I told the waiter that our meal was better than much of what we’d had in San Sebastián. He was aghast and said “but this is just imitation!”
Donostia is the Basque name for San Sebastián; a city that’s now widely thought of as the gastro-capital of Europe, if not the universe. It also gives its name to this popular, unassuming little Basque kitchen, tucked away on Seymour Place near Marble Arch.
We discovered it completely by accident on a visit to The Lockhart, just a few doors away. It was full of people happily scoffing tapas and pinxtos. A quick peek at the menu and our minds were made up, we’d return here sooner rather than later.
There are some excellent tapas restaurants in London, as well as plenty that are bland and mundane. Still, let’s not beat ourselves up, this is also true of San Sebastian itself. If you make a trip over, don’t expect to be blown away by every single pinxto bar in the old town. Most of these are tourist traps. Fun for a caña or two and a few nibbles but not much else. There are exceptions but most of the great restaurants are in the hills that surround the city.
Donostia got plenty of critical praise and attention after its launch in 2012 but has been flying under the radar since, putting bums on seats through word of mouth alone. If you eat here, it’s best to arrive early so you can take your pick of the daily specials. We did exactly that and then watched as they were taken-off one-by-one as they sold out.
A good test of any tapas restaurant is the croquettes. These were crispy and not at all greasy, with a smooth, creamy filling. Their tortilla also deserves a mention. As I cut into it, out oozed a runny, caramelised onion centre. Cod cheeks could’ve been a little crisper but the accompanying squid ink aioli more than made up for this. Clams cooked with chorizo and sherry was every bit as good as any similar dish we’ve had in Spain.
The best dishes were by and large the meaty ones. Chorizo Ibérico de Bellota was a big portion that disappeared in what seemed like seconds. Quail was nicely seasoned, crispy and a delight to eat. Ibérico de Bellota shoulder was a lovely, tender cut of meat and the romesco sauce on the side was nutty, peppery and a perfect match for the pork.
I told the waiter that our meal was better than much of what we’d had in San Sebastián. He was aghast and said “but this is just imitation!” I had meant it as a compliment but his pride in Basque cooking is clear to see. He suggested that we’d just been to the wrong places and recommended we check out their blog if we’re planning another trip over. It’s definitely worth a read.
Donostia is all about good quality ingredients, cooked with care and attention. Similarly, the booze is another big plus point. The owners are wine importers so most of the drinks list is self-sourced and imported, including Sagardoa (Basque natural cider) and a rather good Txakoli (Basque dry white wine) at extremely reasonable prices.
You will definitely need a reservation here. This is one of those restaurants that’s genuinely popular, not just a passing fad.
Food plus service approx £83
Total bill for two: £110Visit site
Address: 10 Seymour Place, London W1H 7ND
Tel: 0203 6201 845