A Weekend of Eating Around San Sebastian, Spain – Travel

Summer holidays! Time to get away with great friends, explore an area whilst eating your way through local delights and sampling the local tipples. 

And that’s exactly what I did last week, boarded a sleazy-jet plane to the sunny shores of San Sebastian with five awesome friends who are equally foodie and nerdy (covering a wide spectrum of nerdiness).  We were all set our holiday jobs, mine was to find and book a good restaurant for a special night that we could all dress up and find other foodie delights to target when it was snack- o’clock. 

From my research, (which I went deep and international (NYC Times no less)) it sounded like we were going to be spoilt for choice and won’t go hungry. Due to the number of Michelin star restaurants in the city and surrounding area, all the restaurants are at such a high standard even if they haven’t been awarded a Michelin star.  

Beautiful San Sebastian

From my research, I found Ni Neu, a cute modern restaurant set on the side of the beach, with beautiful views. The restaurant was cool without being pretentious and with a relaxed feel. The staff were very attentive, with excellent English to explain some of the finer details to the delicious dishes on offer, which also came in handy when booking the table. 

Ni Neu

We went for the 30 euro menu which also included wine for the meal, loco I know! We started our meal with an aperitif, the girlies went for the Martini with cherries and the guys a classic Tequila Sunrise. (Both 3 euro’s each) 

Beefy Love

Normally in restaurants, I tend not to go for the beef carpaccio as they are either overly thick or chilled so much the flavours don’t come truly through. But what caught my eye on this menu was that it came with smoked watermelon, hazelnuts and Idiazabel cheese. I was sold. The beef was silky and tender, with the smoked watermelon having the texture of steak tartar complementing the beef with the toasted oily hazelnuts.

Others on the table went for the seafood rice cooked with saffron stock, mussels and light garlic mayonnaise. Now I must admit and I’m ashamed to say as a FoodNerd, I’m not a fan of fish or seafood. I know I should hang up my food lab coat with shame. It just never appeals over any meat dish on the menu- BUT I thought of all the places to try and sample different seafood, San Sebastian would be the place is renowned for their incredible fish. It was beautifully balanced and not too fishy, nearly converted me…nearly. 

Little fishy

Main course I went for the boned roasted lamb with butternut squash purée and a stroke of coffee and cardamom. WOW. Just wow. I was actually sad half way through as I knew it was going to end and I just wanted it to keep lasting. Hands down the best lamb dish I have ever tasted, I still dream and salivate at the thought of the lamb. The outside of the lamb was deliciously sticky and the meat soft and flavoursome. Complemented with the butternut squash and not detracted by the minimal of coffee and cardamom. Beautiful. 

Food of dreams

The others ordered the slow-roasted pork ribs with the rosemary quinoa with garlic paste. Again the chef had the cook of the pork exactly right, just melting and flavoursome. With all the dishes, they are healthy portions that don’t leave you wanted more in the sense you’re still hungry. 

Mr Porky

Now the time had come for the puddings and they looked amazing, so having 5 puddings and 6 people we were gonna try all of them and double up on one of the treats. My favourite the peaches and the French toast. 

foam of caramelized “mamia” with reineta apple juice
french toast soaked in egg yolk and fresh cream, caramelized in the pan, served with ice cream
marinated strawberries with mascarpone cream and fresh beetroot sponge cake
air dried peach with almond sand and fresh cheese ice cream
chocolate bubbles with ginger ice cream and light chocolate cake

Quite the selection I think you would agree! Luckily we’re all good friends so the spoons were flying and the plates being passed around from everyone to have a try. After all the beautiful treats, we ended the meal with a coffee which came accompanied with parma violet marshmallows, pistachio friand and salted chocolate biscuits for petit fours.     

Petit Fours

A Fuego Nergo

Another restaurant I had found for more upmarket lunch/pintxos (slightly larger tapas) was A Fuego Nergo . A very cool bar with an interesting take on classic dishes. Again amazing value for the quality and quantity of the food. They had a four-course tasting menu, which the whole table had to choose and it would be a surprise as to what you got. Remember I said I don’t really like fish or shellfish, well this menu push my limits but thoroughly enjoyed it. As well as being small portions, we were surprising filled up afterwards. 
Very cool setting
Salmon, grapefruit, orange, linseed salad (had one to share between two)
Marinated octopus, mushrooms, purple potato crisps salad (had one to share between two)
Vegetable tempura with home-made ketchup and potato alioli
Blacken monk fish and pepper pearls (Really pushed my fishy tolerance! But still enjoyable)
Mini lamb kebab, with red pickled cabbage in a cornmeal pita pocket
After all that amazing meals, you would think that was enough to tide us over on the fancy eating department. But from our meals and seeing the quality of the food for such reasonable amounts, we checked out a few travel websites when we were out there and came across Agorregi.  It had amazing reviews for the tasting menu, that at around 30 euros for five courses excluding wine, which was world-class. Not the most obvious location, so worth a taxi ride there but you won’t regret it!  The quality was incredible, the attention to detail on all the dishes was spot on. Again unlike restaurants in the UK where the taster menu is literally a small taste of a few dishes, the restaurants in San Sebastian have it just right, enough to excite your palate but leave you wanting more for the next course, but not so full that you don’t enjoy the courses or whilst leaving thinking of the snack you’re going to have at home to fill you up. A must-try restaurant! 
Ham and Cheese Croquettes
Fresh tomato gazpacho with anchovies
Fresh pasta with tomato and Iberico ham – again was very sad when I finished these, I think we could of easily eaten a lot more of these beautiful pasta parcels
Pan fried hake with roasted spider crab and pepper
Slow cooked ox cheek with pan fried foie gras and apricot puree
Red berry soup with fresh strawberries, buttery biscuit and vanilla ice cream
Almond Tuile to go with the coffees 
The prize for the least favourite meal…..

We took a day to Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim to take in some culture and see some sights. After feeding our minds it was time to feed our bellies. Again the area was renowned for its fine food restaurants. From the Guggenheim we followed our noses and found Restaurant Vienes, a collection of well-dressed locals sampling a delicious looking steak whilst basking in the sunshine during their lunch breaks- clearly a very good sign. For 12 euros each we could get 3 courses ( each course having 3- 4 option per course) and a bottle of wine or water- bargain. The first course I went for garlic cauliflower which was nice but an interesting choice (didn’t photograph that great) and the others went for the salt cod starter which was like two giant vol au vents. Again nice but interesting. But the main course was lovely, the four girls went for the juicy steak we saw the locals chow down on, with salty chips and marinated pimento peppers. Yum. 

Hearty lunch

Now the two guys we were with decided to go for the pork as the waiter translated it was cooked in the traditional style, why not, when in Rome……     

What arrived can only be described as a quaking gelatinous skin and bone mound in a greasy orange sauce. My brother will try and normally finish anything you put in front of him, but you know it’s bad when he doesn’t eat it. It looked like someone had already had a good poke of it and sent it back to the kitchen for them to then reheat it for the next person to pick over. After a bit of googling, it turned out to be trotter after us speculating it was all sorts of parts of the pig’s anatomy it could be. I’m sure the locals go made for it if they had been brought up on it but unfortunately didn’t float our boat. 
This little piggy….

Dessert wise, there was chocolate tart which unfortunately they only had 5 portions left, like a gent Ben offered to have the custard…. again he lucked out as the chocolate tart was rich and dense in flavour, his dessert was a glass of warmed custard with a rich tea biscuit floating on top….nice. 

Rich and dark
Custard anyone…

Saying that it could of been worse and can’t be so picky for a 12 euro menu. But I can say I truly enjoyed my visit to San Sebastian and as I work with food each day at work it is easy to get a bit food jaded and stuck into the same routine cooking at home after work. But this trip has reignited my passion for food and cooking and looking forward to spending my evenings and weekends trying out new recipes and ingredients. And this I think is why travelling is so important to me, to pick up new ideas, techniques, flavour combinations you might not of thought of, to develop your knowledge base and constantly learning.   

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