Basques beware, there’s serious competition going on this side of the Bay of Biscay, namely a chic little bar and restaurant going by the name of Donostia, i.e. San Sebastian, that Basque foodie mecca (see earlier blog). This place opened just a few weeks ago in the well-heeled backstreets between Marble Arch and Marylebone. Being a pintxo aficionado, it didn’t take much to get me over there, even on yet another rainy night of our delightful English summer.
I expected there to be a line up of pintxos and waiters speaking that incomprehensible language cluttered with x’s, k’s and z’s. But no. This light, airy space turned out to be run by an Anglo-Serbian couple, Nemanja and Melody, he behind the bar, she watching over the service at tables, and our charming waiter was from Gran Canaria. Four chefs headed by Tomas Baranski (ex-Barrafina) cooked up a storm behind the L-shaped bar, reminding me of that legendary tapas-bar in Barcelona, Cal Pep where ambrosial dishes are conjured up before your eyes. So we settled into our table at the window beneath a suspended jamon, looking out at the deluge and forlornly wet pavement tables. Summer 2012 will be memorable for more than just the Olympics.
But back to the menu, Surprisingly, the word pintxo (Basque tapa) didn’t feature once, instead it was all about tapas, i.e. freshly cooked little dishes. Tempting ones at that, so to kick off I went for the tempura prawn with mango and my partner the delicious little slivers of marinated anchovy, boquerones. Here they are, in great pics by Richard Heald that I confess to have lifted from Donostia’s website (no camera – duh). Next came a rosy and tender pigeon with peas and pancetta, perfectly cooked, as were the flakey cod cheeks in pil pil sauce. A crispy fried squid, though feather-light, had just too much batter.
To wash it down I went for an intriguing biodynamic wine from La Rioja, Gran Cerdo (meaning ‘big pig’!) – at only £3 for a small glass I couldn’t go wrong. Its ballsy, earthy flavour perfectly suited my mood, so along came another glass. When I asked, Melody said yes, they did have txakoli, (that wonderful, gently sparkling white wine from coastal vineyards) by the bottle as well as Basque cider by the glass, so you can drink in true Euskadi style.
Donostia (London) has already got a great buzz, you can grab a stool at the bar or sit at a table, and the prices won’t kill you – count on £60 – 70 for two including a few glasses of wine. So go Donostia! www.donostia.co.uk