Posted by - 23 August 2009 - 2 Comments

Pintxos by Pintxos in San Sebastian

Enomatic wine machines at the Kensington Wine Rooms
Photography courtsey of Time Out
Every month my Aussie boyfriend (AB) and I meet with his pals DTreed and Monibonsoir for dinner club (DC). We take turns to surprise the other couple with a place for pre-drinks and dinner, with the sole aim of sharing our favourite haunts and new places to drink and eat.

Last Friday it was D & M's turn to choose. I've been known to guess their choices based simply on the nearest tube stop or postcode, so they threw me off the scent this month, by starting with drinks at the The Moose Bar opposite Selfridges.

After drinks we jumped on the Central Line and headed west to The Kensington Wine Rooms. The bar is home to a room filled with Enomatic machines, where you can help yourself to a tipple simply by inserting a pre-paid smart card. This self-service approach to drinking got me thinking about a trip I made earlier this year with my AB to San Sebastian, where helping yourself to food at the bar is the norm.

San Sebastian is a culinary Mecca for die-hard foodies. There are more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any where else in the world. I'll post a separate blog this week about the restaurants I dined at, but today I'm going to tell you about "pintxos".

Goiz, San Sebastian
Pintxos = Tapas
Pintxos is the Basque word for tapas. The pintxos bars in San Sebastian tend to fall into two types: traditional places serving the standard fare you'd expect to find in a tapas bar: tortilla, Pimentos de Padrón and jamon; to more contemporary establishments serving "alta cocina en miniatura". 

To truly enjoy pintxos in San Sebastian, you should follow the lead of of the locals and follow the rituals of "txikiteo" i.e. pintxos bar hopping. Starting at around 7pm and finishing at midnight, the aim is to sample as many bite-sized delights as possible, so eating no more than one morsel at each bar, and usually the house speciality before moving on to the next place. The average price of the pintxos is €3, so it's tricky to not over-indulge at one place, which means self-restraint is needed if you really want to sample everything San Sebastian has to offer.

Txakoli being poured by Haizea
Regardless of what type of bar you choose, the rules are the same. Simply help yourself to a plate, and select from the vista of dishes that laden the counter. Then wash everything down with a glass of txakoli, a local sparking wine which is served from a height to create more bubbles. Pintxos is about casual dining, so be prepared to stand and eat languidly at the bar, or in any spot you can find as it can get very busy, and just enjoy the buzzy atmosphere. The bars operate on a honour system, so to settle the bill you tell the person behind the bar what you've eaten.

Top five pintxos bars in San Sebastian
Most of the best pintxos bars are in Parte Vieja, but there are others around the city worth visiting. To help you plan your pintxos crawl in San Sebastian, here is a pick of my favourites. 

1. Haizea
Three Michelin-starred chefs, Juan Mari and Elena Arzak are known to frequent this relaxed and laid back bar, located next to Mercado de Brexta. Eat like a local and snap up the classic Basque pintxo, gilda made of a spicy guindilla chillie, olives and anchovies skewered on a cocktail stick. Calle Zabaleta/Zabaleta Kalea 1. 

Delicious pintxos at Haizea
Gilda: spicy guindilla chillies, olives & anchovies

2.  Goiz Argi:  This tiny bar is located in the heart of the pintxos trail is famed for its grilled prawn brochettes drizzled in piquant vingarette. The meatballs are also a must. Calle Fermin Calbertón 4.

Choose from a choice of cooked-to-order pintxos at Goiz Argi
Goiz Argi's famous prawn brochette
3. La Cuchara de San Telmo: This buzzy bar is famed for serving alta cocina en miniatura, cooked to order by two young chefs Alex Montiel and Iñaki Gulin, who have trained at the acclaimed El Bulli and Martin Berasategui. Eat the mouth-watering pan-fried foie gras and apple marmalade, and bacalao tempura. Calle 31 de Agosto 28. 

La Cuchara de San Telmo: pan-fried foie gras and apple marmalade
4. Aloña Berri: Order the award-winning "Chipiron en Equilibrio", which pairs an onion-stuffed baby squid with a cube of toasted risotto, and a sorbet made with anchovies and garnished with a wafer of deep-fried fish bone which you're instructed to eat in a particular order. You can also dine on a degustacion menu for about €30. Calle de Bermingham 24.*

Chipiron en Equilibrio

5.  Meson Martin: This is one of my favourite pintxos bars in San Sebastian. Eat deliciously light and fluffy croquetas de jamon, and sweet and tasty pan fried Pimentos de Padrón, served with a smile by the friendly father and daughter—run team. Calle de Elkano 7.

Friendly team at Meson Martin
A few articles and posts that helped me plan my pintxos crawl in San Sebastian
pintxos in San Sebastian - Times Online

*Description taken from the New York Times
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Vincent Latour said...

Unfortunately Aloña Berri has just closed (April 2010). The owners had been planning to retire for some time but failed to find a successor up to their standards. Do not discard calle de Bermingham however: Bergara is another excellent address, at the other end of the street. The pinxos are delicious. You may also order delicacies that do not appear on the menu, such as battered chipirones (the best I have ever tasted). The cava is excellent and is served generously by the barman, a charming man, who happens to be the owner.

Sophie said...

That's such sad news about Aloña Berri. Thank you for the update.

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