Things I’ve Learned About Wine in France

The ABC of French Wine
The ABBC of French Wine

I love wine. As far as I’m concerned there’s no better way to relax in the evening than with a nice big glass of red wine, a good book, and a roaring log fire. There’s no better way to guarantee that you’re not going to get up until past 10am the next morning than polishing off a bottle or two with some good friends, either. Youngy & Emma, I’m looking at you.

When I decided to leave Edinburgh behind and go travelling, it was obvious that I was going to choose France. The land of gooey cheeses, crisp baguettes, and wine by the bucket load. As far as I was concerned, Australian and Californian wines could wait. I may have been underwhelmed by French wine while I was in Edinburgh, but I figured that’s because those clever froggies were keeping all the good shit for themselves.

Oh boy.

Here’s what I’ve learned about wine in France… so far.

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Pintxo Crawl! Looking for the Best Pintxos in San Sebastian Old Town

We had a week or so between house sits, so after the crash we decided to relax with a little trip around the Pyrenees. Our visit to San Sebastian coincided with James’s birthday, and what better way to celebrate turning 26 than going on a pintxos crawl?

For those who don’t know, pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’) are the Basque version of tapas. They’re lined up on the bar, and you just help yourself, and pay at the end. I have no idea how the bartenders remember who’s eating what.

As a couple of food geeks, we take our meal planning seriously. We whipped out our laptops and made the most of the hotel’s free wifi, checking out blogs and review sites to find the best pintxo bars in the Parte Vieja; aka the Old Town.  Once we had a comprehensive list and a plan of action, we wandered around the bay towards the holy grail of buffet style food.

La Mejillonera

Patatas bravas at La Mejillonera
Fried potatoes and mayonnaisey goodness

We started off at this little dive to ‘carb up’ on patatas bravas; an important strategy if you want to eat all night without spending a fortune, and drink all night without ending up sick. The atmosphere reminded me of a busy sports bar, or a kebab shop at around 2am on a Friday night. Toothpicks and mussel shells littered the floor, and the air was full of the shouts of bartenders calling orders through to the kitchen. They only sell a couple of things, mainly bravas and mussels;  but they do them well. At least, the bravas were good; I’d like to have stayed and tried the mussels, too, but the night was still young with many culinary adventures ahead.

We ate: Portion of patatas bravas
We drank: Beer
Bill:  €5.00
Verdict: I’d eat here every night if I could. James probably wouldn’t.

Casa Bartolo 

Squid on a skewer
Just one of Casa Bartolo's culinary delights

This wasn’t on our list of places to check out, but where’s the fun in doing a bar crawl if you’re going to stick to a set list? We stumbled in here and this is the first place we saw the local sparkling wine txakoli being poured; they had an amazing dispenser, shaped like a human arm! We were still too sober to try ordering it, so we stuck to beer. We grabbed a few tasty bites off the bar and decided to share. It struck us at this point how popular voulauvants seem to be, despite being quite unfashionable back home.

We ate: Octopus, bola picante de marisco (spicy fish ball), toast with blue cheese and walnuts
We drank: Beer!
Bill:  €9.60
Verdict: Loved the fish ball. Would probably go back just to order a txakoli.

Bar Haizea

Skewer of delights
Cocktail skewer in Bar Haizea

James added this pintxo bar to the list as our favourite cheffy guy, Anthony Bourdain, apparently visited it on his trip to San Sebastian. It’s made Bar Haizea a bit of a tourist attraction, and apparently the staff can be a wee bit unfriendly because of that. So we did our best to pretend we’d just stumbled in with no idea of the place’s reputation. I thought the food was okay, but James really liked it. Go figure.

We ate: Olive, asparagus, onion and shrimp skewer and a bacalhao pastry.
We drank: Txakoli
Bill:  €6.60
Verdict: I wasn’t impressed, but it was James’s favourite.

Txa Petxa

Anchovy and roe

The next tapas bar to hit our radar was Txa Petxa. If you don’t like fish, this is one to avoid. They have a very ‘Bubba from Forrest Gump’ style menu. If you can imagine anchovy with any combination, they have it here. After a bit of deliberation, we went for anchovy with roe and also a portion of calamari. We might have ordered another anchovy based thing, but honestly readers; it starts to get a little foggy here. All I remember is that it  was the best calamari I’ve ever had. Crisp on the outside, soft and tender on the inside.

We ate: Anchovy and roe, calamari
We drank: Txakoli
Bill:  €15.00
Verdict: Our favourite. Despite the steep price, I would definitely go back again and again.

Bar Zeruko

Apple and goat cheese
Trendy tapa

Until this point, all of the pintxo bars we’d visited were a bit like “old man pubs”. Bar Zeruko is trendy. I found it difficult to choose just a couple of tapas to munch on, but James somehow managed to restrain me and we took just two. The place reminded me of a trendy George Street cocktail bar, with the young and the beautiful clamouring to order tasty bites of food instead of fancy drinks. There was one American girl who kept doing my head in, asking me “what’s that?” and “what’s that?” I felt like saying, “I know just as much as you do, love, just grab a pintxo and pray!”

We ate: Goats cheese with apple and honey, serrano ham and squid
We drank: Txakoli
Bill:  €9.60
Verdict: If you visit San Sebastian, I’d definitely recommend going here. Highly recommended by loads of websites, and with good reason.

Gandarias Jatatxea

Anchovy pintxos on the bar top

Most of the websites we looked at raved about Gandarias, and the place was absolutely heaving so we did think we were onto a winner. After queuing at the bar for about half an hour, we eventually managed to grab and pay for our pintxos. We slunk off and found a quiet spot to much them, and sadly we were both pretty unimpressed. Even although I was hammered, I really couldn’t enjoy the weird mayonnaisey flavour of the pintxos we had chosen.

We ate: Some interesting looking toasts with fish on them.
We drank: Txakoli
Bill:  €6.60
Verdict: Biggest disappointment of the evening 🙁

La Vina

Look at all the lovely cheesecakes

After taking a minute to decide where next, we realised that we were pretty drunk and pretty full. With room in our bellies for one more pintxo bar, we decided it was time for dessert. All of the blogs we’d researched our pintxo crawl on said that you had to finish up with a slice of baked cheesecake from La Vina, so we did. It was pretty nice, different from any other cheesecake I’ve had; more like solid creme brulee, if that makes sense.

We ate: Cheesecake
We drank: Txakoli
Bill:  €9.90
Verdict: Expensive cake, but worth it.

So there you have it: our mission to find the best pintxos in San Sebastian. Although we didn’t quite manage to visit everywhere on our hitlist, we had a really awesome night and ate some seriously tasty bar snacks.


REVIEW: Chaophraya Edinburgh Launch Night!

33 Castle Street, Edinburgh, EH23DN
0131 226 7614

I may be in France, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still cover Edinburgh restaurant launches here on Jemma Eat World! Allow me to introduce Euan; foodie extraordinaire, best friend, and reviewer of Edinburgh restaurants on my behalf. Although I couldn’t attend the launch of Chaophraya, Euan was there to ask whether the meat was locally sourced, how much a meal costs, and more importantly, whether the bar’s open all day…

Entering Chaophraya Edinburgh

Having spent a dreich Edinburgh day in a conference, I was super excited to be spending my evening at the launch of new Thai restaurant, Chaophraya.  Chaophraya has moved into the Edinburgh institution that was Oloroso on Castle Street. Having spent many days ‘basking’ in the ‘sunshine’ supping cocktails on the Oloroso balcony, I feared that the traditional Edinburger summer would be changed for good.

As is now compulsory, my evening started in The Queens Arms, merely to settle my nerves before presenting myself as the roaming reporter for Jemma Eat World. Upon arrival at Chaophraya I was greeted by a bouncer and the obligatory glamorous lady with a clipboard. Thankfully my name was on the list, and the first possible disaster of the evening was averted!

Our coats were taken and we were shown to the lift by the assistant manager. She was lovely and gave us an impromptu lesson in Thai, we parted with “Khorb Khun Krup”, or something that sounded like that!

Reaching the dizzy heights of the rooftop restaurant we were greeted with a lovely glass of prosecco. As far as first impressions go, I’ve had worse! Then, on a side note, I got my picture taken for the style page in I-On magazine because they, and I quote, “love(d) my look”!

Walking about six inches taller and with my chest puffed out, we headed for the balcony to take in the ambience. The restaurant was busy but it is evident that money has been spent to create a very stylish addition to the Edinburgh restaurant scene. That being said, I’m not interested in eating the plush bar or fancy lighting, so roll on the food!

Chaophraya Edinburgh food

Canapés were dished out in their droves, and we quickly worked out the best place to nab them straight from the kitchen. We were treated to lovely beef with a sweet dip, tasty chicken satay skewers, oysters and prawn rolls. But, we were also given two very strange canapés. They were a bizarre nutty/meaty mix  (not normally an issue…I love satay) served on pineapple chunks or in clementine segments. I say bizarre, I mean not nice. I did give them another try later on, and they were definitely not nice.

The company behind Chaophraya  know how to put on a party. In addition to the free bar until 10pm, we were entertained by the obligatory, but not entirely convincing, ’Ladyboys’. There was a traditional Thai blessing with rose petals, but as the woman behind me so eloquently put, “someone is going to have to pick that shit up”.

Thai blessing at Chaophraya Edinburgh

I took my roaming reporter role extremely seriously, more so as the night went on…!

When the Marketing Director could not answer my question of where the £2.1 million upgrade had been spent, I was swiftly pushed towards the Development Director (?). He assured me that Edinburgh now has the most modern bar in the UK. It was nice and trendy with a plush light above it. Personally, I couldn’t see what was ground breaking about it. Maybe I should do a second viewing, but really, I wouldn’t go back to a place just because they have a fancy bar.

When my questions moved onto whether or not the food was locally sourced, the owner of the chain was pushed my way. He handed me another glass of prosecco which was a good start! He could tell me that the fish was locally sourced, but nothing more specific than that. He did tell me that Edinburgh was very lucky to be chosen to have this restaurant.

There was me struggling to find a fine eatery in our capital city!

He did question where I got my figures from when I asked about the upgrade. Only when I told him that they were from his marketing man, did he acknowledged them!

I don’t think he liked me…

Chaophraya Edinburgh

I also asked whether Chaophraya could live up to what Oloroso offered. Would people be furiously ‘checking-in’ on the balcony during our one day of summer? He assured me that they would. The bar is open all day and is very well stocked. They welcome customers who are just looking for a drink, which will definitely help with business. The bar manager, Mario, seemed to know his stuff. He and his staff were confident and calm behind such a busy bar.

As the night progressed we mingled with the other chosen ones. One guy ordered four shots of Disaronno from the free bar alongside his other drinks. Out of order in my opinion. So if you’re reading, that’s just not cricket.

Chaophraya Edinburgh atmosphere

As fire dancers and masseurs were brought out to entertain the crowds, we took the opportunity to grab another bite to eat on the balcony. A barbeque was cooking meat to sit atop a cone shaped wrap filled with salad. These were lovely and had a nice bite. The salad was crisp and the meat beautifully cooked. More substantial than the canapés, they were a most welcome addition to the culinary aspect of the evening.

The lovely assistant manager gave me a couple of menus to take away (they don’t do takeaway by the way, I asked). I thought that you might be interested in some prices! Here’s a random sample:

Chicken Spring Rolls – £6.95

Pork Spare Ribs – £7.95

Prawn Satay – £9.95

Thai Green Chicken Curry – £10.55

Chicken Pad Thai – £9.95

Sticky Rice – £3.55

From the drinks menu, which I was also gifted, the cheapest bottle of vino will set you back £17.25, cocktails are £7.50. A bottle of beer is about £3.75, but I’m not sure if that’s good or not! Going to Chaophraya is definitely not a cheap option, but it is on George Street (ish), and has an amazing view in the daylight. So can we forgive them for that?

Our night ended at a table with the really nice Marketing Director, a man from accounts and one of the waiters. By now the free bar was closed, but our complimentary drinks kept flowing thanks to our company. I decided that further questioning was required (the meat comes from Belgium, by the way). 

I left with a warm feeling that I had been amongst friends, but maybe that was the wine. In terms of the food, further investigation would be required and I’m not sure I would rush back for round two. Due to its subtle location, they will need to survive on their reputation.

 Good luck Chaophraya, you may need a strong (Easterly) wind behind you!

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