San Sebastián and the Basque Country – A Gastronomic Adventure Part 1

Thankfully Apple had managed to iron out any glitches in the iPhone IOS that would have resulted in my phone not updating for Daylight Saving Time on Sunday morning. It got me thinking that I couldn’t remember the last time I set an alarm clock that wasn’t part of a phone or other digital device! 

The taxi was on time but I a little fuzzy after just five hours sleep and a rather delicious 2006 Cotes de Beaunes, despite this we arrived at Terminal 3 ahead of schedule. Minimal queues at security meant that within a few minutes we were heading off to the Oriel Brasserie for a Champagne breakfast! 

I think Champagne is always a great way to start the day but of course is a little incompatible for lots of reasons with the start of a working day, which is why when it comes to holidays  I try to sneak in as many as possible. 

Oriel is one of the two non generic restaurant offerings at T3. We opted for the classic takes on Eggs Benedict; Florentine and Royale. Eggs perfectly poached so that the whites were not overly runny but that the delicious yolks were unctuously oozing at the core. 

When our flight to Bilbao eventually came onto the departure board I checked the BA flight status on the App. It’s always worth doing this as the App is updated in real time so often you get much more accurate information than the staff on the ground have.

To our dismay the flight was showing a delayed arrival of 90 minutes and yet a  normal departure time. I queried this at the gate and when the BA team checked they confirmed the delay! Realising that we were probably going to miss our transfer to San Sebastián I settled down to read the Sunday Times and waited for my first Bloody Mary!

Eventually after an hour we finally slipped away from a chilly Heathrow and thanks to a 50mph head wind over the Atlantic we made up about 20 minutes. I got chatting to one of the lovely BA stewardesses, Joyti, who shares a significant birthday with me this year! As we swapped travel stories, she offered me a second Bloody Mary but this time she said it was was going to be a really good one as she had a little more time and flight service was over! 

Thanks Joyti for making us both feel so special and looking after us so well! I’m sure some travellers take cabin crew for granted but I usually find that reciprocity always pays a higher dividend!

Making our coach transfer with just ten minutes to spare, we set off on the hour and a half journey to San Sebastián. I really didn’t know a great deal about the countryside and terrain of the Basque Country and can honestly say it’s stunning!

From my window seat I saw undulating almost alpine like pastures of lush green meadows peppered with a carpet of buttercups, low sloping roofs of chalets set against a blue sky and silhouettes of pine trees and occasionally interspersed  with the odd industrial installation. 

Despite the deceptive illusion of the alpine landscape  there were signs of this temperate climate; the unmistakable shape of a palm tree in a garden adjacent to the motorway for example. Meanwhile, dramatic rocky promontories rose up beside the main motorway and in the valleys below milky white goats and their new born kids frolicked in the sunshine.

Thin furrows of snow decked the mountainous slopes in a contrasting salt and pepper fashion a hint of the sugar coating that had adorned them a month earlier. Hardy sheep grazed on near vertical slopes, while birds of prey soared on the warm Easter thermals above seeking their prey seduced by the hypnotic effect of the sun. We passed through a maze of tunnels burrowed through the impervious rock which linked one valley with another. 

After about an hour we swung off the motorway to discharge our first passengers before we  rejoined the motorway and got our first glimpse of the sea!  A final twist in the motorway reveals a spectacular vista towards San Sebastián before we descend through the suburbs into city’s main bus terminus which is a triumph of modern architecture.

After checking into our hotel, the stunning Hotel de Londres on the beautiful Playa de La Concha, we were afforded the following view from our room on the 7th Floor.

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We spent an hour or so taking in the warm sun before heading out to Pasai San Pedro, on one side of the estuary which is home to the main commercial port in San Sebastian and home to the fishing fleet.

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We took the short ferry across to Pasai Donibane where we had a reservation at the Michelin Bib Gourmond  Txulotxo Restaurant.  

imageWe arrived early so had the chance to walk a little of the Pilgrims trail which weaves along the estuary and managed to get a table at a little bar serving pintxos and some local wines and watched the sun set before dinner.

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We arrived at Txulotxo  which was just touching distance from the deep waters of the Atlantic! It was hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a seafood restaurant.

Inside the clean and minimalist decor let the stunning views speak for themself.

We had reserved a window table, our reservation made by our Spainish friend Monica, the restaurant spoke no English when I had rung the week before!

We choose a selection of their seafood specials and a bottle of Torre Fornelos Albariño from Rias Baixas. As we sipped our chilled wine, the sound of pans and knives from the kitchen was mixed with a Capella Basque singing from the kitchen team. It sounded like they were really enjoying cooking for us!

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Galician octopus with paprika, potatoes, garlic. Sweet and spiced with a soft and pleasing texture.

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Garlic prawns arrived sizzling at the table with warm baked baguette. Fried simply with garlic, parsley and olive oil.  The prawns were sweet and juicy. 

We also had baked whole crab in a bisque style sauce combining both brown and white meat served in its shell. Rich and full of flavour and texture and tasting so fresh that the crabs could have just been plucked from the pot!

A simple Niceoise Salade of tinned Basque tuna had an added tang of mild onion, along with the traditional components of egg, tomato and sweet green olives.

Our final dish was Squid in its own ink. The sweet yet firm texture of the squid was balanced against the sharpness of the jet black ink sauce.

We then indulged in a palette cleansing  Champagne and lemon sorbet which was like an alcoholic slush puppy but delicious!

We rounded off our meal with Strawberry cheesecake which was light and with a sponge base. The cheesecake’s acidity offset by the sweetness of the strawberry purée. 

We took the short ferry back to Donai San Pedro and within 15 minutes were back at our hotel and asleep within minutes!

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