Food review: San Sebastian

1089 Gold Coast Highway, Palm Beach Ph: 07 5599 4772

In the streets of San Sebastian, friends walk down the street arm in arm, making their way from one bar to another. There’s a mood of celebration, and why shouldn’t there be? San Sebastian is considered Spain’s foodie capital. The surrounding area of Northern Spain is home to the highest number of Michelin star restaurants in the world. This town, in particular, is even more famous for its pintxos, the Basque equivalent of tapas, the pintxos bars in the old quarter of San Sebastian forming the cornerstone of its food culture.

The word “pintxos” (pronounced ‘pin-choss’) literally translates as “skewer”, and while the term traditionally referred to snack-like foods served on top of a slice of bread or mounted on skewers, it also refers to any small plate served with drinks in the Basque area. Prawn skewers, anchovies, mussels, suckling pig, grilled octopus or even cheesecake are on offer. Diners wander from bar to bar picking and choosing among the specialties of each place, ordering as they go, and paying for what they’ve eaten by an honour system as they leave.

Our own San Sebastian at Palm Beach pays homage to the town, introducing the pintxos tradition to the Gold Coast.

Owners, Chef Nikki Graieg (ex-Bin 12 and Glenelg Public House) and Alanah Mounsey (Little Truffle, Little Plate) fell in love with the tradition of enjoying food and wine with friends, dining in a leisurely, meandering fashion. When the space formerly occupied by tapas bar Spoonfull became available, the pair opened their own Spanish pintxos bar.

Like San Sebastian, they’ve placed their bar in a seaside town renowned for its surf, not far from a border. While recreating the culture (including the throwing of napkins and discarded mussel shells) is a hard ask, the owners have based their menu firmly in Spanish tradition using the best of local seafood and produce to give their own twist to the Mediterranean fare.

The mantra ‘eat, drink and chill’ sums up the dining philosophy: graze your way through the evening as you sip on your favourite beverage. Chill out and enjoy the journey; so well suited to our own laid back Palmie style.

So, graze we do, as a procession of dishes emerges from the kitchen. Smaller pintxos dishes such as Grilled haloumi with pear, jamon and honey glaze; Mushroom, potato and cheese croquette; Prawn brochette with roast pepper and jamon; Boiled quail egg with anchovy, and slightly larger tapas dishes or ‘raciones’ (to share… or not) such as Roast beetroot and goats cheese salad; Fried anchovies with citrus thyme aioli; Empanadas; Seafood ajillo with olives and mushrooms; Panko-crumbed eggplant with blue cheese, honey and walnuts; and Spanish-style meatballs arrive at the table, each one a little masterpiece of taste. Cheese from across the Mediterranean features heavily on the menu (haloumi, goats, triple cream brie, blue, and manchego) as do potatoes, seafood and meat.

We finish off with tiny flourless Valencia orange cakes, and mini churros dipped into chocolate sauce, licking our fingers to lap up each grain of cinnamon sugar.

Every morsel is delicious, whether fried, smoked, wrapped in jamon or sweet, complimenting a Pisco Sour, San Miguel, or 43, a local Ink Gin with Fever tonic or Spanish Daze cocktail with cava, rose vermouth, passionfruit, grapes and mint.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? Pintxos are accompaniments to drinks, the meal taking place at your leisure, ordering as you want between glasses, the food providing sustenance to keep on with the party. And with San Sebastian catering for up to eighty people, what a party it is!

NOTE: Marj dined as a guest of San Sebastian.

Read more of Marj’s reviews on Good Food Gold Coast

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