Archive for October, 2017

Good eating in Utrera

Posted in Andalusia, Seville Province, Spain, Utrera with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2017 by gannet39

Utrera is a fair sized historical town in Seville province that is famous for flamenco and bull fighting. Tourists also come to see the castle but I’m not sure why as there’s not much to see. Personally I spent the day time hours when I wasn’t working inside avoiding the baking heat and this is in mid-June before the summer had started in earnest. Google map here.

The Iglesia de Santiago, next to the castle, is the main church.

You can see storks’ nests on top of some of the highest spires.

The town is also known for the mostachón, a kind of small flattened cake or Arab origin made with sugar and cinnamon. There are two bakeries in Plaza del Altozano that sell them but I was always working during opening hours so I didn’t get to try them.

I spent five nights at the Hotel Veracruz www.hotelveracruz.com which is the best (only?) place in town. Located in a nice old town house, the staff are friendly and the breakfast is okay.

I ate pretty well while I was here…

Besana Tapas (Intermediate B+), 1Calle Niño Perdido, www.besanatapas.com

The bar is tucked down an alley near the main square. It can be a challenge to catch them open as they’re closed all day Sunday and Monday, and only open for lunch Thursday to Saturday.

I think this is the best place in town. It gets recommendations from Michelin, Guia Repsol and a school owner who told me that people travel from Seville to eat the tapas here. I was certainly impressed with the food. Innovation fused with tradition. Great flavours and presentation.

‘Timbal de Habitas con Papada Ibérica, Migas y Menta’ or timbal of broad beans with pig cheeks, breadcrumbs and mint (A).

‘Mollejas Glaseadas con Queso de Cabra y Setas Salteadas’ or glazed sweetbreads with goat cheese and sauteed mushrooms (A+).

‘Cochinillo Asado con Col Lombarda Fermentada’ aka roasted suckling pig with fermented red cabbage (B+).

They have many other better wines but I went for the Andalucian reds by the glass. An old friend from Cortijo Los Aguilares, Ronda was my favourite (B+).

‘Garum’ from Bodegas Luis Pérez in Cádiz is another good one (B).

The ‘Vino Tinto’ from Marcelino Serrano in Jaen was drinkable (C).

The award for the worst wine, both in name and flavour, went to ‘Tetas de la Sacristana’ (D). It was explained to me that the sacristana is the old lady who accompanies the priest during ceremonies. She’s not meant to be attractive as this could divert the attention of the priest, so her ‘tetas’ are probably not the most appealing thing to look at. I think the bottle had been on the shelf for a while as the wine was undrinkable. They didn’t charge me though.

Total cost for three tapas and three glasses of wine €22.

So except for that last blip, I heartily recommend this great tapas bar.

El Arco (Intermediate B+), 35 Calle San Fernando, www.restauranteelarco.com

‘The Arch’ is another very good tapas bar. It’s more traditional than Besana so a good place to try local specialities. I came with my friend Juan, a local school owner, who helped me to choose.

Huevos a la Flamenca‘ are usually fried, but here boiled, eggs with a sauce of red peppers and tomatoes.

‘Croquetas de Pringá’, croquettes made from the leftovers of a local stew, are always a winner with me.

I think this is their ‘Chorizo al Estilo de la Casa’, or chorizo done in the house style (B+). Chickpeas are a very popular ingredient in Andalusia.

The ‘Pastel de Queso de Cabra con Papaya y Mousse de Pato Caramelizado’ or goat’s cheese with papaya and caramelised mousse of duck, was a rare change from tradition (B+).

They have a large selection of wines by the glass. We enjoyed a decent Ribera del Duero called ‘Finca Resalso’ by Emilio Moro (B).

And finally some ‘Queso Romero’, an aged cheese cured in oil from Cuenca, east of Madrid (B+).

On another occasion we had their ‘Cabrillas en Salsa’, big snails in a tomato sauce (B)and the ‘Adobitos’, chunks of vinegared and fried dogfish (B-).

My second favourite spot. Definitely worth the short walk from the centre of town. They have a restaurant in a separate building nearby which I’d like to try next time.

As an aside, Juan recommended one of his favourite red wines ‘Tomas Postigo’ which retails in Spain at about €20.

La Brasa (Intermediate B), 45 Calle Rubén Darío, www.restaurantelabrasa.net

I’m guessing this traditional restaurant is a bit of a local institution as it’s the most reviewed place on TripAdvisor. I came for Sunday lunch of Spanish classics.

I started with a half portion of ‘Croquetas Caseras’ (B).

For the main, the ‘Parrillada de Verduras’ (grilled veg) and the always satisfying ‘Cochinillo Lechal Asado’, or roast suckling pig (B+).

To drink, an okay Ribera del Duero called ‘Melior de Matarromera’ (B).

To finish, ‘Flan de Huevo y Coco’; a caramel pudding with squirty cream, and a complimentary flask of Orujo des Hierbas (B).

Total cost 40€. All buttons were well and truly pressed. Recommended.

La Herradura (Intermediate B), 11 Calle La Corredera

This is a busy tapas bar just over the road from the hotel. You can sit outside on the pavement if you arrive early. Really there needs to be two of you to eat their parrilladas and rice dishes, the former being highly recommended but too much for a single diner like me.

I tried some more local classics like ‘Carrillera de Iberico al Vino Oloroso’ or pig cheeks with aged sherry and whole peppercorns (B+).

Espincas con Garbanzos a la Sevillana’ or spinach with chickpeas in the Sevillian style, is also very typical (B).

‘Tataki de Presa Iberica con Salmorejo de Habas’ or seared pork shoulder with a ‘soup’ of broad beans (B+).

A good spot, recommended.

And a few places to be aware of, or avoid:

La Fábrica de Nieve aka Asador Pinto (Intermediate C+), 27 Calle La Corredera

This is a grill house just over the road from the hotel. I wouldn’t particularly recommend the food, they burned my Parrilla Iberica (C-/D), but you can sit outside in the big courtyard which is a blessing when the weather is hot. I used it as a pub and came to watch England draw nil-nil with Slovakia in the opening game of the 2016 European Championship. Something to note is that Cervezas and Jarras both cost the same, 2€.

Casa Diego (C+), 33 María Auxiliadora

According to TripAdvisor, this place has a good local rep but I wasn’t that impressed. The best thing is the large terrace in the courtyard outside where I watched Spain go down 2-1 to Croatia in the Euros.

I had the ‘Berenjenas con Salmorejo’, ‘Jamon y Huevos de Cordoniz’ (B-)…

… and the ‘Croquetas del Puchero’ (B), ‘Hamburguesita de Buey’ (C+) and a decent bottle of Rueda (B). They tried to charge me for the ‘Pavia de Merluza’ even though I’d sent it back for not being fresh (D) but removed it from the bill when I protested. Total cost was 20€ which is admittedly very cheap.

Cervecería Carlos (Intermediate C), 17 Calle la Corredera, barcarlosutrera.business.site

Another tapas bar near the hotel. They have a few TV screens (the best spot is in the yard out back) so it was busy with football fans when I went. I began with a beer and was maybe going to eat but the guy behind the bar wasn’t very welcoming so I went elsewhere.

So, good food can be had in Utrera if you know where to go. Choose carefully is my advice,,,

Bilbao – Getxo – Algorta – lunch in the Puerto Viejo

Posted in Algorta, Basque Country, Bilbao, Getxo, Puerto Viejo, Spain with tags on October 30, 2017 by gannet39

Getxo is a town located on the estuary of Bilbao. During the period of Bilbao’s industrialisation in the nineteenth century it became a residential area for the local bourgeoisie. The town has many grand buildings as a result, especially in Atxekolandeta neighbourhood, but I didn’t get time to see them.

Google map here.

Originally the town was based on the fishing village of Algorta. One day I was lucky enough to finish work early so I could spend the afternoon exploring the village’s picturesque Puerto Viejo.

From Portuzarra Kalea you get good views over El Abra bay. In this picture you can see Ereaga beach (one of many good local beaches) in the distance with Bilbao behind it.

Nearby, two sculptures pay tribute to the professions which were once the mainstays of the local economy. They show a Sardinera, a female sardine seller, (sculpted by Luis Iñiguez) and an Arrantzale, a fisherman, (by the sculptor José Luis Butrón).

The twisting streets of the Puerto Viejo are quite narrow and many have boat slipways.

The pretty houses have whitewashed façades and brightly-coloured doors and windows.

Naturally such a pretty spot has plenty of tapas bars and restaurants. During my wanderings, this place looked the nicest.

Karola Etxea (Intermediate B+), 22 Aretxondo Kalea, www.karolaetxea.net

This pretty mid-range restaurant is located in an old timber frame building. I’m guessing it’s a family business with the daughter waiting on the tables and the parents in the kitchen.

I had the Menu Karola, three courses for €19.80 which also included a bottle of decent Chardonnay (B).

Bacalao Pil Pil with potato and tomato (A).

Of course I also had to have some Sardines (B).

And Flan to finish (B+).

This was a very good meal for only €20. Definitely a good spot.

And that’s my trip to Bilbao done for this time. Off to Andalusia next!

Bilbao – La Vieja neighbourhood

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, La Vieja, Spain with tags on October 29, 2017 by gannet39

La Vieja, like its neigbouring barrio San Francisco, also hugs the south bank of the river. It’s Bilbao’s oldest neighbourhood (founded 1300), even older than the Casco Antiguo on the other side of the river. Map here.

La Mina (Advanced A-), Muella Mariana (no number), www.restaurantemina.es

This was the hottest restaurant in town on my trip in 2016. There was once a mine nearby, hence the name.

I had the Menu Degustacion for €60 with an added wine matching for €35. The food was beautiful but I was slightly disappointed by the wines. They were okay but nothing out of this world.

I had a Negroni while I was reading the menu (B). It was made with a new vermouth to me, from Casa Pardet.

The service was really good. I quickly made friends with the sommelier, Alex from Murcia, and spent so much time talking to him that I didn’t get to grade the food and some of the wines, sorry!

An amuse bouche of some description.

My first wine was a pure Verdejo called ‘La Banda del Agrilico’, which scores 92 Parker points.

This baked fennel looked amazing.

Alex believes ‘La Panesa’ Especial Fino Sherry from Bodega Emilio Hidalgo is one of the best. I liked it too (B+). It’s one of the oldest finos on the market with an average age of 15 years, so bottles retail at £20 and over.

The oyster with roes and flowers was visually stunning.

Next Alex gave me a glass of French Basque white called ‘Cuvee Hegoxuri’, from Domaine Arretxea in Irouleguy (B).

Next some baby broad beans in a broth. Nurea did something similar (see Guggenheim post).

To drink, a wine called ‘Makila’ 2012, in a very plain bottle, suggesting artisanal production. Alex said it was made in a similar way to orange wine (B).

Langoustine or cigala I would hazard.

Moving on to red; a Côtes-du-Rhône from Domaine Charvin (B).

Scallops I reckon.

‘Malus Mama’ a naturally sweet cider from Astigarragako Sagarrak.

Roast pork I think.

A sorbet cleanser.

Then a glass of sweet ‘Recóndita Armonía’, a 10 year old Monastrell Dulce from Bodegas Gutierrez de la Vega in Alicante.

Brownie with a chocolate lattice I think.

Ice creams.

I recall their brandies as being a bit pricey so I went for the cheaper ‘Fernando de Castilla’ from Jerez (B).

A good experience worth the three figure price tag. I’d score it B+ overall.

Bilbao – San Francisco neighbourhood

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, San Francisco, Spain with tags , on October 28, 2017 by gannet39

San Francisco is the barrio to the south of the main train station. It’s bordered by the river to the north, and barrio La Vieja to the east (see next post).

Google map here. Tourist map here.

It’s the main immigrant neighbourhood with a large Muslim community and lots of Africans and South Americans. Security is better now than it was apparently, probably because the area is being rapidly gentrified. It still fell a bit edgy walking down San Frantzisko Kalea but I didn’t let that faze me as I live in a similar place myself.

Bar Restaurante Peso Neto (Intermediate B+), 1 San Frantzisko Kalea, www.facebook.com

I only popped in for a brandy after dinner at La Mina around the corner (see next post) but I like the chilled bohemian vibe straight away. Further investigation is required.

El Perro Chico (Intermediate B+), 2 Arechaga Kalea, www.facebook.com

A pleasant restaurant and tapas bar well located on a raised position by the river. It’s near the Erriberako Zubia, a footbridge that takes you over the river into the Casco Viejo.

Apparently Frank Gehry was inspired by the dark blue paint used in the interior of El Perro Chico, a favourite hangout of his, for the colour of the office block at the Guggenheim. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.

From the tapas menu I tried the Mix de Gyozas, served with mayo as well as a soya sauce dip. There were two kinds; Cerdo y Ajetes, pork with young garlic (B+) and Hongos y Parmesana, mushrooms with Parmesan (B+). They were a nice variation on the traditional Japanese fried dumplings which are usually filled with pork or chicken mince. They were good, but a bit expensive at €8.

I’d like to come back and try their menu. They were full on a Saturday night so it’s best to reserve if you go at busy times.

There are lots of other interesting bars and restaurants in this up and coming area. I ended up in a buzzing South American bar along San Frantzisko Kalea one night but blowed if I can remember where! I’ll be back to check on developments next time I’m in town.

Bilbao – Casco Viejo – pintxos in Plaza Nueva

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Casco Viejo, Plaza Nueva, Spain with tags , , , on October 27, 2017 by gannet39

A pintxo is the Basque word for a piece of bread and its topping being pierced and held together (pinchado) with a cocktail stick. They would be called tapas outside the Basque country but they are usually bread based and are never free as tapas sometimes are in the south. Another difference is that often, but not always, you can help yourself from the display on the bar and tell the waiter what you had later.

Plaza Nueva, so named because it replaced Plaza Vieja in 1821, is in my humble opinion, the buzziest and best place for pintxos in Bilbao. You’ll find everywhere mentioned on this map.

Under the neo-classical arcades are a throng of famous bars and cafes that will meet all your canape needs, and help you develop some new ones.

Gure Toki (Intermediate A+), 12 Plaza Nueva (north west corner), guretoki.com

This is my favourite. It’s not as venerable as the others I mention below, but they take a different, more modern approach to pintxos which I find more interesting. International influences, particularly Japanese, are very apparent.

From 2014:

Carpachio de Avestruz (A++). Ostrich carpaccio! The best thing I ate all year! Thinly sliced raw ostrich marinated with parmesan and if I remember correctly soya sauce, although it doesn’t seem so from the picture. I must go back to make sure!

Foie a la Plancha con Manzana y PX (A) goose liver pate from the hotplate, with apple and a Pedro Ximenez reduction.

The Hamburguesa Wagyu was fine (B) but is more hype than substance. It sounds good though.

Costilla de Vaca con Algas was a revelation (A); a small rib steak with local seaweed, showing the Japanese influence once again.

With the meat I drank two glasses Juan Gil Monastrell 12 meses (A+) at €2 a glass. This stuff blew my socks off, it’s so different from any other Spanish red. It’s now the house red for my pop-up restaurant. I get it posted to me for about £11 a bottle with postage.

Ironically, the guy next to me noticed I was drinking it and he happened to be a friend of Juan Gil in Murcia! He’s a very nice chap apparently, which makes his wine taste even better!

I also had a glass of Ribeira del Duero, ‘Nacimiento’ by Avan which was good (B+)…

…before moving on to the local Txakoli ‘Senorio de Otxaran’ which was a good example of the genre (B).

Sold to me by another friendly customer, Sopa de Idiazabal seemed to consist of a quail’s egg with cream, mushrooms and giant kernels of Choclo (maize). The bar won a prize for this pintxo in a local competition. It was interesting (B+) but I preferred other things on the menu.

The only let down was the lack of decent desserts. They gave me a bowl of dry, flaky mini chocolate croissants which didn’t really do it for me. A chupito of excellent ‘La Gallega’ Orujo des Hierbas (A) cheered me up though.

As you can see, I met a lot of people while I was here, including a big group of Mexicanas on their jollies. With all the good food, wine and company, I rolled out of here a very happy man!

I returned in 2016 and was gutted to discover that the Ostrich Carpaccio was no longer on the menu! The nice lady who served me was impressed that I remembered the pintxo and did her best to suggest other tidbits.

I especially liked the Espárragos.

Gure Toki is still very good I’m happy to report.

Café Bilbao (Intermediate A), 6 Plaza Berria, north east corner of Plaza Nueva (there are two doors, one on Plaza Nueva, the other round the corner on Plaza Berria), bilbao-cafebar.com

Old school and very busy, the traditional pintxos here are a feast for the eyes.

I had Makailua Pilpilean, or in Castillian, ‘Bacalao al Pilpil’, which was good (B+). Pil pil is a basque cooking technique where a sauce is made from the oil that the fish was cooked in, along with garlic and small hot peppers called ‘guindillas’.

Also a canapé with a mushroom and cured ham (A).

And another with black pudding, green pepper and camembert (B+).

In 2016 I tried this chorizo and quail egg creation (B+).

A classic pintxo bar that needs to be visited.

Victor Montes, (Intermediate A), 8 Plaza Nueva, Tel. 944 155 603, www.victormontes.com

For me, this local institution (since 1931) is the most beautiful cafe in town.

The pintxos on the bar top always look very enticing.

Generally they cost €1.90 each.

In 2016 four of us came and had the mixed selection of a dozen pintxos for €22.90. They were all fantastic (A).

They also have a deli, La Alacena del Victor Monte at 14 Plaza Nueva which is a good place to stock up on treats for home.

I got some Jerez vinegar, truffles, foie gras and some good Jamon Iberico Bellota from the Jabugo 5 Jotas or ‘Five J’s’ brand from here.

Please see my other Casco Viejo post for more pintxo bars nearby.

Photos uploaded September 2012, February 2014 and October 2017.

Bilbao – pintxos in the Casco Viejo

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Casco Viejo, Spain with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2017 by gannet39

The Casco Viejo is Bilbao’s old town on the east bank of the river. Today it’s Bilbao’s main entertainment district, the place to come for a txikiteo (bar crawl). At the heart of the Casco are Bilbao’s original seven streets, Las Siete Calles, which date from the 1400s. Also here is Plaza Nueva which I have given its own post. You’ll find some of the best pintxo bars in the city here, all marked on this Google map.

Irrintzi (Intermediate A), 8 Santa Maria Kalea, www.irrintzi.es
My favourite place for innovative, modern pintxos. The display on the bar is stunning.

International influences abound. I can recommend the ‘Brocetas de Verdura en Tempura a la Menta’ aka brochettes of vegetable tempura with mint.

‘Crujiente de Manzana con Pato en Salsa de Cacahuete’ or crispy apple with duck in peanut sauce.

‘Nido de Pollo Lacado con Rúcula’ or nests of chicken with rocket.

Gatz (Intermediate A), 10 Calle Santa Maria, www.bargatz.com

Another good pintxo place, right next door to Irrintxi above.

The windows are covered in Michelin Guide stickers dating back to when it opened in 1994.

It’s fairly traditional but everything is top quality.

Xukela (Intermediate A), 2 Calle El Perro, www.xukela.com

One of the most renowned pintxo bars in town.

Quite trad, but all top quality tackle.

Cresta de Gallo, cockscomb, is one of their more unusual pintxos. It was a first for me (B).

After seeing it being made for another customer I ordered a ‘Marianito’, the shop’s own version of a Negroni. As an aficionado I would say it was the best Negroni I’ve ever had made with Martini Rosso (not my favourite vermouth), though they have Martini Gold as well. Aerating the mix before shaking might have made the difference.

Cafe Boulevard (Intermediate C) 3 Calle Arenal, cafemercante.es

A much feted Art Nouveau cafe that has undergone renovation in 2012. I only came in for a coffee in the day time but was left cold by the uninteresting decor and lack of atmosphere. Maybe it’s better at the weekends.

This next place wasn’t too great in 2012 but it might be okay now…

Saibigain (Elementary B-), 16 Calle Barrencale Barrena, www.saibigain.com, closed Sunday

Times have changed since Cadogan guides put this place on their ‘inexpensive’ list. The €8 menu-del-dia has been superseded by a choice of four set menus. I went for the cheapest at €32 which involved a multitude of starters including; foie gras with blueberry jam and tostados (B), a plate of three hams (B-), prawns with a dish of plain mayo (C), codfish croquettes (B), mushrooms with scrambled egg (D).

There were several choices for the main course, the most typical (according to the waitress) being Pequillo red peppers stuffed with salt cod in yellow and red sauces (C). I added a bottle of Txacoli (Aretxaga 2011) to drown my culinary sorrows (B).

With the addition of a slice of apple pie (B) and a glass of Rioja (B+), it was hard to argue about the value, but the food was too mediocre for me to want to return.

The place doesn’t seem to have been redecorated since it opened in the 50s, except for the addition of photos and posters of Athletic de Bilbao from the 70s. The interior is faded and unspecial but the service was fine.

You’ll also find the Mercado de la Ribera www.mercadodelaribera.net in the old town, down by the river.

Here are a few things you might see there.

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

Bilbao – Abando – Eating at the Guggenheim

Posted in Abando, Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , on October 25, 2017 by gannet39

The key to Bilbao’s regeneration is the famous Guggenheim museum which has turned the city into a major tourist destination.

Outside the main entrance you’re welcomed by Puppy (pronounced ‘Poopy’) a gigantic flower arrangement of a Scottish terrier by Jeff Koons. 

The museum is based around a large central atrium with galleries on three levels radiating off it in unpredictable directions.

One gallery is given over to the permanent sculpture ‘The Matter of Time‘ by Richard Serra.

In 2013 I was lucky enough to coincide with an excellent exhibition by David Hockney, a fellow Yorkshireman, called ‘A Bigger Picture’. I was never really a fan of his until I saw these paintings of East Yorkshire landscapes, bizarrely painted in lurid colours, all of which further added to the feeling of being in a home away from home.

While I’ve only been to one exhibition, I’ve been here twice to eat, because the Goog is also home to two very good restaurants.

In June 2016 I thought I’d treat myself to a bit of Michelin luxury at Nurea. It’s a little hard to find as it’s round the back of the museum but go down the steps at the side…

…under the legs of the giant spider ‘Maman’ (Louise Bourgeois, 1999)…

…past the shimmering ‘Tall Tree & The Eye’ (Anish Kapoor, 2009)…

…and keep going until you’re virtually under Salbeko Zubia, the huge bridge that crosses the River Nervion.

If you’re early you can kill some time watching the boats on the river. The rowing crews were practicing in their traineras when I was there. Here’s my video.

The restaurant entrance is very discreet but it’s the hole in the wall in this picture.

Nerua (High Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandabarra (around the back of the Guggenheim Museum), www.nerua.com

It’s possible to order a la carte but most people opt for one of the three tasting menus. I had the smallest, ‘9 products’ menu for €105 (the others were €145 for 14 and €175 for 21) with a wine ‘maridaje’ add on for €42.

The food was fantastic, chef Josean Alija was a student of Ferran Adrià, but it was the wines that particularly blew me away.

Don’t recall what the amuse bouches were sorry, but they were very good (A). The green drink might be some kind of plankton concoction which is a thing in contemporary Spanish cuisine at the moment (see my Puerto de Santa Maria post).

The first wine was a Catalan Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon called ‘Taleia’ by Castell d’Encus which was heavenly (A). I’d like to buy a crate but it’s fairly expensive at £15 a bottle before postage.

‘Ostra, Esparrago, Cerveza, Lima y Guindilla’ or oyster, asparagus, beer, lime and cayenne chilli (A).

Then an off-menu dish of fresh baby broad beans in a broth, which was wonderful (A).

The next wine was a volcanic Malvasia from Lanzarote called ‘Canari’ from Bodegas El Grifo (A). It’s actually a sweet dessert wine but it worked with what I was eating. You can get it from Vinissimus at £10 for a 500ml bottle.

‘Alcachofas Confitadas, Praline y Fondo de Hierbas Aromaticos’ aka confit of artichokes with praline in an aromatic herb stock (A).

With this a glass of white Rioja called ‘Tierra Fidel’ from Bodegas Tierra (A). It’s around £30 a bottle from Lavinia.

‘Sopa de Mariscos y Pescado, Navajas y Verduitas’ or seafood and fish soup, razor clams and baby vegetables (A).

‘Anchoas, Enokis Guisados en un Fondo de Berberechos y Salvia’ or anchovies, stewed enoki mushrooms with a sauce of cockles and sage (A+).

To drink, a glass of Travaglini Gattinara Riserva DOCG from Piedmont, Italy (A). The 2000 vintage I had is now £115 a bottle according to Wine Searcher but the 2011 is £25 to £30.

‘Merluza Frita, Hojas Guisadas de Crisantemo’ or fried hake, cooked with chrysanthemum leaves (A).

The next wine was a 2014 Pedro Ximénez called ‘Exceptional Harvest’ from Ximénez-Spínola. Usually PX grapes are dried and made into a very sweet dessert wine (which I love) but here they had just been treated like a normal white wine grape, to good effect (A). This piqued my interest as you’ll see below. You can buy it for about £14 a bottle from Decantalo, or write directly to the bodega as I did…

‘Foie Gras de Pato, Zanahorias y Makil Goxo’ or duck foie gras, carrots and liquorice (A++).

‘Cabello de Angel, Manzana, Limon y Helado de Shiso’ or angel hair, apple, lemon and Japanese mint ice cream (A).

My old friend Itas Mendi ‘Urezti’ made a reappearance for dessert. It’s around £12 a half-bottle from Decantalo or Gourmet Hunters.

‘Aguacate, Helado de Alholva, Aceituna Negra y Café’ or avocado, fenugreek ice cream, black olive and coffee (A).

And some petit fours to finish.

I adore Spanish brandy so for a final treat I had a look at the list of brandies and spotted a new one (for me) by Ximénez-Spínola, the same bodega in Jerez that made the PX above. It was absolutely stunning (A+).

I did a bit of research and discovered that Ximénez-Spínola don’t advertise their products and don’t enter any wine competitions or apply for VOS or VORS labels. Instead they prefer to just do their own thing and sell to a select client base. I wrote to them directly and, as a Xmas present to myself, got a bottle of one of everything from their range (several kinds of sherry and PX, vinegar and two kinds of brandy). The brandy I had at the restaurant, the ‘Tres Mil Botellas’ was spectacular as I say but at £135 a bottle, a bit hard to justify. However I discovered that the lower one in the range, the ‘Diez Mil Botellas’, is nearly as good and ‘only’ £70. I’m now on my third case and get a 10% discount as a regular customer!

So that was the end of a very memorable meal. The food and wine was stunning and the service was exemplary as you’d expect. One of the reasons I come to these fine dining places is to tap into their knowledge and each server was able to talk expertly about the food and wines, in English.

This experience wasn’t cheap, I’m guessing around 150€, but I felt I got good value, not just because I ate and drank very well, but also because I learned a lot. I definitely recommend Nurea if you can stretch to it.

In 2012 I went to…

Guggenheim Bistro (Advanced A), 2 Avenida Abandoibarra, www.bistroguggenheimbilbao.com

The Goog Bistro is one of the top picks in many of the guidebooks. In July 2012 went for the lunchtime menu-del-dia (€32) and paid an extra €9.50 for the ‘maridaje’ or wine-matching.

To kick off, a Watermelon Gazpacho (must make this refreshing summer soup when I get home) which came with an interesting combination of chunks of Tuna Tartar and green pepper (B). I wasn’t too sure about the accompanying Aperitif which didn’t go well at all and tasted artificially of strawberries (C).

This came with an excellent glass of Txacoli ‘Itas Mendi’ 2011 (A) which created a bit of an overkill of liquids and I was playing catch up for the rest of the meal.

Next came a delicious Rock Oyster Paella (A) topped with a Mayonnaise Foam (B+), although for me this wasn’t an improvement on a good garlic aioli.

This was matched with an excellent Verdejo ‘Aura’ 2011 (A+).

After this a forme of Roast Lamb with Pumpkin Puree (A) and dried coffee (C) which went very well with a glass of Rioja (Bai Corre Crianza 2008) (A+).

Finally, French Toast (B+) with Vanilla Ice Cream (A) and a shot of homemade Vino Dulce de Naranja (sweet orange flavoured wine) which smelt great but tasted less so (C).

Overall though I felt I got good value for my money at the Goog Bistro and would happily go again, perhaps in the evening next time.

Photos uploaded September 2012 and October 2017.

%d bloggers like this: