Surf and turf

THE HUN­GRY TOURIST Sis­ter restau­rants of­fer dif­fer­ent flavours of France’s Pays Basque re­gion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PHIL JARRATT

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. osta­ osta­

top Osta­lamer res­tau­rant over­look­ing the Bay of Bis­cay right Fa­ther and son team Hugo and Chris­tian Du­plaissy

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