Surf and turf
THE HUNGRY TOURIST Sister restaurants offer different flavours of France’s Pays Basque region
THE last weeks of the long summer season in France’s Pays Basque are sublime. The crowds thin out as September progresses, the days are invariably sunny and the gorgeous golden sunsets usher in cooler evenings.
Veteran restaurateur Christian Duplaissy must have had this time of year in mind when he decided to pair his longstanding Basque farmhouse restaurant, La Ferme Ostalapia, with the more contemporary Ostalamer, just a few minutes’ drive away, overlooking the Bay of Biscay.
The boatshed-inspired beach restaurant at Acotz is perfect for an apres-surf lunch of local seafood, served on the deck. The restored 17th- century farmhouse in neighbouring Ahetze is just as perfect for dinner, with an aperitif in the garden overlooking the peak of La Rhune, before heading inside to the ancient fireside benches for a Bordeaux red and a carre d’agneau or a cote du boeuf.
The affable Duplaissy, a former top rugby player for pro clubs St Jean de Luz and Biarritz Olympique, is an institution in these parts. He graduated years ago from the Tantina de Burgos in Biarritz (a rowdy bar and restaurant where the cultures of surfing and rugby collided, literally) to the beachfront Tantina de la Playa in Bidart.
In 1998 he proceeded to the rambling Ostalapia farmhouse in the hills behind Saint Jean de Luz, once a stop on the Saint Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage. Ostalapia (‘‘under the leaves’’ in Basque) has its own pilgrims now, eager to sample the raw tastes of traditional Basque dishes from the bounty of the surrounding hills — peppers from Espelette, goat’s cheese from La Rhune, ham from Bayonne.
While nearby Saint Jean de Luz and San Sebastian, just across the border in Spain, offer sophisticated (and Michelin-starred) versions of Basque cuisine, Ostalapia is old school, sometimes rough around the edges, usually delicious, and always an experience.
Duplaissy attracts an interesting clientele, often a mix of sportsmen, celebs on holiday and global foodies slumming it in the name of authenticity. Former Wallabies captain Michael Lynagh has a house nearby and is a regular, and on a summer night you might also run into tennis player Guy Forget or French World Cup football star Bixente Lizarazu.
The accent is more on food than booze these days, but Duplaissy has hosted some memorable late nights in the tiny bar that leads into the restaurant. One high-profile local businessman became known as Cape Horn because drinkers who’d had enough and wanted to head home found they couldn’t get around him.
It is much quieter when I return with friends on a late September night, timing the booking to enjoy the terrace sunset aperitif before repairing inside for foie gras, poivrons farcis (local peppers stuffed with cod) and myfavourite Basque dish, the crunchy veal (cooked in duck fat) and pepper stew known as axoa.
The next day, after surfing the famous reef of Guethary, we drive around the coastal lanes to Acotz and lunch above the point break of Lafitenia. It is a Monday and without a booking we are lucky to get a table at Ostalamer. The purpose-built seaside restaurant has been open for a couple of seasons, but this is my first visit.
It’s an airy, light and slightly eccentric space on a couple of levels to suit the mood and fast-changing climate. Familiar smells waft from the industrial-sized open kitchen, and we are soon tucking into old favourites washed down with a suitably cheap, cheerful and light EntreDeux-Mers blend.
Duplaissy’s son Hugo runs Ostalamer with a predominantly young and eager staff, but while the cuisine is perhaps a little edgier than its sister establishment up the hill, the no-frills Basque approach is just as evident in food and atmosphere. It’s a relaxed and relaxing environment, and we are very tempted to order a second bottle, but it’s autumn on the Basque coast and the ocean beckons. ostalapia.fr ostalamer.com
top Ostalamer restaurant overlooking the Bay of Biscay right Father and son team Hugo and Christian Duplaissy