Donostia: Welcome home

Visitors to the Basque region of Spain will see large adverts at the airports welcoming them to “the home of Spanish food.” This is not a bold claim, given that the city of San Sebastián has more Michelin stars per square metre than any other in the world. London may be some 1300km away from Spain’s culinary capital, but diners need not travel that far to experience some of the best food from the region. Donostia (what the locals call San Sebastián) is a 40-cover venue located in Marylebone’s restaurant quarter and provides an exceptionally good introduction to Basque cooking. Forget tacky tapas for tourists; here, it’s all about classy dishes – both small and large – prepared meticulously and presented beautifully. The Basque mentality is one based around hard work with more an emphasis on delivery rather than show. At Donostia, the venue is decorated in an understated fashion; think predominantly white, with touches of marble and grained wood, with just a few photos adorning the walls. The chefs’ work (the team is led by an ex-Barrafina employee) is what speaks most loudly here. As is common, it’s all about sharing: from the very small (pintxos – priced at £4-6 each) through to cold plates (closer to £10 a pop) and then larger warm dishes (closer to the £15 mark). Our group of five dined at the venue on a recent weekday night and sampled widely across the menu, with full plaudits to all that we consumed. What made it so good? The quality and freshness of the ingredients. Take the boquerones pictured. This was a dish of lovely white anchovies - so fresh you could almost taste the sea – paired with a slightly sweet hit of peppers and an oily swish of pungent garlic. Elsewhere, the croquetas brimmed with flavour and intensity, especially those containing local cheese such as Iraty. In terms of the mains, cod with black rice was an absolute winner while the duck breast with sweet potato purée and honey sauce also received a notable thumbs up. Puddings pleased too, both in terms of an impressive cheeseboard and a range of interestingly flavoured homemade ice creams. The wine list too deserves mention, with its distinct emphasis on sourcing local bottles. The Basques should be deservedly proud of their food and drinks prowess.