Ana López de Lamadrid has returned to Neichel, although Neichel is no more. She and chef Gonzalo Galbete, with whom she shares ownership of Igueldo,have taken on Santa Clara (the name refers to the small island off the coast of San Sebastián), occupying the premises that were once the realm of master chef Jean Louis Neichel. Baluard, makers of some of the city's finest bread, bake in a wood-fired oven on the premises. As soon as you step inside Santa Clara, you can smell the sourdough starter.
The locals have wholeheartedly embraced the place. The dining room has some of the atmosphere of a British club, but with plenty of light and minus the somnolent minor aristocrats. In summer the garden terrace is highly desirable.
They place a lot of emphasis on the grills, and the boss knows her wines. Charcoal-grilled chicken croquettes are filled with chicken roasted in the charcoal-fired oven. The foie gras with smoked sardine only lacks... more sardine, which is what makes it unique. A steak tartare with mascarpone and mustard, with pepper on one side of the plate for those who want more of a kick, is excellent. A dish that deserves to endure is the eel on toast, with a slow-cooked egg and a beer sauce. Don’t be intimidated by this dish, fit for a Basque whaler. The 'arròs al forn', oven-cooked rice, a rarity among rice dishes, in that it can be ordered for one has a great texture, but the seafood flavour lacks definition. The fact that they offer several oven-cooked rice dishes (dry, powerful, in individual metal trays) is a plus.
Neichel has gone, taking his legacy with him. Santa Clara is something different – powerful and elegant.