Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dining with Serge Blanco & A Town full of peppers

May 30th, Wednesday
More pics from this trip here

Lots on today but let us start at the end, in La Pinta, a restaurant, one of many businesses owned by former French rugby international Serge Blanco. We called up there this evening to his Bodega, Bar, Restaurant, Cideria, on the spit of land between the port and beach of Hendaye and signed on for the €32.00 Menu Cidrerie. 
Basically, it was a five course meal. And over its course you were free to drink as much cider (from the barrels) as you could manage. Wow! From start to finish this was top notch and we enjoyed it very much.
Almost  as soon as we put in the order, a jug of cider (the cloudy dry local variety) and a basket of bread appeared on the table. Then came the aperitif: a spicy local sausage in a cider sauce.
Next up was the starter, a cod omelette. Never had a fish omelette before but this was the business. Cod also featured in the fish dish, grilled in the local manner and served with fried peppers and onions. Absolutely spot on.
Now for the big one as a smoking hot piece of beef still cooking in the pan was delivered to the table along with a plateful of salad and another of French fries. Cooked the beef bit by bit and ate away to our hearts’ content. Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the word heart here. But the beef was irresistible.
Time to close it out now, though the cider still flowed on. The final dish was a cheese, Fromage de Bebris, made from ewes’ milk in the nearby Pyrenees. A gorgeous cheese served with a quince pate and whole walnuts (with a nut cracker in the basket). A terrific finish to a very enjoyable meal.

The day had also begun with food as we visited the Wednesday market in the centre of Hendaye. Found a free range pig farmer and got a few slices of his top notch cured ham along with a wedge of another famous local cheese: Iraty Ossau, also made from sheep milk. Other bits and pieces included a Black Cherry cake, strawberries and olives.

In the afternoon, with a cloudy haze coming in over the mountains, we aborted a trip to the top of the La Rhune mountain and visited a few nearby Basque villages, include Sare where we saw an unusual multi-galleried church and the more usual fronton (where kids were trying their hand at pelota, though without the racket).

Then on to the village of Espelette, famous for its sweet red peppers which they hang on the walls to dry. They were on the Post Office wall, on the Spar wall, on the Hotel wall, everywhere. Got some at a local producer and a few other bits and pieces, including a first bottle of the local Txakoli wine,  before visiting a local chocolatier where we took on a bus load of pensioners and emerged  from the scrum with a couple of bags of the tasty stuff for ourselves.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hondarribia. Old and beautiful Basque town.

Crossing to Spain, while another ferry returns
More photos from this trip here



Local cider

Smoked salmon salad


Day 4
May 29th, Tuesday

Went to Spain today for the price of a Cork bus ride. Made the short boat crossing from Hendaye on the French side of the River Bidasoa to Hondarribia on the Spanish for just €1.70.

The trip takes just a few minutes and soon we were strolling in the picturesque Spanish town, full of old buildings and narrow streets where the balconies almost meet and also saw a magnificent Parador (government hotel). Temperatures were up around the 25 degrees.

Then it was time for lunch and we found amazing value at the EAJ PNV restaurant which seemed to have a very busy trade indeed. Had brought a handy “gastronomic” dictionary for a fiver on board the Pont Aven (bought a similar French one a few years back).

The Spanish one really worked a treat at its first outing as we worked our way through the Menu del Dias which had six or seven choices for each of the first and second courses. I had the Macaroni cheese and tomato while CL enjoyed the Smoked Salmon salad. Both excellent.

Now for the second course. CL choose the Tongue with salsa (more or less a tomato sauce). Two succulent tender pieces of tongue were soon demolished. I gambled on the Bacalao (dried salted cod) with a brilliant pepper and onion sauce. They say it is an acquired taste. I have acquired it!

We were not too sure on the desserts as they weren't on the board and, with words failing us, we ordered something that turned out to be a decent piece of ice-cream. Flan and a Fruit salads were other options that we later discovered by looking around.

A big bottle of water was placed on the table at the start. We didn’t know it but this was standard and free. We also ordered cider and ended up with a 75cl bottle of a local natural brew that was nice and dry and a real thirst quencher for just one euro. Total bill came to €22.00. Decent food, amazing value, very nice people.

Did another bit of walking around and saw the school kids playing. In one yard, they had their roller skates on and were playing a lively game. No worries about public liability or claims here by the looks of it.

Then we made the return journey to Hendaye (enlived by a possible sighting of ZZ Top among the passengers) and, when we arrived back at the apartment, wasted little time in cooling down in the pool. Car hasn’t moved since we arrived on Sunday. Might change tomorrow afternoon. We will visit the local market tomorrow morning and see how it goes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hendaye, a beautiful place at the edge of France

Monday 28th May 2012
More photos from this trip here
Hendaye beach, with the "Twins", the rocks in background

Walk by the Bidasoa River in Hendaye

Hondarabbia, in Spain, just across the river

Pouring the rose

Jambon with melon, 1st course

Mixed salad, 1st course   

Chicken, 2nd course

Ommelete, 2nd course

Blackcurrant Ice-cream, dessert course
Above, all at the Ipar Haizea, this three course lunch, inc. glass of wine, cost €12.00. Coffee was €1.20 extra.

Mussells, with a Basque sauce

Moules mariniere


At Santa Maria restaurant near the beach in Hendaye, in the evening, the mussles (available with six different sauces), cost €12.00 per person. The crepe was three euro while a 250ml carafe of local basque cider cost €2.80.

We spent the first day getting to know Hendaye, its beautiful bay and beach. The town is basically in two parts, the main town and the beach town where our apartment is located. The beach and port are minutes away and the railway station close enough also. We walked along by the bay to the station to get to know the place and to check the times for the narrow gauge railway service to San Sebastian.

Must say, with this gorgeous weather, the bay of Hendaye, with the foothills of the Pyrenees in the background, is one of the most beautiful places I've ever come across. Spain is just minutes away across the River Bidassoa. Did a fair bit of walking today and fully deserved the late afternoon dip in the pool!

White Wines Gems from Galicia

White Wines from Galicia
Thanks to the people at the winery of Terras Gauda in the Galicia, I’ve becoming better acquainted with the wines of Rías Baixas and with its sub zone in the valley of O Rosal in particular. It has been a very happy introduction.

Review of red wines from this company here

Terras Gauda, O Rosal, Rias Baixas 2011, 12.5% abv.
They call this “the flagship wine of the winery”, in the sense that they make more of it (1,200,000 bottles) than any other. The vines are estate grown in the valley and the wine’s personality comes from a blend of Albarino (70%), Loureiro (18%) and Caíño Blanco (12%).

It is an inviting clean greenish yellow in the bottle with aromas of peach and flowers. The generous nose is followed by a complex mouthfeel, no shortage of minerality or freshness. The stunning crispness and acidity is further revealed in a delightful long finish.

The summer of 2011 was a good one for the vines in the area and Terras Gauda made the best of it. Well worth a try. Highly recommended. Take note also that they recommended drinking it young!

Food matching. “The wine is rich on the palate and deserves seafood, especially oysters and crab, perfect with Asian Cuisine with rich and spicy sauces.” Well worth a try. Highly recommended.

Terras Gauda, Abadia de San Campio Albarino, Rías Baixas 2011, 12.5% abv.

This 100% Albarino, fresh and fragrant, is joy in its bottle with the distinctive beautiful blue labels. Colour is a clean green tinged yellow with definite traits of citrus and banana on the nose. The palate is filled with the fruit sensations. Yet is very well balanced with quite a long engaging finish. Excellent overall, shows the magnificent qualities of this increasingly popular grape. Very highly recommended.

Once again, aging is not recommended. You will also see some experts, such as Hugh Johnson Clarke, giving this the DYA designation, meaning drink youngest available! You’ve been warned!

Food matching: Enjoy chilled on a hot summer day. Wonderful pairing with shellfish: oyster, clam and crab. Enjoy with spicy Asian cuisine.

Terras Gauda, La Mar, Rías Baixas 2010, 12.7%abv.

A richer colour here and gorgeous aromatics on the nose. The same richness continue on the palate and yet there is an excellent balance. Very highly recommended indeed.

Just 20,000 bottles of this wine were made. The grapes used are Caíño Blanco (85%), Albarino (10%) and Loureiro (5%). The Caíño is a long cycle late ripening grape, more subject therefore to the whims of the weather and also “known for its scarce production...the least productive of the Galician varieties”.

Bottled in July 2011 and released last December, the makers say it will continue to evolve “in a period of at least three years...acquiring complexity and maturity”.

Food matching: Its high acidity makes it a perfect pairing for fish and seafood, but its powerful body and volume enlarges its pairing range to stews or roasted meats, and special or slightly spicy hot dishes.

Easy Trip to the Basque Country

Just started our Basque adventure last weekend with a lovely voyage with Brittany Ferries from Ringaskiddy to Roscoff. Enjoyed a terrific meal at the Le Flora onboard restaurant with my nephew and his wife who were returning to Paris with their gorgeous Golden Retriever Marley (he wasn't invited to the meal but got the best of care).
The journey to Hendaye on the French-Spanish border proved uneventful, aside from the fact that our Sat-Nav packed up. We made quite a few stops, including ones at the excellent Aire de Rennes and Aire de Vendee, and, having left the boat at about 8.00am, arrived here at 7.30pm.
The appartment is well located, within walking distance of a fantastic beach and a lovely busy port which has a cross river ferry to Spain.
More pics from this trip here

Crab dressed in vegetable salad, "sauce diplomate"

Creamy bouillon of sole with melted camembert

Friday, May 25, 2012

Top Prize for Truly Irish

Jim McGrath, Chairman, is pictured here with John Concannon, MD of JFC Manufacturing Co Ltd and Patrick McDonnell, on his Farm in New Inn Co Galway.

press release:

Truly Irish wins top prize at JFC Awards

Truly Irish are very excited to have won the overall prize worth €15,000 in the 2012 JFC Innovation Awards this month. The competition was sponsored by JFC and supported by Teagasc, DARD NI and the Irish Farmers Journal who all saw the potential in what Truly Irish have been trying to achieve since they began trading in 2009. It is a fantastic win for the farmers brand who are doing it all themselves and raising awareness of the importance of buying Irish.

“This is an award for all Irish pig producers, especially Truly Irish producers” said Jim McGrath, Chairman. Minister of State, Shane McEntee, had also said there were difficulties for many businesses but it is a time for pooling resources and Truly Irish have done just that. Other countries have already shown interest in what Truly Irish have done for the Irish pig farmer/pig industry and hope to save their own.

Truly Irish was set up by 85 pig farmers who came together to form their own brand in a bid to save the Irish pig industry and give the consumer 100% Irish premium products. Developing a quality brand, they now have listings in all the major retailers in Ireland and are now setting their sights on the UK. Pork Goujons and 82% pork Gluten Free Sausages are the latest products to be added to the ever growing product range. Truly Irish Pork Goujons are brand new to the market and are a delicious alternative to chicken goujons. Both products are now available in Dunnes Stores.