Donostia. Fancy a Basque?

I’m getting to like Seymour Place. It’s like an alternative Marylebone, full of interesting shops and cafes but just that little bit off the beaten track. It even has the obligatory artisan coffee shop, The Borough Barista, painted the obligatory trendy Scandi grey.

I was drawn to it first by the wallet-emptier that is Les Senteurs. Powerless as I am in the presence of fragrance of the quirky, not to say expensive kind, that shop is, frankly, an exercise in willpower. In which I fail. And in it, the most fabulous VEQ (very efficient queen- keep up) who spends hours with me, going through all the fragrances. And then gives me bagloads of samples. I love him.

But today, I managed to walk past it, even though they had a sale sign in the window, because it was lunchtime and I don’t miss meals. Not even for perfume.

Donostia. The old name for San Sebastian. Basque cuisine. You can get pinxtos and tapas. Pinxtos. Cold tapas served on a slice of bread, basically. The chef apparently came from Barrafina and you can tell. This restaurant is fairly basic in style, clean and modern, with a good bar at which you can sit and eat your pinxtos and drink your jerez. As you would expect, there were lots of words with random X’s in them, but the food was less exotic than the menu would suggest and was what I would call Spanish-with-a-twist and the Basque element was not particularly noticeable.

This is what we had:

  • Bread and olive oil. That dry white bread sliced in diagonal rounds. Not my favourite, so easy to avoid, which was an unexpected bonus, as I am doing a low-carb thing at the moment. Are you surprised?
  • Egg and leek. On a bit of white bread cut from the same stick loaf, so NOT BIG. The leek was raw and mixed in with chopped egg, both mixed together in a mayonnaise-y thing. The leek was quite strong and I felt that perhaps it should have been blanched. Maybe that’s the authentic dish and I’m a complete philistine though. That is possible .
  • Tempura prawns with bayonne ham and mango. Nice, 2 of them, not over generous.
  • Padron peppers. I like these, but really, a child of 6 could make them, so they were just as expected. I just wanted you to know they had them, in case you were wondering. I ordered two plates.
  • Then, what were priced as main dishes – a speciality, Pil-Pil; cod cheeks in a Basque sauce. These were sitting in an unidentifiable sauce with some oil and a little bit of chile and tarragon, not that you could really taste the tarragon and may be it wasn’t; maybe it was some unusual Basque herb which looks like tarragon but tastes like nothing. It was pleasant enough, but two cheeks of cod for £12.50? A tad ambitious.
  • My partner V, who likes food as much as I do (really, I never thought it was possible), ordered sea bass with artichokes and Serrano ham. I thought that dish was much more successful, and the artichokes were prepared in a rich tomato-based sauce and really, I could have eaten quite a lot of that, but there wasn’t a lot of it to eat. Are you sensing a theme here?

As we are both pretending to be on a sort of diet, we gave dessert a miss, so I can’t comment. Likewise the wine. It looked an interesting selection and reasonably priced, but will have to wait another day. A day when I am not going to Vinoteca, or 28-50. Which are both better.

Would I go back? Well, I wouldn’t make a special trip but it was pleasant, the service was fairly friendly and the food was competently done, if not spectacular. It makes a welcome addition to the local scene. And I would make a special trip to Les Senteurs.
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