the Palais Royal, Pooch @ the Louvre, Lovely Toulouse Latrec Metro

On Hound #2’s ‘I want to do this’ list was a visit to Montmartre & a climb up to Sacre Couer to hopefully have one of the best views of Paris you can have without paying 15 euros a person for. And it was (as the pic at the top of the Eiffel Tower will attest) – except for all the bloody tourists (including us). It is always sad to see such a historic & iconic area be overrun by tat & bric-á-brac shops, buskers & hustlers.

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Montmartre – Sacre Couer

Once we’d descended from the mount on high, a snack & a beverage seemed in order. And as it does not take to many steps to stumble on to a wine store in Paris, we ambled into Le Rouge et Le Verre. A bit of language confusion ensued but we finally sorted it out that, because of licensing, we needed to order some food to have some wine. No problema. Two glasses of a rich & savoury St. Joseph Rhone red were poured and a plat of charcuterie was delivered. We were now powered up to march on…

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Rouge et Le Verre Wine Store…Excellent Charcuterie Plate & Vino…Hound #1’s Cheated.

Our final day in Paris called for a bit of culture, so Hound #1 was left behind for s snooze and we hopped on the Metro headed for Musee d’Orsay. We like the Musee d’Orsay over the Louvre because it is a bit more manageable – and that’s not to denigrate the lovely Louvre. But when you have just an hour or two, Musee d’Orsay hits the right art spot.

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Musée d’Orsay

And we were not disappointed – we were some of the first folks in queue so we managed to have some sections of the museum to ourselves. An absolute fave was the mind-blowing Impressionists collection on display – all the boys & girls were there…Cezanne, Renoir, Manet, Gauguin, Cassatt, Rodin, Lautrec and my personal fave – Van Gogh. Had to be a couple of billion dollars of art in this one exhibition. And you can get so close & personal – see the brush strokes. Stunning.

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And post the museum, one more market to do – Place d’Aligre. This is a mixed market with half being food and the other half a flea market. I went for the food and Hound #2 was attracted to the flea. It is reputed to be one of the cheapest markets in Paris and it appeared so…but it is 100% fruit & veggies so you will not find cheeses or charcuterie or meat or fish here. But the street that the market is hosted on is another of Paris’s block of delectable comestibles. There is small but well stocked indoor market that covers all the bases and a stroll down either side of the street will bring you to several wine & cheese stores, butchers and fishmongers. We stocked up on some saucisson for the train ride home…

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Marché Place d’Aligre – 12th Arrondissement

Well that’s Paris and my & Billie’s 60th – it was a great combo!

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