Musings (more like rambling thoughts) of a Cardiff based lawyer obsessed with food and wine
After my post the other week on the rather fine Curado Bar “half price on Mondays” pintxos offer, this week’s post seemed an opportune time to look again at the daddy of the pintxos scene.
Readers of this blog will know I have a deep love affair (I should really call it what it is – an obsession) with Donostia San Sebastián (“DSS”) and I was back there in late June /early July this year for my annual pilgrimage to this food and drink paradise
I simply love the place,
the people and above all the food.
Whilst Michelin stars abound (the photo above is of the tasting menu at the 1 starred Mirador de Ulia) to me the star attraction of DSS is the pintxos scene and the ability to wander from bar to bar picking up amazing food and fantastic wine at each pit stop.
It is fair to say that most people are drawn to the huge concentration of pintxos bars in the Old Town when visiting DSS.
Whilst the quality and sheer number of bars in the Old Town (many of the bars are run by people who previously worked in the Michelin star palaces) means that it is the place (and often the only place) people visit in DSS for their pintxos fix, there are plenty of other options.
Pintxos from bars in the Old Town are fantastic (offering stuff ranging from the simple to the über complex),
but I think if you visit DSS you are missing a trick if you don’t go beyond the many and obvious charms of the Old Town.
The areas of Gros (behind Zurriola beach), Centro (up from the Old Town) and El Antiguo (behind Ondarreta beach) offer up some top notch pintxos options, often at prices well below those on offer in much of the Old Town, are a bit more relaxed and are in easy reach for anyone staying in (the very walkable) DSS.
Below are some of my favourite places (despite 6 or is it 7 visits now on the bounce to DSS – I will never tire of the place – I have barely scratch the surface – still 100s of places to try) to go to when Mrs. SF and I venture (increasingly) outside of the Old Town for pintxos.
El Antiguo – Ondarreta
One of the joys of DSS are its beautiful City centre beaches and the Basques love to do a paseo along the beach (when the sun is out)
with their feet in the somewhat chilly Bay of Biscay.
Lovely way to cool off and build up the steps and, more importantly, the appetite.
Mrs. SF and I always enjoy a paseo along La Concha beach on to Ondarreta beach and there are some decent bars in the residential area behind Ondarreta beach
This place is our go to bar when we are in El Antiguo-Ondarreta (if we are looking for something more substantial we go to the wine paradise that is Rekondo), with its combination of interesting pintxos and raciones, as well as a very nice selection of wines by the glass.
On the food front, it is quality across the board, with both classics and more innovative stuff.
Prices are reasonable rather than cheap, with decent portion sizes.
We had a cracking tortilla de patatas (beautifully seasoned with a lovely runny interior – €3.50), a very nice ensalada rusa (so simple, but so good – €3) and some top notch tempora veg. (lovely, light and crispy, batter – £3.60).
Very nice place and well worth the pleasant walk along the beach/promenade.
Address: Vitoria-Gasteiz, 6, El Antiguo- Ondarreta
Website: click here
La Brexta market
OK strictly speaking this is in the Old Town, but the inside of DSS’ La Brexta Market is off the usually beaten track in terms of Old Town pintxos crawls. Inside the market there is a not to be missed cracker of a pintxos bar.
Due to it being located in La Brexta market (worth a visit to check out the fish stalls alone, but go early) it has somewhat unconventional opening hours (as against the norm for DSS pintxos bars – it shuts at 17.00). It is, therefore, very much a breakfast and lunch joint (albeit potentially a late one).
Perhaps surprisingly, I am not a huge fan of ordering the stuff on display on the counter in the pintxos bars (in the busy Old Town bar you don’t know who’s been scratching their head whilst leaning over and looking at stuff on the counters). As a result I tend to order the stuff that is cooked to order (which is generally more interesting, in my view, in any event).
Here, due in part to the lay out (which makes it difficult for people to overhang the food on display) and in part due to very quick turnover (they are constantly replacing the stuff on the bar – it is a very busy little place),
I have no problem ordering counter stuff here.
For breakfast they do a mean tortilla (one of the best I have had in DSS – here with numerous variations on the standard patatas theme).
For lunch there are a number of more sophisticated option on offer (all beautiful presented for what is the equivalent of a market cafe).
Dishes we enjoyed over a number of visits included veal oxtail with mushroom, shank of duck à l’orange with champagne and thyme and a tortilla with txistorra (a spicy Basque sausage) – all €3.40 (bar from the tortilla which was a bargain €2.30). Cold pintxos are equally as good, with a lovely prawn and egg number (€1.70 above) and a tostado jamon (£2.60 below).
Booze is good value, with decent measures and prices for wine, with txakoli (€1.95) and rioja (€2).
They also have a wide selection of both gluten free and coleiac friendly pintxos.
Not to be missed this place, if it is open (their holidays seem to eeerily correlate with the times Mrs.SF and I visit DSS).
Address: La Brexta Market, No 36.
Website: click here
Gros is across the river from the Old Town and back off from the Kuraal and Zurriota beach. The bars here tend to be much less busy and often cheaper than those in the Old Town and any trip to DSS should include at least one afternoon/evening on a pintxos crawl here.
This place is a regular haunt of Mrs. SF and I and one of our favourite bars not only in Gros, but the whole of DSS.
The vibe here is nicely relaxed, as against the sometimes frenetic, “sharp elbows” , shouting your order, required in the Old Town.
The “on the counter” pintxos always look very inviting,
but I tend to forgo the plate and go for their hot offerings.
This visit we had a perfectly cooked mushroom rissoto (€3.50), with a fabulous “caramelised on the outside and nicely wobbly” bit of foie on top
and a great braised veal (€5) in red wine dish (packed with flavour and fall apart tender).
Big portions, with prices generally between €3 and €5. Quantity is absolutely top notch.
They also have some lovely wines, many of which are sold by the glass. We very much enjoyed a Jumilla number from Bodega Juan Gil (€4 a glass)
If you only get time to visit a couple of bars in Gros, make sure this is one of them.
Address: General Artetxe,8 (Gros).
Website: Click here.
Another old favourite Gros haunt of Mrs. SF and I, which provides are rather fine combo of pintxos and vino.
The inviting counter display is always superseded by the quality of the Los Clasicos del H56 offering here.
Their signature dish is the Volcán de Morcilla, a delightful mound of Spanish blood pudding (of the Burgos variety) acting as the volcano cone, with a low temp cooked egg yolk on top acting (when pierced) as the lava and a splog of sharp apple puree to cut the richness.
This visit we had the Fondue de Txuleta, nicely rare beef al a plancha with a chargrilled pepper, a lovely aioli and matchstick fries (fab value for €4.50), served on a seriously hot skillet,
and a stunning mushroom ravioli dish (€4.50).
Both really good dishes, packed with flavour, and very good value (being very decent sized portions).
The fine food offering is backed up by a pretty good by the glass wine list
All at very reasonable prices
Mrs. SF and I enjoyed an old favourite on the wine front, in the form of a glass each of Garum from Bodegas Luís Pérez in Cadiz, for a mere €2.60 – excellent value.
Some decent sherries are also offer here.
Address: P° de Colon, 15 (Gros).
Website: click here
Another must visit bar, this place is always busy and for good reason.
They do a really nice mix of cold and hot pintxos.
Unusually for me, I tend to go for the cold stuff here and am a big fan of their tuna based pintxos . The Indurian (named after the legendary Spanish cyclist – Miguel Indurian – who had an unbelievable resting heart rate of 28 beats per minute).
is to me a thing of beauty and pretty darn tasty too.
Hot food is equally as good, with Mrs SF a big fan of the Burgos style morcilla in this place
For the more adventurous there is ” Callos y Morros” (tripe and snouts), which even I passed on.
Larger meals are available and you can book tables.
On the booze front they have a nice selection of wines by the glass at very reasonable prices – lots below €2 – €3.
We went for the ever reliable Bodega Baigorri crianza (£2.60).
Lovely easy drinking stuff and perfect for pintxos crawls.
Address: Peña y Goñi, 13 (Gros)
Website: Click here
This is a no nuisance, proper old school, bar. Food on offer is perhaps not as sophisticated as somes place in DSS, but it is very good value and the food is filling and tasty.
Amongst it specialities is the “Bola de queso” a battered ball of melted stringy mozzarella. Simple, but lovely fried stuff (what I call ” proper dirty” food) and a mere €1.70.
The tortilla de patatas (Mrs. SF had this) here is also very tasty and good value at €2.30.
Booze is cheap as chips. €2 for a reasonable rioja and a €1 for a beer.
Address: General Artetxe, 1 (Gros)
Website: Click here
We tend to stay in apartments in Centro when we visit DSS, as we are not late night owls and the Old Town can get a little noisy in the night. Centro is much more sedate.
It is always nice to pop in to one or two of the myriad of Centro bars on the way out or back from the Old Town bars or even to do a pintxos crawl solely in Centro.
We often start off our pintxos crawls in this place. The food is good, there is decent wine by the glass and as it is quite big it never seems too busy.
The pintxo are quite inventive and fairly priced for the portion sizes and ingredients used, with you looking at between the mid €2 mark and €5 mark for pintxos (raciones are more pricey).
On this visit we went for a suckling pig and mole number
and seasonal rice dish (€4).
Both top notch, with the suckling pig number in particular stonkingly good.
On the booze front, there is lots of interest by the glass (as well as some decent beers, like the local Keler).
€2.10 for a good sized pour of Ramon Bilbao always floats my boat.
Very pleasant easy drinking wine, which is a fine tipple for a pintxos crawl.
Address: San Marcial, 7 (Centro)
Website: Click here
Another old favourite, this place doesn’t look the most promising from the outside.
Inside it offers rather good food, very pleasant staff (despite them always sniggering at my pitiful attempts at ordering in Spanish – always a bit disheartening when you order in Spanish and they reply in English, but I suppose it means at least they understood what was said) and a nice selection of booze
Food ranges for the basic to the pretty sophisticated, with very reasonable price tags.
A couple of good sized juicy prawns in a crisp light batter (€2.50) were very pleasant
but seriously outmatched by a stunningly good spider crab, mushroom and seaweed number (€4)..
Seriously good flavours here.
Booze wise they have a nice selection of both reds and whites. With our seafood choices on the food front, the obviously drink was (that Basque classic white wine) txakoli.
Well below €2 a glass here if I recall correctly
Address: Bergara, 3 (Centro).
Another Centro bar that we use as a hopping off point before diving into the Old Town, this place has a nice chilled out vibe and some excellent food and wine on offer.The pintxos are quite traditional, with lots of classic dishes and some that perhaps only the Basques could love (morro y callo – tripe and snouts – features here).
We stayed fairly classical with a marget of duck
cooked to a lovely blushing pink on the plancha
and a beautifully creamy (without the addition of cream – the Basques do things properly food wise) mushroom rissoto (we had already tucked in somewhat by the time I got around to taking a photo)
On the booze front that have a fab section of whites and reds by the glass (as well as some nice sounding vermuts – one of my sundowners of choice then is Spain)
As a big fan of Marques de Murrieta (the white Ygay is sensational, but the reds are also top draw -luckily have a couple of bottles of older vintages of the Ygay tinto in the wine room), I was instantly drawn to the board with a Murrieta Reserva on it for a mere €4 (expect, if you can find it by the glass, in the UK, to pay triple that price at least).
Lovely drop, with bags of black fruit, spice and a nice toastiness from oak.
Plenty of other rather superior alternatives on the wine front.
Address: San Martín, 30 (Centro).
Website: click here
A real hole in the wall joint that was a stone’s throw from our apartment. It look very non descript on the outside, but was always rammed, with people spilling out on to the street.
On our way back from the Old Town one night we decided to give it a go to see what drew in the crowds.
A pretty pared back menu
included a very simple dish for which this bar is fêted, being patatas al ajillo (garlic potatos – €3.20). Everyone was eating them.
A deceptively simple dish of boiled potatoes, infused with a bucket load of garlic, it really hit the spot on the flavour front.
Adding the special seasoning (paprika based) takes it to the next level
In a number of bar it is worth looking out for promotional deals (usually in conjunction with a wine/wine region).
Here a mushroom and prawn number on la plancha came with a glass of white from Navarra for a paltry €3.
Good food and cheap booze makes this one of those bars that you would normally walk past, but should definitely check out.
Address: Easo, 9 (Centro)
Website: Click here
DSS has so much to offer on the food front and it is a shame in my opinion if a visit doesn’t include the delights of Gros, Centro and El Antiguo.
Above is (notwithstanding it novella length) but a small scratch of the surface. To see more options, both in and outside of the Old Town, I would strongly recommend getting the latest edition of this book,
which can be picked up in the main tourist information office in DSS.
Very useful map at the back.
Also the Instagram feed of @eatgirl_ss, which cover alot of the more off the beaten track bars (as well as the more mainstream ones), is well worth a look at.
We stayed in La Terreza – a Free Rental Apartment in Centro (about 2 min walk from La Concha Beach and 5 odd minutes (at a brisk walk) from the Old Town. Cracking little place with everything you would need and a great location which allowed for easy access to most areas of the very walkable city that is DSS.
We flew from Bristol with Easyjet into Bilbao and got the bus from the Airport to DSS. My advice is get the ticket before you get on the bus i.e from the ticket machine at the Airport as on our bus several people who waited to buy their tickets off the driver (rather than queuing at the ticket machine) were turned away as the bus was full and they only go once an hour (at the time the Bristol flight gets in).