Pinxtos and tapas in San Sebastian, Spain

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Pinxtos are extremely popular in The Basque Region and in the Old Town of San Sebastian there are plenty of pinxtos bars to choose from, each with their own specialities.

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Our first night in San Seb, after the Mugaritz lunch, Caroline and I were still very full around 10pm but we decided to ignore those signals and have a few pinxtos just because we wanted to. We started slowly with one each and a glass of wine. Carolien had the one with mini eels and I had the one with crab, mayonnase and smoked salmon.

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After a little breather we had another one each. I couldn’t resist the jamon and Caroline had the grilled squid with ink. Two pinxtos each was definitley enough and I’m so glad we did as I loved the atmosphere in the Old Town bars. The place we went to this evening is called Ganbara, and one I was desperate to try because a famous Swedish TV chef went here with the owners of Arzak when he was visiting San Sebastian.

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The second evening we did a proper pinxtos bar crawl, starting at Baztan. Caroline had the sausage wrapped in bacon and the morcilla (black pudding) with pickled peppers.

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I had a yummy mini burger (great idea!) and cheesy courgette with ham.

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Apparently you just throw your serviette on the floor after your meal, but I struggled to do that. It makes sense in a way; the bars are packed and the staff have enough to do collecting dirty plates and glasses that collecting napkins isn’t a priority and it is easy to just sweep the floor after service. But still…

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Next we went to Casa Vergara where we had the local slightly sparkling wine Txacoli which we really enjoyed together with some pinxtos; mini eels in smoked salmon, anchovies and green pepper and a marinated mussel.

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At Casa Alcalde next door to Casa Vergara, we had one last pinxto with morcilla, fried quail’s egg and baked cherry tomato. Yum!

We had a look at plenty more pinxtos bars and some places seemed better than others (the ones we went for). Some had piles of deep-fried whatever and didn’t appeal that much to us.

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Our last day we went back to Ganbara and had lunch in the restaurant. We started with a plate of wonderful jamon and the local equivalent to padron peppers, these were less spicy, but tasted very similar otherwise.

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For the maincourse Caroline had the trio of cod which was rather interesting but not amazing. The one with the brown sauce was less tasty but the other two were quite nice.

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I had local gambas, big juicy prawns, that were fried and served with olive oil and lemon. Super simple and delicious!

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We went back to Ganbara one more time before leaving for the airport. It was early evening and because they had just stopped serving lunch it was quite bare with pinxtos on the bar counter but we could order from the menu. The pig’s trotters with mash, above, was sadly not amazing. I love pig’s trotters but these were too fatty for my liking.

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The croquetas with mushrooms and jamon were delicious though and so was the fried foie gras.

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We finished off the meal with octopus and squid. I had the cold marinated octopus that I love, so soft and delicious and Caroline had the grilled squid with ink one last time. Despite a few let downs (the pig’s trotters and the cod) we loved Ganbara! All the other food we had here (and it was quite a lot) was great, the staff super friendly and the all the pinxtos super fresh!

Ganbara, San Jeronimo Kalea, 19, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Baztan, Calle Puerto, 8, 20003 Donostia – San Sebastián, Spain

Casa Vergara, Kale Nagusia-Calle Mayor Kalea, 21, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Casa Alcalde, Mayor Kalea, 19, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain

Lunch at Rekondo, San Sebastian, Spain

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Our second day in San Sebastian we had a normal lunch (compared to the four hour feast the day before) at Rekondo.

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It is a very cosy restaurant, especially the outside area where we were seated this glorious day.

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It is also known for its large wine celler and huge wine list (as you can see it was a proper book!). We settled for a bottle of white Rioja which worked really well with our meal.

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The amuse bouche was a cod croquetas each, lovely creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside. The cod flavour was quite subtle which I liked.

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To try and balance the gigantic meal the day before both Caroline and I were drawn to the seafood, in hope that it would be fresh and light. It was indeed fresh but maybe not as light as we’d hoped – but delicious! Carolines prawn carpaccio was a little eccentric flavour wise with fruit, pomegranate seeds and guacemole but it was absolutely delicious. And quite large.

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My lobster cocktail with scallops was also amazing. And huge! The lobster was perfectly cooked and great in flavour but was actually overshadowed by the big juicy raw scallops. They were the best scallops I’ve ever had. The pine nuts, olive powder and grassy olvie oil were the perfect accompaniments.

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For the maincourse Caroline had a local speciality; kokotxas, fish cheeks served in a parsley sauce. It was a mild dish and the cheeks were very tender and almost silky in texture. Very good.

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I had another local speciality, baked crab, which was amazing and incredibly rich.

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We chose to share a cheese plate instead of having a sweet pudding and that was perfect to finish off the meal. The cheeses were very good, especially the Brie de Meaux, the Roquefort and a local creamy cheese made from ewe’s milk. The comté and Pecorino were quite good but the Morbier was quite dull.

We decided to slowly walk back down to town to help digest the food but also enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

I really liked this place and of course the food. The service was not perfect but I’ll still come back. Especially for those delicious scallops. And the wine list. You find Caroline’s write-up from the lunch here.

Rekondo, Igeldo Pasealekua, 57, 20008, San Sebastián, Gipuzkoa, Spain

24 course lunch at Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain

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The world’s sixth and eight best restaurants right now, are both located in San Sebastian in the north-east of Spain. On my visit to the region on the bank holiday in August my friend Caroline (as keen on nice restaurants as I am), we had a fabulous lunch at one of them; Mugaritz. We would have loved to go to Arzak too, but we’ll save that for next time.

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We more or less went straight from Bilbao airport, via the hotel, to the restaurant and as soon as we were seated at our table we were shown into the kitchen (amazing) where we also got to eat our first course.

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It was a marshmallow made with pig’s blood. The very charismatic chef told us that pig’s blood has the similar properties to egg whites and can also thicken and be used for meringues and marshmallows. This marshmallow was flavoured with onions, pine nuts and black pepper and it was really good. And interesting.

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One we got back to our table we had wine and water and also got a warm wet towel to have at hand as the first couple section of dishes should be eaten using only our hands.

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The blue cheese round with anchovies (left) was actually a bit tame in flavour, I would have preferred a stronger flavour from both the cheese and the anchovies. The mussel with parmesan which was also lightly smoked was spot on though; so delicious.

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Next up we had tendons. Not sure if it was from pork or beef, we realised quickly that the amount of information given about each course depended on the waiter. Some were confident in explaining it to us in detail in English were as some only sad a word or two. This was more interesting than tasty, fun texture though, much softer than I expected.

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After that we were put to work. All the guests (about 40 per sitting) received a pestle and mortar at the same time and got to work their arm muscles turning the corn into a paste.

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We were then given a square of jelly with herbs and flours that melted in the warm mortar and turned the rough paste into a smoother one. We then had a delicious dip to either eat with a spoon or dip the bread in.

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It was fun to participate in something and the smell was amazing, just like the finished dip. It had several dimensions with different textures and lots of subtle flavours all coming together.

2014-08-23 14.28.58Next up was duck neck, cleverly illustrated by the special plate. It was crisp, a little sticky and very tasty.
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We then had Chinese chives tempura with what I guess was a chickpea puré. Also very nice.

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The eighth course was a soft soft dumpling topped with crispy Iberico pig skin and a chutney. I loved the difference in texture and the flavours were great.

2014-08-23 14.44.45Having finished a third of the menu we got a palate cleanser consisting of fresh chickpeas in their shells with sea salt and olive oil. Very fresh and light!

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Next palate cleanser was very far from a sorbet, instead we had mud and dirt. The mud was made from pine nuts though and we got to dip this moss looking plant called deff in it. I especially liked the plant, which was very fresh and subtly fragrant on its own.

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After the mud course we got proper cutlery and the first maincourse; tomato in a gelatinous broth. It was incredible! The tomato was quite firm but soft at the same time and the broth was very intense in flavour.

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The ox cheeks with powdered sauerkraut were also very good The powder was interesting, while it tasted like sauerkraut the texture made the flavour dissolve quickly.

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In the middle of the main courses we got to play a game with plastic knuckles. The winner received a little plate of caviar and I am very grateful Caroline wanted to share her winnings with me.

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Airy bread with cream quite similar to clotted cream, but a bit sweeter, perfectly balanced the salty caviar. This was absolutely divine and one of my favourite courses. Bröd med grädde inte helt olik clotted cream i smak och konsistens, men dock sötare, gav perfekt balans till den salta kaviaren. En av mina favoriträtter helt klart. Helt makalöst gott!

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Poached aubergine with white miso was more interesting than tasty, The texture of the aubergine was phenomenal; form but soft, but the miso was a bit too sweet and the herb on top very pungent and sharp and actually not very nice. Does anyone know what the herb is called?

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The hake with milk pearls melted in the mouth and was fantastic. Very subtle in flavour (I actually couldn’t taste the white asparagus) and the fish was cooked to absolute perfection. A joy to eat.

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This dish doesn’t look very appetizing but it was a fun take on surf and turf. Underneath the crisp chicken skin was a catalan cream with lobster. Like a savoury creme brulée – love it.

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The next course was just amazing! It was definitely the best steak tartar I’ve ever tasted. The meat was incredibly soft and tender, the caviar was a fun (and delicious) contrast and the pickled mini onions added the perfect amount of acidity. Perfection!

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The maincourse was eucalyptus smoked lamb loin with its wool. The wool was soft and the meat perfectly cooked but with quite a strong smokey flavour, so it worked well as the last course.

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The first pudding was stracciatella with sheets of dark chocolate. Not my favourite, I liked the chocolate but not the cream.

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The lemon sorbet in edible lemon skin was a pure delight. Fresh lemon flavour and amazing texture. Loved it!

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We read cronuts on the menu and got very excited but instead of the croissant dnut hybrid we got cronut shaped airy biscuits. I think they may have been made with rice starch, and flavoured with chocolate and caramel. Nice and different but not incredible.

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The least sweet desert was a grilled green fig injected with marine preserve made with sea urchin. Such a fun and different combination and very very tasty.

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The last pudding was a warm and crisp little cigar filled with custard. We also got to grate sugar on them using the rocks in the table decoration (which was pure sugar). Both fun and delicious!

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After are long lunch we went outside and got even more treats with our coffee. A whole tower of petit fours. We didn’t exactly need them but we still managed to eat them, we’re such troopers.

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The tower had seven compartments that each represented one of the seven cardinal sins. As you can see above, I forgot to take a picture of one of them, but the ones I remembered were chocolate coins covered with chocolate dirt, candied ginger dipped in cocoa, chocolate covered corn kernels, white chocolate with rose cream and dark chocolate with caramel.

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I was incredibly happy (and extremely full) after this meal. It was such an experience! Some dishes were absolutely delicious and others more interesting in texture or techniques used but I loved the whole experience. I also like the relaxed atmosphere and the fun elements of making our own dip and playing the knuckle game. The service was good but not flawless, which I would have expected. Sometimes dishes were stacking up on the table and if one of us went to the restroom (which is needed during a four hour lunch) they had already put out the next course before we got back to the table.

With that said, it was still incredible. It was so fun to see the kitchen and experience this type of cooking, and Caroline and I had a blast! And I still dream of some of the dishes.

Mugaritz, Aldura Aldea, 20, 20100 Errenteria, Gipuzkoa, Spain