Small snacks, loosely joined

I recall that when Peter Jansons first opened The Dunes, it was to be a tapas bar. Perhaps I am imagining this. In any case, tapas are the lifeblood of the eating scene in Bilbao, and yesterday we had our first experience thereof.

We set out on our snacking mission at about 7.30h. About 15 minutes in, it started to rain. Hard. Fast. Wet. We sought shelter under the canopies of shops. Somehow Oliver, by placing his fingers in the lowered shutters in front of a chi chi clothing store, caused an alarm to go off. We left that storefront quickly. Eventually, growing ever more tired and wet, we ambled into Cafe Iruna. This joint was jumping, apparently busy not only from the Sunday evening crowd, but also because of special events surrounding its 100th anniversary.

The idea of tapas is that a wild collection of small snacks is displayed on the counter, and, you order little bits of whatever strikes your fancy. In an orgy of soggy hunger, we quickly polished off a couple of slices of french bread covered with ham and marinated mushrooms, followed by some lamb shish kabob roasted on a barbeque in the corner, followed by a couple of glasses of red wine, followed by some ham and cheese. Oliver drank pineapple juice, ate our leavings, and seemed generally content about the entire affair. Total bill was about $8.00. The plan was to head off into the night for dinner afterwards, but we were so happy and well-fed that we simply went home and went to bed.

This morning the soggy theme continued, with the added flourish of having just used up Oliver’s last disposable diaper. We set off into the damp (but not rainy) Bilbao morning, eventually locating the only pack of size 5 diapers in the city in the back of a cosmetics shop near the Guggenheim. We grabbed coffee (and zumo del pina) in a smoky bar, and then made our way, under darkening skies, to Restaurante vegetariano, one of two vegetarian restaurants in the city.

This proved to be exactly what we needed — a four course vegetarian meal (salad, soup, main course and dessert with tea). The food was excellent, and the service wonderful.

When we emerged an hour later, the skies had opened. Fortunately we had purchased an umbrella earlier in the day. Unfortunately, our ‘one umbrella should be fine’ theory proved naive, and Catherine and I got drenched while Oliver hung onto the umbrella, for dear life, in his stroller. A thirty minute dash later, and we arrived soaked to the skim at out hotel.

The rain (in Spain) has let up now, and after Oliver has a nap, we will venture out again. Tomorrow is our day reserved to tour the Guggenheim, so I’m sure there will be much to report.


Rob Paterson's picture
Rob Paterson on May 5, 2003 - 16:44 Permalink

My favourite type of meal. Try with dry sherry Peter

Alan's picture
Alan on May 5, 2003 - 16:47 Permalink

If you can try sherries, Peter, or rather Xeres with the tapas. Fortified wines are the real bargain in Iberia and you can actually locate decent ones when you get home to Canada

Pedro Leite Fragoso's picture
Pedro Leite Fragoso on May 5, 2003 - 23:57 Permalink

Hi, Peter. I checked the PEI site, as I do from time to time and then checked your site by chance, and I noticed that you are in the country next door. Although the last time I was in Bilbao was more than 20 years ago (it was another city, really), I have a habit of picking the reviews on restaurants in Portugal and Spain that appear on the press and use them to feed a database of restaurants I maintain on my Psion 5mx. I have a note on La Cuchara de Euskalduna (in Botija Vieja, wherever that is) as having “exquisitas tapas” (“really great tapas”). There is a restaurant in the Palacio Euskalduna called Etxanobe (Av. de Abandoibarra, 4 — 3rd; phone: 944 421 023), whose chef, called Fernando Canales, says that “llevo 15 a

Christopher's picture
Christopher on May 6, 2003 - 02:18 Permalink

You have discovered of of the great Spanish gifts to civilisation. Here on the Hardy Mill Road in Darkest York tapas, have become part of the Island Scene. Gambas (shrimp — or better, prawns — in oil, tomato, onion and tons of garlic)are core grub. Cold chunks of garlic sausage, olives & hard-boiled egg also seem to be well rceived, along with spicy meatballs. And Alan speaks truth — sherry is excellent as an accompaniment. The whole point of tapas is to keep you going till that other great Spanish gift — a meal around midnight — preferably outdoors. Have you done paella yet? Must drag my separated-at-birth-twin Rob out and have him bring a hamper of his faves and compare notes. Are you going to try to slip across to Morocco?

Too Many Robs's picture
Too Many Robs on May 6, 2003 - 02:48 Permalink

Try the octopus.

Alan's picture
Alan on May 6, 2003 - 12:27 Permalink

Educate your palate to sherry. Start with oloroso, move to manzanilla and graduate to cooled fino — Tio Pepe is good basic fino starter. At undergrad receptions at Kings we had fino foisted on us too soon and too warm. It turned me off the whole thing. Unfortunate — as the history of sherry is the history of the empire. There is a continuously English church in Xeres that is hundreds of years old. Not that this in itself is important but it is indicative of one of the oldest continuous shipped goods. It isn’t Harvey’s Bristol cream for nothing.