Imagine a place where savoury treats and tidbits await you at every turn, where every alleyway leads to a new voyage of culinary discovery. Where you exist in a state of heightened gastronomic delight. Where the streets are paved with chocolate and red wine can be found on tap anywhere and everywhere.
Okay, so maybe the last two are lies, but the rest, well the rest…
That is San Sebastian. And I am in love.
A recent few days spent in this amazing Spanish city rendered me almost (almost) speechless at the sheer food-based awesomeness of this place. It’s like Willy Wonka on steroids. I immediately pledged to arrange another trip later this year. I mean, there’s so many things I still need to eat! The thought pains me of all those amazing morsels of food that I have yet to encounter.
It’s not about the fancy restaurants (and there are many, such as Arzak and Mugaritz), though I am sure you would have an amazing time at any of those places. But why would you waste precious hours sitting at the same table having course after course, when you could construct your own amazing tasting menu, just by hopping from bar to bar in the Old Town? Oh gosh, just thinking about it is making me all misty eyed.
So, basically go to San Sebastian as soon as you can. There are some great resources to help navigate the almost overwhelming array of bars serving a vast range of pintxos across the city. Your first stop should be todo pintxos. Whilst at first it can seem almost too much in how much it covers, look at it bit by bit, and it will be a great help in getting the sense of where there are some great dishes to be had, as well as giving you some great overviews of potential pintxos tours that you can create yourself.
My own personal tour would probably be constructed of the following places and dishes, which all bowled me over in various ways. Some are totally nuevo cucina, some are staunchly traditional, all are great. But this is only scratching the surface. The one thing I would say is, don’t over plan. If someone catches your eye, go in. The chances are there will be something tasty to eat.
Zeruko - you will walk in and be bowled over by the sheer beauty of all the food laid out on offer. So much choice I didn’t even know where to start. However, definitely get the lobster on toast. It’s amazing and costs about 4 Euros.
A Fuego Negro - a bit cooler, fancier in style, this place has great wine, actually amazing salads, and an amazing plate of ham with toast and salmorejo which you should definitely order even though it’s 13 euros. The kobe beef hamburger and the strawberry dessert (which appeared to contain strawberries injected with cream!) are also pretty awesome
La Cuchara de San Telmo - loved the goats cheese risotto which was actually composed of orzo pasta. The veal cheeks with mash were also pretty tasty
Gandarias - great anchovy and eggy things on toast. More traditional, really great
Ganbara - very traditional, but top quality. Stuff your face with croissants stuffed with jamon iberico, as well as the cocktail sticks composed of olives, anchovy and guindilla peppers
Astelehena - looks pretty unassuming, but we had some fabulous dishes here. Lots of things wrapped in pancakes which are then deep fried. The langoustine with asparagus crepe was ace, as was the pistachio croqueta. I haven’t eaten foie gras for a long time now, but bloody hell, the foie a la plancha here is out of this world. Served up alongside some raspberry sauce, egg yolk and bread, I couldn’t get enough of this.
Paco Bueno - just go and get a few of the battered deep fried prawns, and that’s it. I don’t know what they do to make these taste so good, but as long as they keep on doing it, I don’t mind.
La Cepa - very old school, and we appeared to be served by the grumpiest bar man on earth. But it was all worth it for the gambilla, which was basically a bacon and cheese bechamel housed in a crispy breadcrumb coating. Yes, this was a posh Findus Crispy Pancake. I was pretty gutted when we went back to eat said crispy pancake again and the place was bloody closed.
These are all in Parte Vieja, the old town. There are other great places to find, especially over in Gros. We only scratched the surface.
You can get to San Sebastian by either flying into Bilbao or Biarritz, which are both served by Easyjet. We went via Bilbao, which is a one hour coach journey away, with the bus station being located South of the old town.