Biarritz is a small resort town on the Western coast of France, once a destination to royalty and the rich glitterati, with its pretty art deco and belle epoque architecture, it has now taken a slight step back out of the limelight. Today it’s a more laid-back mecca for surfers, so much so, that the local church has a celebratory surfboard on display created with a technique developed by legendary surfer Tom Blake to highlight this heritage.
But Biarritz, although a French city, also lies in the French part of the Basque Country, where pride of the food heritage runs deep and the influence of Spanish cuisine is undeniable. So if you’re not coming to surf, spending a day here is enough to sample delicious local dishes.
To start with some fireworks, Carøe – Nordisk Fish Bar is an amazing, cosy little place that serves something you could describe as a fusion between Scandinavian cuisine and tapas. On the menu you will find some exciting, experimental dishes with fresh fish and seafood – white tuna, anchovy toast, celeriac octopus tacos, all creatively presented on beautiful ceramics. It’s a very small space with an intimate atmosphere and excellent service.
For a more traditional fare go to Le Bar Jean, an institution in its own right. Great for lunch, lively and bustling in the evenings. Here you will find a counter laden with the quintessential Basque delicacies – pintxos – small snacks, like tapas, but usually cold and pierced with a toothpick. Basque culture revolves around food and it is around such counters that socialising and nightlife happens in these parts of the world. You can also try Axoa, a typical Basque dish with veal and red pepper.
Le Bar Jean benefits from the fresh produce from Les Halles Maret, which is just on its doorstep. The indoor market is the perfect place to get a taste of some regional and artisan products like Brebis cheese (made from ewe’s milk), Iberico ham, oysters and pastries. It opens early in the morning, ideal for picking up some unfussy breakfast.
Pastry aficionados will have no shortage of new things to try. Among all the wonderful cakes, Gateau Basque and Basque macarons are the ones to have while you’re visiting. Gateau Basque is a regional delicacy, essentially an almond pie traditionally filled with cherry jam or pastry cream. You will find a large selection of those proudly displayed at Maison Adam bakery.
Here, particularly noticeable are the large towers of Basque macarons. No, not those pretty, pastel-coloured French cookies with ganache you get at Ladurée. These are very plain, rustic looking, single layered almond cookies, said to be the original macarons, almost impossible to find elsewhere outside this region.
Both of these specialties are also available at tea room Pâtisserie Miremont, an opulent establishment, where kings used to dine. It is the oldest patisserie around and the ornate interior will take you back in time to the heyday of rococo and baroque. An excellent place to stop for tea, some spectacular cakes and sea views.