Basque Finger Food – Pick Up Pintxos
Pick up a morsel of culinary exquisiteness, sitting on a bed of locally produced sour dough, and discard your serviette on the floor to show your appreciation to the chef. Those are the instructions, and you can put this into action at Gianni Modena’s restaurant at the bottom of the Old High Street. Gianni’s credentials are outstanding – and so is his cheesecake. Pick Up Pintxos started out on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm, where Giles Coren reviewed Gianni in The Times saying that the dishes he tried were the best Basque dishes he’d ever eaten! Folkelife has followed Gianni’s culinary journey.
family of foodies
Gianni learned how to cook from his half-Italian, half-English parents and grandparents. His family have been in the food and wine trade for generations and he continued in their footsteps after leaving school. Firstly, Gianni started serving food at Chelsea Football Club “which… wasn’t great food!” He moved from pub to restaurant, and onto the Brands Hatch Thistle. From here he saw a job advert for a ‘Michelin Star restaurant’ in London. “Which,” says Gianni, “Turned out to be at Gary Rhodes’ Dolphin Square Hotel. The food I learned to cook here was the best I’d ever tasted.”
The Best Food You’ll ever Eat
This excitement and enthusiasm lead to a discussion, let’s not say argument, with his Basque girlfriend of the time. “This is the best food you’ll ever eat…” Not so, she thought, “I’ll introduce you to Pintxos when you come to San Sebastian”…And so she did. Pintxos are small mouthfuls of food served in many restaurants in the Basque region of Spain; Basque street food.
learning at arzak
San Sebastian is the heart of the pintxos experience and what you should do is make a night of it. Each bar and restaurant has an expertise. You visit them, one by one, eat the delicacy, washing it down with a small cider or local wine, perhaps a spot of Fino sherry. His girlfriend took Gianni to Arzak; at the time, this was in the top 8 of the best restaurants in the world. With 3 Michelin Stars, if there’s one place to try pintxos, this is probably the best!
Gianni came back to the UK and life moved on. He worked in more fantastic restaurants including the Oxo Tower. There he met a Spanish waiter, who had been working at Arzak only three months before. He helped arrange for Gianni to go and work in Arzak for a year – for free! “I saw food in a different way after working at Arzak.” Gianni muses. “The people I worked with there have gone on to do amazing things. My room-mate and friend, Kevin, now runs Cuca in Bali. That’s one of the top ten restaurants in Asia.”
After a few years of working in such places as Arzak; at Tom Aikins’ restaurants in London; and The Greenhouse in Mayfair, Gianni stopped cooking. Maybe working so hard at the top of the food game had taken its toll. Easily notching up 96 hour weeks over 5 days would have its effect on anyone. Happily, after a few months of working ‘normal’ hours, having a social life and meeting his to-be wife, she persuaded him to return to the kitchen and use the skills he’d learnt in some of the best restaurants in the world.
Day Trip to FOlkestone
Gianni wanted to translate his passion for local, seasonal ingredients, plus the pintxos influence into his own street food business here in the UK. He has a portable bar where he sells his food, and launched his business in The Beer Shop’s London venue.
Gianni came to visit Folkestone in 2017 with his wife and young son for lunch on the Harbour Arm. Served by Denise Dever, he got talking about the wonderful street-food scene on the Arm. He wanted to know how often food opportunities come up and he didn’t need to wait long. Within weeks there was a vacancy, and so he cooked for the Harbour Arm team and they were sold. His business boomed for the next two years and so now Gianni has branched out into his own restaurant at the bottom of The Old High Street.
feast on succulent morsels
Choose a selection of plates from morcella – black pudding, chorizo in cider, salted sardines, home-made quince jelly and blackberry jams. Gianni creates succulent duck breast, cooked medium rare in his vacumn cooker. It’s cooked at 58 degrees, with the blackberry jam made by his mum and his 2 year old son.
The restaurant space has allowed Gianni to grow and provide a wider selection of delicious foods. Covid-19 has forced Gianni to postpone opening the restaurant for sit-down meals, but a delivery of Basque dishes is on offer via his website. A hot take-away service from the restaurant is on its way, followed by a newly renovated sit down area in 2021. pick
Whatever you do, you must make sure you have room for pudding and so try a slice of cheese cake. He has ‘borrowed’ the recipe from the famous La Vina Bar in San Sebastian. It is good, very good. In fact, a visit to Pick Up Pintxos means you will eat food created by one of our most talented chefs here in Folkestone. To find something as good as this, your next stop would be San Sebastian, but seeing as that’s not practical on a work night, Folkestone sea front’s Pick Up Pintxos it is!