San Sebastian stole my heart. Not illegally and without my knowledge because that would leave me dead, but in a ‘how have I never been here before’ kinda way. It was the perfect fit for two people whose love of food means that clothes no longer fit perfectly. It has sun, beaches, and expensive shops. It has multiple multi-Michelin starred restaurants. Most importantly it has some of the finest produce anywhere in the world, with the most remarkable food and drink culture. The old town is rife with pintxos bars, where the local wine is two euros a glass and the counters are loaded with small plates costing a euro or two more. You meander from bar to bar, order a glass of wine and try a plate or one, or two, or seven. Pay at the end for what you ate and drank. Repeat. Every afternoon and again in the evening. It is intoxicating. I went prepared with a list of the dishes I had researched over several months and hardly scratched the surface. Here is what we found so you don’t have to do the same.
The signature dish is orzo pasta risotto with a local sheep’s milk cheese. It is mac and cheese for the elegant, the only respite coming from a little parsley oil. Unbelievable stuff. We ate it five times in three days and would have bought a vat back if customs wasn’t funny about that kind of thing. Enough said. Also tried the famous veal cheek which was super rich and gelatinous, and a chocolate-Cointreau mousse which was super rich. Basically they do big rich flavours in abundance. A must go.
Steak. Tortilla. Tomatoes. Padron Peppers. That’s the menu. I wrote about it here because it was so good I almost cried.
Super busy to the point that we wanted to see what the fuss was about. Answer: not a lot. Only the croquettes seem worthy of the words and they were very average compared to others. One to avoid.
There is something quite moving about walking in to somewhere and seeing every diner eating the same dish. You get that at La Vina, where every table we saw was tucking into glasses of txakoli that had been poured from great heights, and a slice of basque cheesecake. That cheesecake has bounce and caramelised edges. It has a gentle funk to the filling. It is superb.
Modern tapas which appeals to the Instagram generation. I tried the bonfire which involves cooking a piece of cod over some encased burning twigs, with an onion crostini and vial of asparagus puree on the side. A bit meh in turns of flavour but good fun for the five or so euro it costs. On the flip of that there was a fantastic courgette flower stuffed with cream cheese and honey.
Huge selection of pintxos which is reheated to order. Chorizo on toast with fried quails egg, and a kind of sausage roll with chorizo and puff pastry. As tasty as they were it is blindingly obvious that puff pastry does not like being microwaved. Still, worth a look and ridiculously cheap.
La Cuchara de San Telmo
Situated by the church this place is full from the second it opens its doors. We tried a veal ravioli which was more rooted in Asia than Italy, with the kind of sticky jus that has you begging for bread to mop up. Even better than this was the suckling pig; skin crisp, meat underneath simply perfect, with a quince puree that has enough acidity to cut through the fatty meat. Everything is cooked to order ensuring standards are kept consistently high.
A Fuego Negro
Bright neon lights and loud music. The menu is quirky, with playful references to more recognisable western dishes. We liked it here, usually super late after several too many glasses of txakoli, though it is arguably more style than substance. Most famous is the Kobe beef slider, the party served daringly rare. It was alright. Lamb doner kebab was better, whilst a fish curry had big shouty flavours. Our favourite was the vermouth sorbet with green olive and orange. Vermouth? You can’t handle vermouth. We did.
Ham. The best ham we’ve ever eaten. The stuff that disappears in the mouth and leaves a deep piggyness for an age. So good that we demanded to know their supplier, purchased a load to bring home, got pissed and gave it a certain Michelin starred chef as a bribe to stay in the pub. Aren’t I right about the ham, Gareth? We had it first on flakey croissant, as strident croquettes, and then on soft brioche-like rolls. Those rolls are simply stunning. We ate these more than any other dish, often grabbing two in passing for a stroll to the next bar. They also do some super other pintxos, in particular juicy prawns in the lightest of batter. A touch more expensive than the other pintxos bars but absolutely worth it.
Majority of the pictures supplied by the super talented and beautiful Claire