© Ming Tang-Evans
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Wed Jun 27 2012
San Sebastián, in northern Spain’s Basque country on the Bay of Biscay, is a place of pilgrimage for food lovers. Besides internationally acclaimed avant-garde restaurants such as Mugaritz or Arzak, San Sebastián – known as Donostia in Basque – is also home to older, more vernacular dining traditions. The tapas bars in particular are renowned for their appetising pintxos (tapas) and bonhomie.
Calling your restaurant Donostia when you have no Basque heritage is therefore a bit like daring someone to call your bluff. Yet Donostia has made a decent stab of it, despite not serving food on skewers – the very word ‘pintxo’ means ‘thorn’, referring to the toothpick-like skewers the snacks are usually stabbed with, to make them less messy to pick up. Basque words are littered with the letter ‘x’; the Basque language has no close relatives and sounds unlike anything else.
Chef Tomasz Baranski used to be the in charge of the kitchen at Barrafina, and this link is clear in the clean lines of Donostia, which has a large entrance bar serving pimped-up bar food. This is the best place to sit, so you can watch the action; these seats can’t be booked though, so if you need to play safe, reserve one of the tables.
You can start with a glass of txakoli, a slightly fizzy, low-alcohol Basque wine that is drunk as an aperitif; here, it’s served in tumblers. The highlight of the pintxos was the tortilla, which was every bit as good as the one at Barrafina (no surprise there), and therefore vies for the title of best in London. Fresh from the hotplate, it was still molten in the centre, and in this instance filled with spinach and salt cod.
As Mark Kurlansky pointed out in his excellent book ‘Cod’, this white fish is a major building block of Basque cuisine. Cod cheeks are considered a delicacy, and here you can have the slithery jowls in a classic pil pil sauce, rich in olive oil, garlic and a little chilli garnish.
Not all the quality is as good as we’d hoped for. The romesco sauce served with a pork fillet was a letdown, bland and lacking punch; there are much better versions of this groundnut and red pepper sauce in London, for example at Pizarro in Bermondsey.
We continued making our way through the pintxos list, hoping for one of the dishes to be at least bigger than pintxos size, but none of them was. Take this into account when ordering – the prices seem reasonable, but not if you need five pinxtos each to constitute a full meal.
There’s much diversion and enjoyment to be had from the wine list though while you wait for your morsels to appear, as the owners are keen oenophiles and have been collecting unusual wines from Spain and beyond on their travels.
Although Donostia is a nice place, I suspect it’s better not to arrive too hungry, or you’ll ramp up a hefty bill. It’s also not going to knock the Barcelona-style Barrafina off its top spot, but perhaps it isn’t trying to.
Donostia 10 Seymour Place
020 3620 1845
- Opening hours:
Lunch served noon-3pm Tue-Sat; 1-4pm Sun. Dinner served 6-11pm Mon-Sat.
Tube: Marble Arch tube
Meal for two with drinks and service: around £100
- 10 Seymour Place
- 020 3620 1845
- 10 Seymour Place
Restaurant and bar facilities. Reservations required. General facilities. Available for hire. Outdoor facilities. Tables outdoors
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