Pays Basque [Olhabidea, St Jean Pied de Port, Chez Mattin, & Biarritz]
After eight days of excessive eating and drinking in Paris we headed down to the Basque country for more excessive eating and drinking. I will cover the French bit here and the Spanish bit on the Spain board.
We started by staying at Olhabidea near Sare, it's a wonderfully old rustic farm houses out in the countryside surrounded by horses grazing in the fields. The hosts are really nice and it’s a very comfortable place.
We are booked in for dinner so head into the village for lunch and try the Hotel Lastiry which I believe is owned by the brother-in-law of out hotels owners. The restaurant is nice and basic with a real country feel, a great ris du veau stew and one of the best gazpacho’s we tried start us off followed by a sort of French shepherd’s pie and a wonderful duck confit, and to finish a chocolate cake and some sheep’s cheese end a great rustic lunch (cost €52.50 for two with three glasses of wine and water)
Dinner at Olhabidea is totally different to what we had expected. I had billed this to my wife as rustic farmhouse food. Its not it's great slightly sophisticated cooking and whilst it wasn’t what we expected it didn’t disappoint. The restaurant is relaxed and informal, like sitting in someone’s home, but locals do dress up to come here for dinner with many more diners than hotel guests. The menu has two choices of starter, main and dessert. To start we have a dish of chiparones and one of anchovies, both have a fine mirapore of garden vegetables and both are superbly cooked. Mains are simply yet very well cooked beef and cod again with home grown garden vegetables. Then for dessert we both opt for a tarte au citron with figs and strawberries from the garden. The menu was €42 each plus €54 for a bottle and a half of wine, accommodation was €80 for the night. Great value and highly recommended.
Next we headed up to St Jean Pied de Port and had booked at the top restaurant in town in the Pyrenees Hotel but on closer inspection we cancelled as we wanted something less formal and more rustic. We ended up at “Cafe Ttipea: Chez Peio” which was a great find. It’s clearly the home of the locals with people tucking into very hearty food. At breakfast the place was full of the old boys complete with Basque berries tucking into red wine for breakfast (an idyllic retirement!). We had a quick lunch here with homemade pate and boudin noir. Both come in monster portions and with a cheese plate and a few glasses on cider the bill came to €29.50 (easily enough for four!).
That evening we returned for dinner, good home-made foie gras pate, a plate of chorizo, and two servings of wonderful lamb chops, with the best wine the house had (€28) the total bill was great value at €89 for two. If you are in the area and fancy casual but not touristy food its worth trying (near the town hall).
The next day we headed over the border to San Sebastian tapas and meals at Azurmendi near Bilbao and Asador Etxbarri – more on the Spanish board:
After Spain we headed to Cibourne and dinner at Chez Mattin , this is a little hidden away restaurant in the back streets away from the more obvious choices. However, it was fully booked and totally full by 8:30 on a mid-week night out of season, which is a testament to its popularity. The menu may seem short but the gems are on the specials list with lots of interesting seafood. We start with mushrooms, a plate of Ceps Carpaccio and another plate of girolles with ham and a poached egg, both very fine. For mains we ordered hake with garlic which was simple but brilliantly cooked. We struggled through desserts and then waddled home very happy campers – total bill came to €126 for two including €45 on a decadent bottle of wine (most on the list were a lot less expensive) .
Our last night of the trip is in Biarritz and we decide too snack around town taking in the sunset on the beach and the general buzz around Les Halles market area. The best of the lots was Bar (Maison) Pujol which has evolved from a simple cold meats and wine bar (in 2008) to quite a nice tapas bar with great food and a real buzz with lots of locals crowded around it. Best to get there early for the Tapas which are innovative and modern and at €1 (or €2 for foie gras) are better value than San Sebastian and just as good. As the night wears on the food runs out and volume of the clubby dance music creeps up with the crowd changing from after work drinkers to the beautiful people of the night.
Biarritz has definitely evolved a lot over the last 5 years with far more interesting restaurants and bars than before – Le Fooding has some suggestions that looked great. I know the board favors San Jean de Luz but I think Biarritz has a wonderful mix of classy French culture bumping up against a vibrant surf culture. Definitely worth checking out and for us maybe even a better bet than San Sebastian which has got very touristy and a bit rough around the edges (the Spanish economy?)