Dining without a plan is one of the things restaurateurs Johan Giausseran and Vincent Ventura miss most about visiting Spain’s Basque country from their native France.
“If you find yourself in San Sebastian or Bilbao, you can walk down any street in the city centre and you’ll find 50 different bars, all proposing snacks and drinks,” Giausseran tells Broadsheet. “No one is stressing, you can always find a seat. In Sydney, without a booking, you have to wait.”
Tucked away in a Circular Quay laneway, Deux Freres is the Entrecote Group (Bouillon l'Entrecote, Brasserie l’Entrecote) founders’ ode to those pintxos bars of the Basque region. The focus is on small plates; tapas such as vinegar-marinated anchovies, tuna-and-goats-cheese-stuffed piquillos peppers, and patatas bravas dominate the menu. There are decadent serves of jamon iberico, serrano ham and Basque cheeses, plus a few substantial dishes like Wagyu rump cap, and chipirones (baby squid) cooked over the hibachi grill.
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But what makes Deux Freres authentically Basque is the pintxos: slices of baguette with toppings – here it might be serrano ham and tomato, brioche with foie gras and onion jam, or gravlax with crème fraîche and dill – usually held together with a toothpick.
“If you come from Spain or France, this is such a familiar way to eat,” says Giausseran. “There are people who come into Deux Freres who don’t know what pintxos or tapas are. We’re so happy to share our knowledge, but lots of people seek us out because they miss this food. If someone comes in with a French or Spanish accent, I know I probably don’t need to explain the menu.”
Tapas and pintxos are designed to have with drinks, and Deux Freres has plenty: European and Australian wines, cocktails, spirits and house-made red and white vermouths.
Giausseran has a method for his pintxos pairings. “I’d start with sangria, then vermouth – you can drink both as aperitifs or with food. Later in the meal I’d have txakoli, a Basque sparkling white that cuts through the richness of the food. We always pour it from a height. Of course it impresses people, but stretching it also helps aerate the wine and open all the flavours.”
The narrow laneway venue would be hard to work with if Deux Freres was a traditional restaurant, but for a pintxos bar, the space is exactly right. There are small booths upholstered in moss-green leather, and high, burgundy-topped stools around the bar, with its platters of bocadillos stuffed with jamon and gildas soaking in olive oil. But for Giausseran, the pièce de résistance is the terrace.
“In France or Spain when it’s summery, you look for a terrace. No one wants to be seated inside. In Sydney, except for the big touristic areas, we don’t have many choices. It should be the total opposite of that. We should have hundreds of choices.”
Giausseran and Ventura opened the two Entrecote venues to bring the things they missed about France to Australia. Deux Freres taps into a different experience of living in Europe. “We almost opened the bar for ourselves. Of course we wanted to share pintxos with Sydney, but really we missed that easy, no-stress way of eating.”
6 Loftus Lane, Sydney
Mon to Fri 11.30am–late