Waking to the sound of waves crashing on to the Playa de la Concha my thoughts turned to the day ahead.
I was already looking forward to my first ever three Michelin star dinner with anticipation but also wanted to indulge in some more of the creative delights that are the nano gastronomy of the old town’s Pinxto bars.
There was only one way my body was going to take the assault of a day’s gastronomic indulgence and that was with a 20,000 step count walk!
We had yet to really explore either of the peaks at opposite ends of the Playa de la Concha and so with an outline plan we headed off in search of coffee and a little sustainance to fortify us for our first walk. Just a few hundred metres from the Playa de la Concha opposite the park is the delightful Gogoko Goxuak. A bakery come cafe with sensational pastries and excellent coffee.
With our blood sugar levels up and with the caffeine racing through our veins we headed down towards the marina through the gardens to pick up the footpath to Monte Urgull.
As we climbed the steps behind the aquarium it was like passing through a Narniaesque corridor! The hustle and bustle of San Sebastián left behind us with just the sound of the waves crashing against the seawall and the fierce wind whipped up as it travelled over the Bay of Biscay.
After a few metres the path led us away from the sea and through a tranquil gardens. The pathway ascends to the Castillo de la Mota at the summit which houses a fine Basque museum within the castle walls as wells as the imposing Rio style statute of Christ that is the crowning glory of this landmark. Our heart rates increased as the path climbed more steeply and within this countryside paradise we were treated to birdsong and wild flowers.
If this was not enough on reaching the top of Monte Urgull we were afforded stunning views of the Playa de la Concha, San Sebastián and the opposite higher peak of Monte Igueldo.
If your planning to do this walk just remember to take water and refreshments with you as there’s nothing at the top!
By the time we descended and picked up the Paseo Nuevo again for the completion of our walk around the peninsula we had worked up quite an appetite. Turning right behind the San Telmo museum we were in the heart of the old town.
Boy oh boy were we in for a treat! Our first stop was at Zeruko. These guys are really the daddies of the nano gastronomy that has taken the world of pintxos to dizzy new heights! This is a a must stop for anyone venturing into the seductive maze of side streets and pintxos bars that make up the old town of San Sebastián.
My favourites were the sea urchins! Colourful, with the roe mixed with breadcrumbs and a creamy veloute and added back to the shell before being finished under a grill. Rich, textured and totally decadent with the unmistakable taste of the sea!
I learnt the following 3 rules of how to get the best from each pintxo bar we visited.
- Take in the spectacular visual beauty of the counter displays but keep your powder dry!
- Having surveyed the carpet of tantalising morsels in front of your eyes pluck up the courage to ask what are the signature dishes of the house ( often cooked to order and rarely displayed).
- Limit yourselves to just one or two pintxos and a glass of a suitable wine, in Zeruko’s case a stunning Albariño.
Always a sucker for a post savoury sweet we stopped off at this Basque chocolatier. Txokolate in the old town where they make an amazing selection of chocolate truffles. With apples featuring heavily in Basque cuisine I had another first, a cider chocolate truffle!
We headed out of the old town for a lovely beach walk along the Playa de la Concha’s golden and expansive sandy beach. We narrowly missed a soaking as we scrambled over a rocky promontory at the end of the beach before crossing over onto the family beach, Playa de Ondarreta. A smaller quieter beach at the western edge of the Playa de la Concha.
At the end of this beach a small funicular railway steeply climbs Monte Igueldo and brings you to the breathtaking vista and children’s theme pack at the top.
After taking in the views and with theme parks not really being our thing, we descended through a dense woodland which afforded stunning views of the Playa de la Concha below. After about half an hour and passing through a dazzling display of spring flora we arrived back at the foot of Monte Igueldo and strolled back along the Playa de la Concha to our hotel.
The days activities had somewhat drained me and so with a few hours to spare before dinner we relaxed on our terrace with a chilled glass of White Grenache!
Watching the evening sun slip behind Monte Iguledo with a fanfare like dramatic display of colour we scrubbed up and put our glad rags on for our gastronomic dinner at Martin Berasategui’s 3 Michelin star restaurant of the same name.It took us about 20 minutes to get out to the suburbs of San Sebastián where the hills start to undulate against the backdrop of mountains.
We arrived punctually for our 7pm reservation and were shown to our table. The decor was sophisticated minimalist, with low lighting and clean lines.
I knew we were going to be in for a really special evening when a selection of coloured and flavoured butters were brought to the table to accompany the home made bread. (L-R Beetroot, Plain. Spinach and Mushroom)
Before we got down to the serious business of choosing the wine it was a no brainer when it came to the food; we both opted for the 13 course “Great Tasting Menu”
Our sommelier, the charismatic Valentina (from Buenos Aires) recommended this sensational wine from the Valquejogoso estate, an unusual blend of Albillo, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. It worked brilliantly with the Tasting menu. A fat and full wine that possesses flavours of oak and vanilla but also with notes of stone fruit (peach) and white pepper.
Each course was exquisitely prepared and presented so that the core key ingredients excelled and complimented each other. The kumquat appetiser was busting with citrus flavour! The smoked eel contrasting with the crunchy texture and acidity of the apple in the layers of mille-feuille. The Red Shrimp Royale was a theatrical piece of light foam with a sweet shrimp centre beneath.
Gillian opted for an alternative to the oyster (bottom right) with a local delicacy know as ” KoKotxas” or Hake cheeks. The sweetest and most succulent part of this fish served in a garlic and herb marinade. The sea urchin curd was rich and heady and offset with a anise and salty cured ham emulsion.
I loved the cleverly executed “faux” truffle dish using wild mushrooms to create the illusion of a black truffle. The colour of the beetroot juice salad was incredible and the shimmering translucency of the crimson sauce offset perfectly with the green dill fronds.
Perhaps my favourite dish was the vegetable heart and seafood salad. Visually stunning and exquisitely simple. Probably without doubt the ultimate way to showcase the delicate and subtle flavour of fresh Basque lobster.
- Suertes Del Marques Trenzado A white wine from the Canary island of Tenerife.Slightly oak and heavy on the lees with a hint of lemon. I loved it and it’s available in the UK from Bibendum (sea urchin)
- Envinate Taganan. Another from the island of Tenerife. This was rapidly becoming a must visit wine destination! This one a blend of many local red varietals with a slightly smoky flavour.(Truffle)
- Petite Fleur Malbec from Mendoza. 100% Malbec with a 14.5% punch great with the beef and the pigeon!
- Emendis Dulce Monastrell from Penedes in Catalonia. A sweet red Mourvèdre that worked brilliantly with the desserts.
It was a real treat to dine here and it marked the start of my 50th Birthday celebrations. A highlight was when Executive Head Chef Martin Berasategui came out from the kitchen to present me with a commemorative plate signed by him wishing me Happy Birthday!
If this wasn’t enough after desserts we were presented with a stunning display of petit fours in a classic Basque sculpture style centre piece.
As a final curtain call we treated to a behind the scenes visit to the kitchen’s, the engine room of the operation and fascinating to see the different prep stations and the array of appliances and gadgets available to the brigade of chefs that form Martin’s team.
The last word really should of to Anul our waiter who guided us through the 13 course tasting menu without being obtrusive. He definitely contributed to the ambiance of the occasion.
As we left in a slightly squiffy haze dazzled by the culinary skills of this master chef I just hoped that I wouldn’t have to wait another 50 years for my next visit to a 3 michelin star restaurant!