Bilbao and San Sebastian sojourn

decadent San Sebastian

Bon viveur Fidget has certainly been enjoying life of late – the Rowes are even beginning to wonder if he is becoming a little decadent…

Bilbao and San Sebastian sojourn

La Concha San Sebastian

This week, instead of a recipe we present a resume of the Rowes’ recent trip to the Basque Country. Second only to Kyoto as the place with most Michelin stars per square mile, San Sebastian is a paradise for the gourmet. And where there is good food… there goes Fidget…

It was only a long weekend but the Rowes were truly stunned by the beauty of the place and the quality of the food experience. It’s true, as we heard more than once, “You can’t eat badly in San Sebastian”. The selection is vast, for the area is blessed with the sea and the mountains; you name it: fish and seafood, all kinds of meat, cheeses, and of course los pintxos (which deserve of post of their own). The passion and pride of the locals, both at making the food and eating it, is obvious.

Fidget’s sojourn started briefly in Bilbao, where the Rowes visited the remarkable Guggenheim Museum (among other local highpoints). Then, crossing the river and wandering in the old town (Casco Viejo) and ready for lunch, they asked some shoppers for a recommendation: Aitxiar just around the corner, they said. Marvellous. Some of the best squid ever (Txipirones a la plancha) and a delicious tarta semifria de limon, in this efficient, unassuming yet buzzing restaurant. Oh, those squid: Fidget still dreams of them…

txipirones   pork   fish   tuna

pintxos   churros   carrot cake   hazelnut pudding

Late afternoon, we headed to San Sebastian on a commuter coach through the mountains. Upmarket traditional yet also rather fashionable, San Sebastian is blessed with a stunning beach (La Concha). There is something magical about the sea in winter, and the combination of fine weather and hardly any tourists (it seemed) made the place feel very special – ideal, in fact, for Trota’s birthday treat.

La Concha San Sebastian

For Fidget, of course, it’s less about the landscape and more about the food. So much to choose from, he would have wanted to try all the restaurants at least once. But for practical reasons (so much to do, so little time) the Rowes divided their time between Narru and Casa Urola. They stayed at the Hotel Niza so Narru was an easy choice: it’s their excellent in-house restaurant (open to non-residents). Trained locally at the renowned Luis Irizar traditional Basque cookery school, the virtuoso Iñigo Peña is one of the top young chefs in Europe. Top notch.

Luis Irizar

And how wonderful it was to go watch the world getting on with things and look at the morning papers (read them, too, if you are fluent in Basque) in the nearby Cafeteria de Sandrita (bookshelves in the window, local loyal clientele): the churros con chocolate must be the best in town.

Then, after an invigorating sunny stroll around the Concha (healthy, too, watching all those joggers and senior swimmers), all the way to El Peine del Viento (wind-swept sculpture by Eduardo Chillida) and back, we chose Casa Urola in the Parte Vieja (old town) for a special late lunch. Special indeed: delicious pâté, marvellous fish, carrot cake and a hazelnut soufflé to die for. All expertly paired with local wines.

Casa Urola

A delicious year-round treat: the Basque Country definitely gets our vote in the cartoon kitchen.

Guggenheim MuseumGuggenheim MuseumEl Peine del Viento