A Foodie Guide to Restaurants in San Sebastian
Lucky enough to be invited out to sunny France (from slightly less sunny England) I couldn’t wait to take part in the Star Surf Camps’ famous day trip where we were driven to northern Spain to taste the famous pintxos of San Sebastian. Established not only as a place to indulge in gastronomic delights but also as the hub of a thriving surfing community, this Basque country gem is one of the hottest places in the food world right now, and I was more than stoked to find out first hand what it was all about.
We start off at little bar in a courtyard called Astelena. Run since 1960, the charming chap who serves us is all smiles as we tuck into a miniature portion of juicy melt-in-your-mouth steak, lightly salted, with perfectly crunchy chips, a perfectly cooked egg placed gently on top of a mound of caramelised onion. Paired with a cool, creamy beer, this was the perfect start to the day.
Money spent: 9 Euros
The second bar, Goiz Argi, is a welcome sight; the floor is littered with tissues from happy customers, the sign on the wall promises ‘simply very good tapas’ and, while the décor of TV screen-like signs to me screamed betting shop, I could not fault the spread they had laid out. I would happily have bet that any of the dishes was top-notch. The entire group went for the buttery delicious skewered prawns, which make me salivate now just thinking about them. Alongside a glass of cold fruity white wine, I found myself wondering why the hell I wasn’t living in this city, after just a single hour of stepping out from the car.
The intoxicating scent of food is too much for me here and I cave to allow myself one more tasty treat. While Kasha tucks into a hefty slice of fragrant chorizo in a soft roll, I opt for something the city is famous for: anchovies. A massive favourite of mine, this little ripper was spot on. With a crispy toasted bread base, creamy sauce, mass of fresh, meaty tuna, crunchy pepper and chives finished by the powerfully salty anchovy – I am in fishy heaven for three bites.
Money spent: 5.50 Euros
Bar La Cepa
Understated and quietly cool, Bar La Cepa is one of San Sebastian’s gems. Historically, the owners of the restaurant have also been farmers, meaning there are few places in the world better to eat meat, as the stuff comes direct from the farm, with only the finest cuts, which you can also see hanging by the entrance.
Any restaurant that brings out chunky chorizo and bread as a starter is a winner in my books. Opting for the house specialty, I chose to have a beef skewer paired with a well-balanced slightly dry red wine – pure bliss. When the skewer arrived, tender doesn’t even describe the sensation. This meat was perfectly succulent and fell apart immediately under the knife. I could tell that this meat was the finest quality – well reared, expertly cut and cooked with a finesse akin to that of an artist. Paired with a fistful of crispy fries, soft green peppers and a sweet tomato, this was one of the finest dishes I ate on the whole trip.
Money spent: 15 Euros
Just as the sun set on the distant horizon, we went in search of the last bar. The big one. Internationally acclaimed, Zeruko is one of the restaurants that sets the standard for food in San Sebastian. Described by one of the founders of Star Surf Camps – Sami – as ‘a crazy Heston Blumenthal-style place with dry ice’, the bar was set high.
The first dish was eagerly awaited; a pale slither of raw fish arrived on a mini barbecue grill, steaming with a coal underneath it, and a test tube of bright green liquid. Sami explained that you just put the fish above the live coal for a few seconds each time so it absorbed a smoky flavour and then place it atop a crunchy toast with a creamy topping that was indescribably good. The dish is then followed by drinking the test tube, which was a delicious palate cleanser that cleared the way for the next tapas.
As Sami caught the eye of the bartender and ordered the next dish in Spanish, he also plied us with a Basque Country speciality, cider. Traditionally poured from a height or scooped up in a cup from a squirting barrel, this cider resembles the Cornwall Scrumpy with its strength and rich flavour.
The next tapas is one for the fish lovers – perfectly cooked crab claws with a creamy, pesto-esque sauce and soft fresh bread. The final dish, the pièce de résistance if you will, is the tapas I tell my friends about most, accompanied by their looks of intrigue and wonder.
With the most tender crabmeat, curled together in a delicate edible rose petal atop a sweet-tasting leaf, all of this beautifully crafted ensemble sits atop a test tube of rose water and dry ice. Needless to say, you don’t drink the test tube, but the actual part you do eat is worth a trip to San Sebastian alone.
Money spent: 25 Euros
So, did San Sebastian live up to its expectations as a ‘foodie paradise’? Absolutely. This is a city that offers so much variety, flair and passion enclosed in the smallest of dishes. Those lucky enough to be following the pintxos trail of crumpled tissues and incredible aromas will be satisfied, from the tips of their toes to the very hairs of their head. If there was ever a town that had its heart based in its food, San Sebastian is it.
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If surfing cut with a slice of foodie action sounds like your kind of thing, check out the Star Surf Camp website. Or, if you want to see some wicked photos and videos see the Star Surf Camps Facebook Page.