Saturday 22 October 2011

Pinxtos and Sherry in San Sebastian, Spain - Gluttonous Travels

Coooeeee! Yes, my blog posts have been few and far between. I have been busily finishing up at work and preparing to move across the globe, all while cramming in last minute travels like I might never cross the equator again. But I finished work on Thursday, met TPG on the Eurostar with a bottle of champagne to celebrate with dinner in Paris (long story of adventure and mayhem) and now I'm back. And I won't be in the office again until 5 December! 

So expect lots of travel tales and London reminiscences from me until I land in Melbourne. After that, I'm not sure what's in store for the GD. But for now, let me tell you about San Sebastian....

Yes, San Sebastian has more Michelin star restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world, and is the culinary capital of Basque from where great chefs, the likes of Arzak and Subijana, have brought Spanish haute cuisine to heights that were previously reserved only to the French. But it's the combination of the laid back beauty of the place, the amazing beach, the huge tables of families taking for granted the excellent quality, well cooked produce making up the feasts before them, and the non stop carnival of hilariously fun pinxtos bars lighting up the streets from morning to night that won me over. And possibly the chocolate that tastes like cinnamon. And the lovely custard flans.

We ate juicy, perfectly cooked steak and juicy roast pork a short ride out of town at Rekondo, with its enormous 250 page wine list - famed for selling rare and beautiful wines at a fraction of the mark up you'll find them anywhere else. Wine buffs should not miss it.

My rice with baby cuttlefish oil and slivers of Idiazabal cheese at Bodegon Alejandro was the best I've ever eaten, and although the room is plain and the service a shambles, fare like anchovy lasagne, glazed Iberian veal cheek and junket with heather honey will make it all worthwhile.

We had a reservation at classic fine dining establishment, Akelarre, then cancelled it in favour of spending our 3 days lapping up some much needed hot September weather on the beach, in between necking aroxtas (a local fizzy white poured from great heights to encourage the fizz) and delicious (yet insanely cheap) glasses of rioja and ribera del dueros at the local pinxtos bars. Superb wines that would cost 9 quid per glass in London can be yours for around 2 euros per glass. Oh, what a time we had.

Each of the pinxtos bars has their own specialty. A favourite was Ganbara where we jostled at the bar for plates of grilled wild mushrooms, slices of nutty iberico jamon rammed into buttery little croissants (great wedding dress preparation), pastries filled with crab or prawns, layered tortillas and plates of fresh octopus or salty anchovy. I also loved the local specialities like the uber tender braised beef cheeks, and seared foie gras with tart apple sauce, at La Cuchara de San Telmo and Bar Zeruko is another great one - but the whole point is to ramble between them haphazardly and discover what takes your fancy.

Here are some snaps for inspiration. One of my all time favourite weekend destinations  - and I wish we'd stayed for a week. When the weather starts to fade next year, book yourself a flight to San Sebastian.

The epic wine list at Rekondo

I am not telling how many of these I ate...

This cost 4 euros

Cod cheeks - a local speciality

We flew to Bilbao with Easyjet for around €150 each. The last bus from the airport to San Sebastian leaves at 12.30am and takes around an hour. It costs around 12 euros. Alternatively, a taxi will cost around 100 euros so beware of cheap flight deals arriving late.

We stayed at Pension Aldamar. I highly recommend it for simple, good value comfort and an unbeatable location, right on the edge of the old town and a 5 min walk to the main surf beach. The only drawback was the noise of other guests checking out early that awoke me each morning (each room faces onto a communal hall area).

If we had more time, we would definitely have eaten at Mugaritz - please try it and report back to me.


  1. Wedding dress? You're getting married?! OOOH! *girly squeal*

    San Sebastian looks like my dream place.

  2. Oh god, I want to go right now.

  3. Oh, how I love San Sebastian. Thanks for the vicarious visit. Mugaritz is absolutely fantastic. Out of the top places we've been I'd probably pick Alinea and Mugaritz as my two favourite (though if anyone is in that neck of the woods it's also definitely worth getting a car and driving up to Asador Etxebarri...

  4. I gave Mugaritz a 6.5 out of 10 but it is a place that really divides opinion with some saying it's the best meal of their lives. For just a few days in San Sebastian I would really recommend hitting the pinxtos places instead of the expensive places. The view from Akelarre is stunning though.

  5. Hi Lizzie - Yes, in December! Um, yes, you most definitely love SS.

    Hi Tori - I really need to go back anyway, and now I have Asador Etxebarri as another excuse.

    Hi Erik - Yep have heard both sides about Mugaritz but I'm betting I would love it.


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