Neil Perry makes some culinary pit stops in San Sebastián, in the Basque region of Spain.
If San Sebastián isn’t the world’s best food town, it’s close. On the north coast of Spain, it is blessed with abundant fresh produce and a rich gastronomic culture. The food markets are full of shellfish, large fish such as turbot, and excellent lamb and beef. Milk from local sheep makes fabulous cheese, yoghurt and ice-cream.
An integral part of the San Sebastián experience is the evening txikiteo – where locals wander from bar to bar eating as little or as much of the pintxos (Basque tapas) as they like. Most pintxos are stacked on the bar and include top-quality hams, sausages and montaditos (open sandwiches). Anchovies are a local specialty and not to be missed. Other highlights include cepes à la plancha (grilled mushrooms with raw egg yolk; we loved Bar La Cepa for this) and stewed beef cheek (the version at Bar Borda Berri is rich and delicious).
Asadors are restaurants that specialise in grills. Some of the best are in Getaria, a pretty fishing village 24km south of San Sebastián. Kaia and Elkano are among the best seafood restaurants I’ve visited: fabulous seafood cooked to perfection over charcoal. Try lobster, crab or langoustines and, if in season, goose barnacles; or share turbot or red mullet. Kaia has a killer wine list and the prices are reasonable.
Asador Portuetxe is another I’d recommend. We started with anchovies then had stuffed squid cooked with onions and hake throats (hake is a local fish and this dish is a regional specialty and the best of the trip) followed by a generous beef chop, cooked perfectly.
But the greatest asador is Etxebarri, about an hour’s drive west of the city. Here, we enjoyed house-made mozzarella on smoked eggplant, grilled goose barnacles and tender and crunchy prawns; white truffles with smoked egg yolk and creamed purple potatoes; and silky salt cod and an excellent rib of beef with a simple salad. Dessert was lightly smoked sheep’s milk ice-cream. Believe me, it works!
Some of the most creative restaurants in Spain are right in the centre of town, including Martín Berasategui. The highlights of our 14-course meal were the pigeon with mushrooms and spring onions; red mullet with crunchy scales; and a white chocolate and seaweed emollition – a great and tasty trick.
Dinner at Mugaritz, a 20-minute drive in the hills behind San Sebastián, is hard to beat. Owner Andoni Aduriz is not only a great friend, but a truly creative individual. We started with potatoes coated in clay, probably the best potatoes I’ve ever eaten. Other standouts were crab in an aromatic broth, and a pig’s tail and langoustine dish evoking San Sebastián’s spirit with its sea and land composition. The desserts are complex, technique-driven and delicious: a marzipan egg with a shell as thin as a real egg sees Aduriz at his playful best.
The hit list
Bar La Cepa
7 Calle 31 de Agosto, San Sebastián. +34 943 426 394. www.barlacepa.com
Bar Borda Berri
12 Fermín Calbetón, Donostia-San Sebastián. +34 943 425 638.
4 Calle General Arnao, Getaria. +34 943 140 500. www.kaia-kaipe.com
2 Herrerieta, Getaria. +34 943 149 614.
45 Portuetxe, Donostia-San Sebastián. +64 943 215 018.
1 Plaza San Juan, Atxondo-Bizkaia. +34 946 583 042. www.asadoretxebarri.com
20 Aldura Aldea, Caserío Otzazulueta, Rentería-Errenteria. +34 943 522 455. www.mugaritz.com
4 Loidi Kalea, Lasarte-Oria (Gipuzkoa). +34 943 366 471 or +34 943 361 599. www.martinberasategui.com
273 Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, Donostia-San Sebastián. +34 943 278 465. www.arzak.es
Source Qantas The Australian Way March 2011