San Sebastián, one of the world’s top ten cities in terms of the most Michelin stars per inhabitant, devotes much of its energy to gastronomic pursuits. Some of the world’s most celebrated chefs live and work here, including the likes of Martin Berasategui, Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana. At the forefront of culinary trends that have made Spain a mecca for gastronomy around the world, San Sebastián has transformed traditional pintxos, the Basque version of tapas, into a globally renowned trailblazer in miniature haute cuisine. This culinary movement has won over followers throughout Spain but it is here, in the province of Guipúzcoa, that some of its leading exponents can be found.
The perfect combination of tourism and food, the tapeo (a tour around different tapas bars) is an absolute must in San Sebastián. From seven in the evening, the pedestrianised streets of the old town are besieged by a relaxed mix of tourists and locals, particularly in front of the Santa María del Coro basilica.
Pintxos are at the forefront of the city’s gastronomy, where eating is first and foremost a major part of its culture. It’s time to head off on la marcha, a gourmet experience that will take you on a journey from one incredible tapas bar to the next!
La Cuchara de San Telmo
The talented Alex Montiel, a former disciple of El Bulli and Ferran Adrià, was the chef in the kitchens of Martin Berasategui before opening this pintxos bar (no reservations) in the historic centre of the city, in a small street on the corner of Plaza Valle Lersundi, home to the Museo San Elmo. There’s always a crowd in this small eatery, who come here to discover delicious cuisine in miniature worthy of the finest restaurants – if you want to sit at one of the three or four tables on the terrace, stand next to them and grab one once it becomes available. The pan-fried liver with apple compote has become a classic, while the pork-based carrillera illustrates how a popular working-class dish can enjoy a contemporary lease of life.
Our favourite address: A Fuego Negro
A Fuego Negro is another leading tapas address and one of our favourites thanks to the finesse of its cuisine. A cosmopolitan clientele flocks to the bar in this trendy restaurant with its rock ‘n’ roll decor, walls adorned with designer lights in the shape of a siphon (the emblem of molecular cuisine), industrial-style air-conditioning pipes running across the ceiling, a display of art brut and arty decorative pieces including record covers and DVDs of horror films. Some of the place mats on the small tables are even shaped like a vinyl record! The menu here is constantly evolving, offering new creative dishes alongside classics such as the ensaladas agitadas (served in plastic spheres so that the salad can be shaken) and the bonito tuna with Ibarra chilli peppers and red onion. Also on the menu are risotto, and grilled octopus with a slice of green apple, puréed vitelotte potatoes and chorizo foam. Make sure you also try A Fuego Negro’s signature dish, makobe with txips (a mini Kobe beef burger with fries). The team here, which is very active in San Sebastián’s cultural life, allows their imagination to have free rein, both in terms of its cuisine and its wine list, the latter offering a true oenological experience thanks to its wide array of wines from across Spain.
Every day, Zeruko, a finalist in numerous Spanish and international tapas competitions, displays dozens of different tapas on its counter, each as unique and original as the next. Creativity is the buzzword in this old (and nowadays unrecognisable) 19C tavern dedicated to aesthetic and culinary innovation both on the plate and in the trendy decor of this bar displaying works of contemporary art. Here, nitrogen is a key cooking component, where dishes include a deconstructed potato omelette and a caramelised foie gras biscuit, both of which receive rave reviews from customers. We also tried the langoustines with angel’s hair pasta, truffles stuffed with foie gras, a pepper tartelette, and a classic gherkin with fillets of tuna. Zeruko is one of the city’s musts for foodies and as such is always full to the rafters. You’ll need to gently elbow your way to the counter here, where the staff are always friendly and smiling despite the mass of customers in front of them.
Located close to Zeruko and in the same street (Calle Pescadería), Txepetxa is a traditional bar which steers clear of the fashionable, more trendy tapas and as such is one of the best-kept secrets in the old town. One of the best places in town for anchovies, this simply appointed bar distinguishes itself through its high-quality cuisine and the huge variety of dishes based around Txepetxa’s star ingredient, the Cantabrian anchovy.
A stone’s throw from A Fuego Negro and La Cuchara San Elmo, La Viña was opened in 1959 by the parents of the current owner, Santiago Riviera. With its traditional decor celebrating the joy of wine (its walls are adorned with numerous photos of Spanish vineyards and traditional wooden tools), La Viña has a solid reputation for the classic cuisine on offer here. The counter is overflowing with breaded cod, olive and anchovy brochettes, ham and mushroom croquettes, and ham and cheese roulades. In the small dining room to the rear (well worth a stop on your pintxos tour), the cuisine is also traditional in feel, with a menu featuring beef, veal, duck confit, hake cooked three ways, calamares and grilled sole. For dessert, the speciality at La Viña is the cheesecake, usually accompanied by a glass of dessert wine.
Another eatery with a solid local reputation that will delight gourmets, Ganadarias is home to a pintxos bar and a restaurant to the rear, both decorated in a welcoming, traditional style beneath the pata negra hams hanging from the ceiling. Here, we tried the Basque boudin, mushroom and garlic brochette on an Iberian ham tartine, peppers stuffed with crab, cod and cep mushroom croquettes, sardines with piquillo peppers, a tomato vinaigrette and beansprouts, and the gulas (surimi which looks like baby eels) with red peppers and vinaigrette. In summary, Gandarias is a temple for good food served by a team that never stops smiling.
San Sébastián tourist office: http://www.sansebastianturismo.com/en/
Téléchargez un plan avec les adresses des principaux bars à pintxos : http://www.sansebastianturismo.com/images/ssturismo/pdf/guia-gastronomica.pdf
La Cuchara de San Telmo
Plaza Valle Lersundi
A Fuego Negro
Calle 31 de Agosto, 31
Calle Pescadería, 10
Calle Pescadería, 5
Calle 31 de Agosto, 3
Calle 31 de Agosto, 23