Monday, 11 August 2014

First night in Bilbao

Arriaga Suites charges a supplement of 20€ for late arrivals. I told them we were scheduled to touch down at 20.35 and that we'd be taking the bus and tram so they estimated arrival time to be no later than 22.00. If I arrived later, they would charge me the supplement.

I might have missed the deadline by a little, but there wasn't any charge. :)

We checked in, dumped the bags, freshened up a little, and went out in search for a bite to eat. I was told a lot of places close around 23.00-23.30. This, I later established to be true. Whipped the phone out, Google Maps, GPS on, "Take me to Gure Toki!"

Before I knew it, we were in Plaza Nueva, which was buzzing with late diners, in spite of it being a Wednesday. Unfortunately, Gure Toki was closed. It is not uncommon for restaurants to close in August for their annual holidays. And, just as I was told, some restaurants were already starting to pack up for the night.

We walked around the square, soaked up the vibes and eventually entered a small bar, even though it was almost empty. We weren't in the mood to be among a crowd, I guess. Besides, there were still a fair bit of appetising-looking pintxos on the bar. That could also mean a bad thing, I know.

As so happened many times before, it didn't take long for others to follow us in, and soon the place was filled up! The place was tiny, so that wasn't difficult.

Inma is a family-run establishment which means that the service is friendly and helpful. Inma, I guess, is the name of the lady of the house, who, unfortunately, had a terrible accident a week before. She fell down the lift shaft, I think; I didn't quite understand exactly how it happened. She was going down to the wine cellar, perhaps in the dark and it must have been one of those old lifts where it's just a platform going up and down.

I used to work in a place like that and you have to be careful and always make sure that the platform is at your level and not 20 or 30 metres below! So, I suppose she must have just opened the lift door, and walked into an empty shaft and went tumbling down to the cellar because the platform was still down below!

Broke her hips and all. Terrible. My heart went out to them. The father and son was running the bar without her, naturally. I hope she'll recover well. I don't know how much effect her absence had on the quality of the food, but, aspect wise, it obviously looked good enough for us to walk in.

Pintxos in Bilbao

How on earth did I find out about all that, you may very well ask. Haha. That's the sort of thing you can discover by sitting by the bar and opening up a conversation...

So, what about the food?

The first thing you need to know about pintxos is that pintxo literally means "spike". The fundamental ingredient is a piece of bread, usually hard-crusted, and anything that can be spiked through, on top of it. The toothpicks can get quite long! These days, they don't even bother with the toothpicks or skewers, as you can see on the above image. They're similar to the Danish open sandwiches or montaditos in other Spanish regions. The Basque people, however, have made pintxos their very own art form.

The second thing to know is that they're not intended to be a full meal; more like a snack. A lot of them are often served cold; a few are warm. In most bars/restaurants, they are prepared once or twice a day. So, generally speaking, they may be not as fresh as you'd expected if they've been on the counter for many hours.

The third thing, following on from what I mentioned in the last paragraph, if you're hungry, and you want to just have pintxos, be thinking of anything between 3 and 6 pintxos, depending on the size of your stomach! In other words, they can add up to a bit. As an example, this meal at Inma for the three of us, with drinks, came up to a little over 30€. We probably had about 12 or 13 pintxos between us.

Back to Inma's.

As I mentioned before, service was friendly and efficient. Some pintxos were served warmed up - not sure if it was done by some sort of oven or hot plate, but it made a difference. Taste was generally good. I found the cod a little salty, but it's normal in most places as the cod they use is de-salted salty cod, if that makes sense. The bacalao al pil pil is their speciality. Price is more economical than most of the other eateries in this plaza, which makes it great value for money.