Pix, the popular London chain of tapas restaurants that takes its inspiration from the Basque pinxtos bars of San Sebastián (known as Donostia in Basque) and recently opened a branch on Portobello Road, is good, but it’s not a patch on the real-deal, the real-deal, of course, being found in San Sebastián.
Over the many years that my family has been going to south-west France, we have made numerous day-trips across the border to this beautiful city to weave our way uncertainly through the back streets of the old town in search of high-calibre snacks.
Laid out on the bar counters in sprawling visual feasts for punters to (seemingly) help themselves, we have never quite got to grips with the pinxtos ordering structure, which seems to rely completely on trust and remembering just how many pinxtos one has actually scoffed. Not speaking the language either, I am always amazed at how charming, tolerant and un-phased the Spanish bar staff and locals seem to be when faced with this hungry, dithering group of very tall tourists cluttering up their bar. Or perhaps I am just used to the French.
Either way, after various hits and misses over the years – and a little local knowledge goes a very long way if you want to avoid bad pinxtos (always VERY bad) – we have finally narrowed it down to three top bars not to be missed. Give them a whirl next time you’re there.
TOP TAPAS BARS, SAN SEBASTIAN
1. Zeruko, Kalea Pescadaria
A new favourite. Takes the basic concept of pinxtos (basically a humble piece of bread with topping held together with a toothpick) to a whole new level.
Highlight: Asparagus wrapped in parma ham and a very light, fresh filo pastry. Served with a thick, high quality balsamic vinegar.
2. Ganbara, Kalea San Jeronimo
An old favourite. There’s a great atmosphere in this traditional bar with punters often spilling out into the street by 2.30pm.
Highlight: The ham croqetas. Made without potato – just hot, oozy béchamel and chunks of Iberico ham.
3. Beti Jai, Kalea Fermin Calbeton
A potential favourite. We walked past this all-white, very modern looking tapas bar and, tempted though we were by the delights laid out on the counter, were too full after Ganbara and Zeruko to eat anything. It’s on the list for next year.
WHAT TO DRINK
Zurrito = a quarter pint of beer
Txakolí = sparkling white wine
Sidra = cider
Txapa = Basque wine-based apéritif
AND FOR AFTERS….
If you fancy something sweet – or a present to take home – make your way up Kalea Erregina Erregeordea towards the bridge to the pâtisserie Argitan Gozotegia for liqueur-soaked chocolate cherries (cereza de licor), chocolate covered orange peel (irazanja choco) and custard cream buns.
Do share your own recommendations/ tips if you have any!