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IMG_6330Basque describes itself as a “Tapas Bar and Res­taur­ant”, though the lay­out and atmo­sphere, with prom­in­ent beer taps and more lean­ers than tables, def­in­itely emphas­ises the bar aspect. This is under­scored by a vast and fas­cin­at­ing drinks selec­tion. As well as the expec­ted Riojas and Albar­iños on the wine list, there’s a whole unknown (to me) world of Span­ish beers to explore, as well as loc­al craft beers and even Basque cider.

The bar emphas­is was also made obvi­ous by the street front­age, which seemed a cyn­ic­al attempt to sub­vert the non-smoking laws. There are doors between their ‘out­door’ area and the street, but no bar­ri­ers between this den of car­ci­no­gens and the ‘interi­or’, so that cold, smoky air kept drift­ing inside. Since neither of us had lungs that were in a mood for this, we had to stick to the seat­ing area right at the back.

At least it was pleas­antly cosy back there, des­pite the incon­veni­ence of hav­ing to make one’s way to the front to order from the bar. The decor played up the 1970s kitsch side of cod-Span­ish cul­ture, includ­ing a bas-relief beast labelled “the Bur­ton Bull”, which was puzz­ling because it wasn’t cross­ing its arms and air­ily dis­miss­ing oth­er cultures.

Famil­i­ar tapas bar staples such as pata­tas bravas and potato and Ser­rano ham cro­quettes were more­ish, though deep-fried carbs with spicy sauce is a uni­ver­sal culin­ary lan­guage that’s hard to get wrong. The pro­volone dish was more of a rev­el­a­tion: a plate of sizz­ling, bub­bling gooey cheese with rose­mary and chilli oil, almost a spicy fondue.

Grilled sardines proved trick­i­er to eat. Unlike the oily morsels that arrive in cans, these fresh, glisten­ing leviath­ans stared up at us with cold, venge­ful eyes. Crunch­ing up the ver­teb­rae of these sea-beasts didn’t seem an option, so we worked our way around the spiky bones, and were rewar­ded with del­ic­ate, lem­on-scen­ted flesh and lightly crisp paprika-dus­ted skin.

For mains, my date chose chick­en pieces with white beans and rice, while I went with the cho­ri­zo beef and paprika bur­ger. The former was a hearty stew served in a rus­tic bowl, with a pleas­ant tang from spiced onions and yogurt. The lat­ter, while hardly authen­t­ic, was a massive, sat­is­fy­ing meal in itself. As well as the fat beef patty and slices of smoky cho­ri­zo, the buns con­tained melted Ched­dar, car­a­mel­ised onion, and a salad of tomato, mesclun and roast cap­sic­um, all drip­ping with aioli. This was accom­pan­ied by a side of pata­tas bravas lar­ger than the tapas serving. The res­ult was not subtle, but undeni­ably deli­cious, and superb value.

We made space for the oblig­at­ory churros, which were slightly too sweet, but they went down nicely with a glass of Valdespino Pedro Xime­nez sherry. Incid­ent­ally, this is what the bar­man had ori­gin­ally returned with when I asked for a Man­zanilla with our tapas. He seemed bewildered that any­one would ask for sherry, des­pite the fact that they’re a clas­sic tapas match, and they had four on their list: “You’re the first to order that in the two weeks we’ve been open.” Over­all, the ser­vice was gen­i­al, and even if the staff seemed more at home pulling pints than nego­ti­at­ing the more Iberi­an regions of their drinks list, the con­vivi­al atmo­sphere suited their pop­u­list take on Basque food.



Address: 8 Cour­tenay Place, Te Aro

Phone: 04 802 5585

Cost: Tapas $6–16; mains $20–28

Open: Mon–Sun 3pm–3am

Food: Tapas

Drink: Sagra Roja Red Ale $10; Codice Tem­pranillo $8/glass, $36/bottle[/warning]

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