Archive for the Bilbao Category

Bilbao – Plaza Nueva

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2014 by gannet39

Placa NuevaPlaza Nueva, so named because it replaced Plaza Vieja in 1821, is in my humble opinion, the buzziest and best place for pintxos (basque tapas) in Bilbao.

Under the neo-classical arcades are a throng of famous bars and cafes that will meet all your canape needs, and more.

Click on the pics to get a better view. See this post for other places in Bilbao.

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

This is my favourite. It doesn’t look as venerable as the others I mention below, but that’s because they are taking a different, more modern approach to pintxos. International, particularly Japanese influences are very apparent. 20130621_212912

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! 20130621_224655

Foie a la Plancha con Manzana y PX (A) goose liver pate from the hotplate, with apple and a Pedro Ximenez reduction. Standard. 20130621_214741

The Hamburguesa Wagyu was fine (B) but probably more hype than substance. It sounds good though. 20130621_221513

Costilla de Vaca con Algas was a revelation (A); a small rib steak with local seaweed, showing the Japanese influence once again. 20130621_214431

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. I tried to source it in the UK but their supplier didn’t reply to my emails.

Ironically, the guy next to me noticed I was drinking it and he happened to be a friend of Juan Gil’ who lives in Murcia! He’s a very nice chap apparently, which made his wine taste even better! I try to buy a bottle to take home every time I go to Spain now. 20130621_220704

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

20130621_232438…before moving on to the local Txakoli ‘Senorio de Otxaran’ which was a good example of the genre (B) but I have yet to be fully won over to this wine. 20130621_232344

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 maize (Peruvian choclo?). The bar won a prize for this tapa in a local competition. It was interesting (B+) but I’d probably try other stuff over it next time. 20130621_234116

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. 20130621_234212

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!

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

Old school and very busy, the traditional pintxos here are a feast for the eyes. 20130621_203703

I had Makailua Pilpilean, aka in Spanish, ‘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’. 20130621_204402

Also a canapé with a mushroom and cured ham (A). 20130621_205843

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

Victor Montes, (Intermediate A?), 8 Plaza Nueva, Tel. 944 155 603, Montes Tapas

This local institution (since 1931) is for me the most beautiful cafe in town. I’ve only put my head in for a coffee (A) but the pintxos on the bar top looked very enticing. There’s also a sit down dining area where you can have a full meal. Montes Deli

They also have a deli, La Alacena del Victor Monte, on the next side of the square (at # 14 Plaza Nueva on the west side, near Gure Toki) which is a good place to stock up on treats for home.

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

Bilbao: A Home from Home

Posted in Basque Country, Bilbao, Spain with tags , , , , , on October 20, 2012 by gannet39

Coming from Sheffield I feel a lot of affinity for Bilbao; a former industrial hell-hole based on steel making that has reinvented itself to be a very liveable and chilled out city.

AC Bilbao

Both cities have similarly sized populations (around half a million) as well as quite similar rainy weather and underachieving football teams that play in red and white stripes. That said, the architecture, both modern and old, is a lot better in Bilbao where the city council seems to be much more forward thinking. Bilbao is also the capital of one of Spain’s major culinary regions and eating well is a local obsession, whereas in Sheffield we are more concerned about the contents of our pint pots!

Lovely building near Placa Nueva

Unfortunately though, it took me a while to find a good place to eat here. There were a few things that conspired against me. To start with, I only spent three nights in the city, including a Sunday and a Monday when most of the good places were closed. Secondly, I was on a budget, and although there are plenty of excellent restaurants where you can blow a lot of money, finding cheap or mid-range places with good quality, value-for-money food was quite difficult. As a result, please don’t consider this post as an exhaustive guide to the best places, there are plenty I didn’t get around to trying.

Art Deco Station front

Casa Rufo (High Intermediate A), Calle Hurtado de Amezaga 5, Tel. 944 432 172

This was my favourite place in the short time I was here. Founded in 1955, it’s also a deli and bodega and becomes a restaurant in the evenings, so you sit amongst shelves stacked with local produce and bottles of wine. The building dates from the fifties so there’s lots of wood and nice ceramics, all very atmospheric. The service seems a bit dour, but they lightened up when sprinkled with niceness.

Casa Rufa

I started with a plate of local leeks, Puerros, dressed in oil and vinegar, and topped with raw onions, peppers and olives. It was pretty good but I’ve had better (B).


The star however was the huge beefsteak (Chuleton) which arrived ready sliced and still sizzling on a thick earthenware platter. It was huge (the next table shared it between two) and the chef came out of the kitchen to egg me on as I started to flag towards the end. It was one of the best I’d ever had and, along with codfish, is a speciality of the house.


It was helped down by an excellent half bottle of Rioja Crianza (Senoria de Cuzcurrita), a perfect marriage with the meat (A).


Sadly my ideal desserts of Plums in Brandy and Pears in Txacoli were not available and I went instead for the cheesecake which was very satisfying (B+).

Finally a glass of ‘Nectar’ Pedro Ximenez which was so nice (A), I bought two to take home. Nectar

Bilbao also has a lot of attractive Art Noveau buildings and there are several cafes from the Belle Epoque period dotted around town. Here are a couple of good ones:

Iruna (Intermediate B+), Calle Berastegui 5 (on the corner with Calle del Musico Ledesma) is a famous old cafe bar dating from 1903 and decorated in the Moorish Mudejar style.Iruna doorway

It’s very atmospheric and seems to be popular with everyone. Back room

They were grilling up lamb Pinchos Morunos here when I went, so of course I had to try.

Pinchos Morunos

And some places to avoid….

Cafe Boulevard, (Intermediate C), Calle Arenal 3

Another feted Art Nouveau place which has been modernised slightly. I only came in for a coffee in the day time but was left empty by the uninteresting decor and lack of atmosphere. Maybe it’s better at the weekends.

Saibigain (Elementary B/C), Calle Barrencale Barrena 16, (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; a plate of three hams (B-), foie gras with blueberry jam and tostados (B), prawns with a dish of plain mayo (C), codfish croquettes (B), mushrooms with scrambled egg (D).

Foie and blueberry jam

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 50’s, except for the addition of photos and posters of Athletic de Bilbao from the 70’s. The interior is faded and unspecial but the service was fine.

Asador Indusi (Intermediate C), Calle Maestro Garcia Rivero 7, Tel. 944 417 176

This was the hotel recommended place for Sunday when all other places nearby were closed. There is nothing to recommend it in particular, the food, decor and service are all non-descript (all C). The Rioja and Pedro Ximenez were the only things that made the experience enjoyable. You might want to walk the 20 minutes to the old town for a bit more choice, though most places there will be closed on the Sabbath too.

Finally, here are a few things you might see at the Mercado de la Ribera, down by the river in the old town.

And here’s a guide to shops from the tourist board.

Ham stall

Rendered fat

Hanging meatLardRIP Piggy

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