It recently travelled to San Sebastián or Donostia as its known locally in the Basque Country. I can’t believe it took me so long to visit (technically I have been, but I was 4 so it doesn’t count). I think it’s on every foodies bucket list. Until fairly recently it had the highest number of Michelin stars per capita, but it offers so much beyond this.
Now not everyone thinks Michelin is the best way to judge creative cooking and I think it’s just one of many. One of the best, actually scratch that my favourite restaurant in the whole world, had none, not one but it was run by the genius that is Albert Adria.
Anyway before I digress, this trip for me was all about Pintxos, these are essentially Basque tapas, small bar snacks you have while enjoying a glass of wine or beer. Oh my god, I cannot begin to explain how incredible they are, and the variety available, but obviously I’m going to try. Nearly every bar offer some level of Pintxos from incredible molecular gastronomy to simple but delicious mini baguette with all manner of fillings.
As the biggest foodie in the group I had compiled a list of my must visit Pintxos bar, with the help of a friend who had just returned and Conde Nast Traveller, thank you both. Many places will have a specially, be it pork belly or anchovies or crab ice cream, more about that later.
What struck me was just the sheer variety available in bars with tiny kitchens, some bars had over 40 available and these changed as plates emptied. It is just a brilliant way to eat, a little here, then some more here, and it’s a great way to try things. You don’t have the pressure of ordering something you might not like for your main meal, you just have a little taste, it’s only €3, if you don’t like it, you just try the next one, and that is just what we did.
I should also mention that although the bars are piled high with Pintxos the best ones are the hot plates which you order at the bar over a sea of heads. This can be hard as most menus are in Basque which is much further from Spanish than I realised, so it’s worth looking at other orders as they come out and pointing and hoping you get the same.
One of my favourite places was Fuego Negro, it was on my list but my friend who lives outside Donostia took me there. The bar it’s self is very cool, lots of Instagram style pictures on the walls and a neon sign at the back.
This is a very modern Pintxos bar and was producing some incredible things that wouldn’t be out of place at Heston or Adria’s tables. We tried a lot of things here and I’m sad I didn’t try more. Two of note, crab ice cream served in a crab shell was sweet and smooth sitting on a bed of little chunks of white crab meat and avocado, which beautiful changed the textures in your mouth. Next we had the olives, these are genius, served in a quail egg box they are essentially a reverse martini. They are filled with a martini gel, just brilliant and even more so when we were given a second box on the house.
We did do one Michelin meal while we were there at Kokaxa, more on that later.