Living in London for 10 years, I've been lucky enough to enjoy my fair share of trips to Europe. But if I had to choose, I would say I fell most in love with Spain.

My wife and I love to travel and, before we had our two young boys (aged 3 and 6), we would mostly plan a trip around a restaurant we wanted to visit. On this occasion it was a three-star Michelin in San Sebastian, a resort town on the Bay of Biscay in Spain's mountainous Basque Country. Just 20km from the French border, I was excited and had bought into the hype.

Darren Johnson says he found the best food on the streets of San Sebastian. Photo / Supplied
Darren Johnson says he found the best food on the streets of San Sebastian. Photo / Supplied

We arrived a day before our reservation and decided to check out the city and its many tapas bars that grace the street. I love the simplicity of tapas: white anchovies, pan con tomate (toasted bread topped with grated tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and salt), croquettes, olives and amazing ham sliced off the bone right in front of you that melts in the mouth.

But a dish that really sticks in my mind is the octopus: tender slices of warm octopus, smoked paprika, capers, green pepper and red onion drizzled with good olive oil. To me, it was truly a beautiful dish that had it all. It was a joy to eat and I continued to seek it out everywhere as we travelled through the Basque region.


And the three-star restaurant? Over-priced and not worth the visit, in my opinion. You are spoiled for choice in the city and have a better night out sampling the many tapas bars, all washed down with a glass of juicy rioja.

- Darren Johnson is the chef at new Peruvian-Japanese inspired restaurant, Inca at Westfield Newmarket.
Octopus with green peppers and smoked paprika

The secret to cooking octopus is that it must be frozen first to help with the tenderising process.

1 octopus*, 3-5kg
1 bay leaf
1 green pepper
1 red onion
Red wine vinegar or lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Smoked paprika

1. In a large enough pot to fit the octopus, bring some salted water to the boil.

2. Place the octopus in the pot and turn down to a simmer, adding the bay leaf. Cook for 1.5 hours, turning it once to ensure even cooking. Remove and cool on a tray.

3. To serve, heat up a small shallow pan of olive oil, slice the tentacles thinly and place in the oil to warm up.

4. Cut some green pepper, red onion and get ready to build a delicious plate.


I arrange the warm octopus on a plate and season with salt and pepper and a good shake of smoked paprika. Then add my peppers, onions and some olive oil from the pan and a splash of red wine vinegar or lemon juice for acidity.

It's great with crusty bread and a glass of red. Enjoy.

*You'll find octopus at the Auckland Fish Market