Basque Country – San Sebastian – Foodie Highlights28 April 2019 – posted in: Rosie's Tips
Tom, Libby and Will Cupitt travelled to Basque Country for the first time in October 2018. We were not disappointed, this gem of a town has everything you could ever want – great food, delicious wine, beautiful scenery, vibrant culture, friendly people and family friendly. Libby thought it was important to share the knowledge of her great foodie finds. Here is an encounter of the trip.
First up, getting there we flew to Biarritz (France) from London Stansted (ryanair) and had a night there. It was delightful. The restaurants and bars around Les Halles were fantastic and the next day we popped back to the market to enjoy Oysters and wine for breakfast. Really is the best way to start the day. From Biarritz we caught a train to San Sebastian it was really easy and cheap to do. Alternately you can fly to Stansted to Bilbao (easyjet) and hire a car or get a transfer.
We stayed in an Airbnb which was near the train station. It was the ugliest building in the town but it was on the top floor and the views were fantastic and it was only a 10 minute walk into the Old Town. You really want to be in walking distance of the Old Town as this is where most of the food magic happens.
Be aware we travelled in October when the peak season is winding down. I believe from May till October it gets really busy on the weekends so be mindful of this. We were lucky, whilst there it seemed to have a local vibe, we managed to get a table/perch pretty easily in all the bars and it was still warm and sunny most days.
Time for the Foodie Tips – Most of the Pintxo Bars listed here are in the Old Town and a re 2-5 minute walk from one another. We were in San Sebastian 5 nights and visited each of these places more than once.
La Cepa – I was recommended this place by a Chef Andy Bates who says it is always his first port of call when he visits San Sebastian. He recommends starting with a plate of Manchego Cheese and a large plate of Jamon de Bellota (acorn fed pure bred Iberico ham). We ate a lot of Jamon in Spain as it was Little Will’s favourite but this Jamon was by far the best. The flavour was rich, complex and delicious. We also ate Manchego cheese and washed it down with Rioja.
Bar Borda Berri – This place has the hands down the most unfriendly bartender/server in all of Spain but man was she impressive. There is incredible pressure at the bar with only 2 people working and lots of people staring desperately at them to be chosen to have their order taken. Just as you think they have forgotten you they look up and take your order. Then you just need to order everything on the menu and a bottle of Rioja and go to Food heaven. Borda Berri is known for extremely intense slow cooked dishes using Basque and international flavours and techniques. Here we did as we were told by a number of friends – go and order everything – we tried pig’s ear with tximitxurri sauce (a must), pork rib kebab, duck, Entrecote, manchego risotto, prawn ravioli and this really delicate fish with beautiful oil and tomatoes (the oil in Spain is SO good). This place also served Basque Brewing Project IPA – it is a really good Beer – highly recommend it.
Ganbara – here the Pintxos sitting on the bar look incredible. But we came here for the Mushrooms. A plate of sliced and fried wild mushrooms seasoned perfectly and garnished with an egg yolk. I will never forget this meal. It was simple, but oh my goodness it was good. We washed this down with a glass of the local white wine called txakoli which theatrically poured from a height into a big pint glass. Once we worked out how to say it we ordered this lightly sparkling wine everywhere.
La Cuchara De San Telmo – Next to the San Telmo Museum is an amazing Pintxo Bar where all the Pintxos are cooked to order. Just get the small size so you can order everything on the menu. We ordered the Burrata with Clams twice it was that good. I think I could have ordered the cod cheeks with garlic parsley sauce every day of my life. I have never had anything quite like it they were fresh, soft and gelatinous. We also had melt in your mouth veal cheeks, roast suckling pig, Duck ravioli, Blood sausage. Honestly, you can’t go wrong here.
Bar Nestor – Here they serve Cote de Boeuf, heirloom tomato salad and salted Gernika peppers. The waiters will show you two huge ribs of meat raw and you point at which one you want. Tom and one of our friends Will (not baby Will) had this job while I was off pushing Will to sleep and chose both of them so we really got our protein fix. We managed ‘luckily’ to grab a table, standing on the street and ordered a bottle of Rioja while we waited. Eventually, a sizzling skillet of sliced steak and bone appeared, the fat content is next level, the meat is cooked perfectly, swimming in its cooking juices and seasoned with a lot of salt. Amazing!! The sides were also good and Little Will slept through it all. The most interesting thing was while we enjoyed our huge beef meal standing up when we finished it we all felt fine despite the massive indulgement, not sure if it is standing while eating of the fact you don’t eat chips or mash; just tasty tomatoes and peppers. Note, Bar Nestor is also famous for a Tortilla that you need to line up to pre-order. We did not do this but I hear that if you make the effort you will not be disappointed.
La Vina – The best cheese cake can be found here. They also do a cheese and anchovy cone which is tasty but really it is all about the tarta de queso or baked cheesecake. It is an utterly dreamy, no biscuit/crunchy base, just a baked filling. It has a burnt crust and the filling is soufflé like around the edges and has super smooth set middle. And the taste is sweet, creamy with a touch of sourness to it. We drank Pedro Ximenez with it and afterwards this was our number tip to everyone we met. The two together are insanely good with the sweetness from the wine against the cheese.
Honorable Mentions –
Ni Neu – only get one thing here, the torrija caramelizada. Sit outside with a coffee and enjoy. It is like French toast but nothing like it.
Bodega Donostoarria – Epic Kebabs of Octopus and Potatoes. The beef one also looked incredible.
Side Trip to Getaria – We were advised by a few friends that one on the most memorable meals of there life was in a little town near San Sebastian called Getaria. So we caught the bus there for Sunday lunch. Here the speciality is whole fish (monkfish and turbot) cooked over coals outside on charcoal BBQs and they are severed with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and fried garlic. A meal that goes perfectly with a bottle of local txakoli. He turbot we ate was cooked to perfection and eating outside by the sea with Will in a highchair was glorious.
Our Air BNB was a great find, had fantastic views and was in an easy walk of everything.