We checked into Hotel Costes K, a trendy design hotel owned by Hotel Costes which is famous for their music. Got one full day in Paris before we fly to Biarritz! The first thing on my mind was crepe with bananas + nutella for breakfast at a sidewalk café somewhere in town so I can sit and be a Parisian - watch people (and doggies).
Wish granted, spent the rest of the day getting lost in the city; went inside Lido to book show tickets, walked past the Arch of Triumph, saw Eifel Tower from a distance, strolled along the river Seine (found my Moulin Rouge posters, yayy!)... ...shopped a little on Saint Germaine, sat outside a café again and sipped tea, went inside Notre Dame. Paris looked exactly the same 11 years ago.
We then went on to District 6 to shop some more. Good shopping near the opera too but we decided to prioritize as time was our enemy.
Dinner was awesome. Found fresh oysters & had also steamed mussels ‘marinere’ at a restaurant on an ally somewhere at Saint Germaine. Oh here's a reminder, English is almost never used in most restaurants in France, so do learn some basic French for your own sake or you won't know what the menu says! Especially those who have food allergies, go learn those few words to save yourself. After dinner, we were supposed to go watch Lido but we were quite dead by then. Plus we were catching a 7am flight to Biarritz in the morning and having to wake up at 5 put me off already. So no Lido:( That morning at the airport in Paris was an experience so atrocious I think France will forever be tainted. Well, to cut the story short, this staff of Easy Jet should just burn in hell. Budget airline or not, whichever the industry, no customer in any circumstances, let alone a lady, should be called a MOTHERFUCKER. Agree?
Supper in Spain Anyway, we got in to Biarritz and I was still boiling with rage. The weather, just as hot as my temper. That same evening at San Sebastian however, totally blew our minds. As much as I couldn't stomach the Easy Jet incident, I decided to shove it aside so that I can fully digest what's coming. Being in San Sebastian was like stumbling upon a food playground.
Half an hour drive from Biarritz is the Basque country which I’ve never heard before. It’s a very old country bordering France on the south which belongs to Spain. Stephane drove us and Eugene there to meet our friends Joerg and Txuku (pronounced chu-ku) who own an apartment in this charming town.
from left : Eugene, Stephane & Txuku
Our one and only objective there was to EAT. The way to do it is tapas-hopping, from one bar to the next, from 9pm till late. We were brought to these packed tapas bars which served smorgasbords of small Spanish eats or what they call, PINCHOS displayed on the bar for your own helpings. We squeezed in amid people reaching for ham in croissant, veal cheek, pig’s ears, preserved cod fish, pan-fried gigantic mushroom sponges and mini sandwiches of sort. There was one bar that served a very unique item which our friend Eugene was most intrigued by. He has a thing for delicacies and he's one who'd gladly pay (through his nose) just to try it. So, we did just that! We ate sautéed baby eels – which cost 400 euros/kg.
It was Saturday night and the town with tiny & tight little bars was crowded with happy people, noisy with talk, perfumed by food and drunk on life. And this scene, we were told, is everyday in San Sebastian! I think we must have hopped into 3 bars by now, purely relishing.
This 4th place had apparently, the best wines in the world. They cooked fantastic chunky steaks too! Eugene, again asked for the most obscure - the fattiest piece of meat, trimming of course not necessary. Very juicy indeed...I felt like having a glass of red all of a sudden. Quite unusual that I'd ask for a 'drink' but oh... that wine and the meat, perfect balance.
My disinterest, or actually my dislike in alcohol must sound totally absurd to those we love drinking. I mean the gallons of wines and champagnes that are perpetually bestowed upon me are enough to literally drown me, yet how rarely do I ever indulge. Hmmm... why am I not in the shoe business...? Seriously...
Just downstairs from Joerg and Txuku’s holiday apartment which sits next to a clock tower on what looked like an old railway square was in fact an old bull-fight ring, are 230 tapas bars as such all stacked one after another squared around the town. People, neighbors, friends, gather to socialize there very regularly. And everyone there is ostensibly obsessed with food. So you can imagine how good food here must be. Here's an interesting story :
Back in the day in San Sebastian, some hundred years ago there were these MEN-ONLY clubs. Although this has changed now, quite clearly women were not allowed then. I of course had immediately pictured prostitutes-gambling-smoking-drinking joints, you know the common pleasure-principles. Well, pleasure indeed, except these Basque-men gathered really, only to cook! This cracked me up big time. Obsessed with food you don't say!
Txuku’s brother took us to one such club, somewhere in the cracks which he’s a member of. There, we talked and laughed and after one bottle of local champagne later(Cava it's called), we walked down the alley past all these pinchos bars again to a Whisky Bar, or rather a Whisky Museum. In the basement of this place, people congregate to sing ala karaoke-style except to live music. All are free to join in.
It must be almost 2am. Yes, we decided the Whisky Bar was the last stop. We saw Txuku have her birthday dance with brother and decided to call it a night. They (Jorg, Txuku & brother) however, partied on. Stephane drove us out of San Sebastian while I struggled to stay awake to keep him awake while the other two (my husband & Eugene) snoozed away. Road signs were really vague, we had no idea IRUN and IRUNA were not the same so ended up heading towards Pamplona (which is the opposite side of Biarritz) – 30km in the wrong direction before we found a no-sign exit. It was quite freaky to be driving on a totally deserted highway in the middle of nowhere at that hour… not a single soul on either side of us. By the time we reached Biarritz, Stephane and I were totally wasted. He wasn't gonna get much sleep - 7am was his call time for the 1st R&C meeting!
Dinners in Biarritz Well, that Sunday in Biarritz was truly awesome. Slept in from the late night plus no work:) And not that I’m complaining, but whatever happened to winter?!!? The temperature was perfect, the sun was out to warm my face. I did bring the tropics with me!So I woke up in the hotel room to sunny Biarritz with the sea outside my window. I couldn't wait to get outside. I knew I needed just a sweater. How very nice! Since shopping in town was closed, we went and ate crepes again back at the same place overlooking the canyon. Then we just mosey-ed around town in a lesiurely pace, admiring the castles in the hood. Adam's Family - I passed this castle everyday getting to town. There's a creepy-wonderment about it. It's a childhood fantasy of mine to stay in a castle one day... like those I read in storybooks. But I'll probably freak out spending the night in this one. We came to Biarritz specifically for the RELAIS & CHATEAUX XXXV International Congress (15-18 November 2009). All the members meet at a different country each year to attend the seminars and parties. That same night was the Relais & Chateaux welcoming party at the castle by the sea, at the L’Hotel Du Palais.
R&C OPENING PARTY Again, lots and lots to drink whole night long, with endless helpings of cuisine of the most sumptuous sorts prepared by some of the best grand chefs in France.
Le Parcours Gastronomique des grand chefs Relais & Chateaux
Starters & Main Courses
Restaurant Helene Darroze - Escaoutoun with truffles
Chateaux Cordeillan-Bages (Grand Chef Thierry Marx) – Fresh, raw oysters, iodine breadsticks & caviar
Restaurant Richard Et Christopher Coutanceau (Grand Chef Christopher) – Confit scallops au naturel in a viennoise of fresh herbs on creamy broccoli with an acidulated beetroot vinaigrette
Carre Des Feuillants (Grand Chef Alain Dutournier) – Daube of tripes with ceps
Le Saint-James (Grand Chef Michel Portos) – Cannelloni of ceps & aubergines, coriander cockle vinaigrette
Hostellerie De Plasiance (Grand Chef Philippe Etchebest) – Cubism of foie gras & smoked tuna, aspic of oceanic bonito & Aquitaine caviar
Les Pyrenees (Grand Chef Firmin et Philippe Arrambide) – Shredded hare a la royale
Desserts by L’Hotel Du Palais (Grand Chef Jean-Marie Gautier)
Churros with Eugenie chocolate, soft macaroons with almond cream, waffles with fig compote & Bourbon vanilla & “Russian” with pistachio.
R&C Basque Dinner Biarritz was its most beautiful on Monday morning. The sun and he sea was calling. Hung-over or not, most attended the 8am congress down at the casino. Whereas I, spent 2 fabulous hours in the outdoors, power-walked by the sea and sprinted around the sleepy town. Met everybody for lunch later and then proceed to shop some more.That night was the FETE BASQUE – the Basque-themed night out at a farm called Ferme Inharria, somewhere out in the countryside. All of us (some 600 people from all over the world) were asked to dress in red & white with a red scarf & red berret.
Like the food, the event was nothing less original. And any R&C event is never short of surprises. A welcoming entourage of men dressed like characters of Asterix, drumming, marching and trumpeting.That was, Basque-style. We were led on red carpet first passing a trojan-looking beefy man demonstrating his physical power, then some ladies offering trials of their specialty chili-jam and finally to our dinner venue, the barn.THE BASQUE MENU Lobe de Foie Gras de canard entire (yes FOIE GRAS again. I almost couldn’t eat anything more after this butter-rich slab of fat)
Cochon de lait cuit a la braise, haricots tarbais au chorizo (yup, the suckling pig was roasted just outside the barn – it was so super juicy I stuffed it anyway...)
Fromage de brebis & bleu basque, confiture de cerise’s Itxassou (strong-flavored cheese with berry jam, which I’m sure was to die-for but I was sitting there like a bag of bananas by then albeit not much worse than those who have had to sit through a full-day of talk at the Congress earlier - they were heavy with sleep by then)
Delice d’Amatxi, sauce caramel au cidre basque (AH…. now THIS was food for my soul. Quite special, picture cream flan on top of an apple pie then topped with a caramel-cider sauce. It was so light I simply inhaled it.)
Lunch at the fish market Now this was truly WOW. What was in-stored for us all after the Champagne Cocktail Brunch that didn't interest me at all, was really outstandingly. Unwilling to spill the beans, Stephane walked us through the Biarritz town to a mystery place. There was singing and drumming again as we reached what smelt like a fish market. Indeed it was! A market place – one end fish, the other meat. And OH MY GOD...
Need I say more??!!! Let's rape the oysters!!! There were also poached red prawns, boiled mussels, sautéed calamari, caviar… we, and hundreds of people from Relais & Chateaux were gobbling down like the world was running out of air. We could eat all we wanted.
And I, was unstoppable. It was the case of "I've come and I've conquered" AND totally raped the oysters. Hence no time for pictures, was too busy gobbling. Oblivious to the rest, I’ve lost Stephane too (another oyster rapist) by now, I moved on to other stations eating like a hungry homeless person. Now that, is the true meaning of 'indulge'.Then, when I was starting to look like an oyster, Federico pulled me away to the other side – the meat, cheese & dessert market. Yeah, let’s eat something else! Oh my oh my….guess what, just as we stepped through the door, I saw foie gras AGAIN! Slither after slither of foie gras pate later, I was again dragged away.
I had room left only for sweets. So there I had my first dose of basque cake and something called Canale which looks like a kind of Malay kuih. But it has an interesting tenacity and a hard-to-forget flavor... kinda burnt vanilla-caramel with a hint of rum. I was again relentless, in fact desperate. Since I almost could not eat no more, I asked to ‘ta pao’ :D Voila, I asked, I got! We had them for breakfast with coffee in Paris on our way outta France two mornings later.
R&C Finale Gala - The Charleston Night That was our last night in Biarritz. Held at the Casino, the party's themed was Charleston glamour. Think ‘Cabaret’, think old Hollywood divas, the aristocratic glamour of the 40s. Sequined and tassle-trimmed dresses with legs sheathed in fishnets and elbow-length laced gloves, ostrich-feathered head dresses and lips in come-hither red, set the stage for the cameras. SHOWTIME it was!
It was a highly entertaining variety showcase with some of the best, most outstanding international acts; a super juggler, contortionist-comic dance which was amazing and a ventriloquist that uses a dog as his prop and who also engages audience participation. It’s a show not to be missed while in Paris!!! Do book online or call in advance because you don't wanna be stuck in a queue like this.Unfortunately Boulevard de Clichy isn't exactly a decent area to hang out at. In fact pretty dodgy and filthy...I didn't feel safe here at all. This is actually the red-light district of Paris so you can imagine lah. Just down the road from the Moulin Rouge theatre are strip clubs, sex shows, sex shops in the dodgiest form. Horrible. What made it worse that night was the soccer fans of Albania, hooligans really, who were celebrating their win against Egypt. Speeding cars on the streets, people clad in flags and painted faces screaming and honking, burning stuffs... gosh they turned Paris upside down as seen in the news. There were police in high-tech gear roaming outside the theatre, tons of rubbish on the road. Ugh it was rowdy and ugly.
That night, we saw one helluva spectacular world-class cabaret performance, possibly best I've seen in the world, and one lousiest, most gross pole dance show I've ever seen in my life. Talk about extremes... Well, I had no idea! I was curious but then no peeping aloud so it wasn't like we could walk in to check it out first before paying! I seriously thought Paris would have some good pole dancers...was hoping to buy a lap dance even. So I forced my hubby to go in with me. He was not amused at all. Sure enough, we got conned. 20 Euros each for a damn lousy act (I won't even call it a 'show') or whatever it was, at this dark and filthy joint of zero customers. As we entered, working girls were lazing about half-asleep on some sofa and were immediately 'shoo-ed' to 'wake up' to show us to our table. I realized then it was a mistake. Hahahahh! This place looked and smelt so dirty I didn't even wanna sit anywhere, let alone drink. We were really, the only morons there by the way.... Some young-looking eastern-European girl (i think) then came and started to 'dance' around the pole on the 'stage' in front of us. She did absolutely nothing and we felt cheated. We only have my pole passion to blame. Anyway, now I know... Been there, done that. Earlier that evening before coming to this rowdy side of town, we were at the posh side of town and had dropped in at the famous Buddha Bar for a drink. Nice ambiance....reminded me of The Spice Market in New York. After, as we strolled closer to the main street to catch a cab, I came upon Laduree! What a coincidence. Just a couple of nights ago in Biarritz, I heard from my friend Ilsoon that this shop sells the best macaroons in Paris.