I felt that the afternoon a group of us spent wandering the streets of San Sebastián, arguably the foodie capital of the La Rioja region, enjoying the architecture, the beach and yet more of the local tapas, before we headed back to the hotel to change before driving up into the hills for dinner at Michelin Starred Rekondo deserved its own post. If there was one place I visited in the weekend I spent in Spain last month that I'm desperate to go back to, it is San Sebastián. There was so much I did not get the chance to eat and drink.
San Sebastián was actually built by the French as a holiday resort destination; you can actually see a lot of Paris in the architecture, facades and doorways. It is such a lovely place to just take a wander around, but don't forget to look up at the buildings above you, or you'll miss something!
We headed out to the packed, but still beautiful Playa de La Concha for a walk through the spray and to enjoy the brilliant sunshine. The water was a lovely, crystal clear blue. However, we really ought to have noticed the storm clouds brewing in the distance...
Suddenly we were met by a torrential downpour, and I promise you that that totally packed beach almost completely emptied in under two minutes as everyone ducked for cover under the covered colonnade. We walked back under cover, rather than along the beach and it had eased off to just drizzle when we made it back; perfect to walk a bit into the old town in hunt of a little light afternoon tapas to tide us over.
When we'd been out for tapas the two nights previously in Logroño we'd had our dished brought to us outside the bars, so it was actually the first time we were able to select it for ourselves. We ducked into the bar that looked the best, and after ordering glasses of the local white we were each handed plates, and turned out attention to the many tiered platters of food that littered the entire bar top stretching its entire length. Clockwise from left to right we have a form of cod roe cream on bread (a bit fatty), tenderised octopus with a green pepper and raw onion salsa (absolutely delicious, though some of the pieces were not tender enough to eat!), chorizo and cheese (again, fatty), a large mussel half topped with the same salsa and the octopus (simply divine) and white anchovy, olive and salsa pintxos, which we were all utterly obsessed with.
After heading back to the hotel for a shower and a bit of a rest we headed out again to walk along the river and back into the old town to meet up with our driver who was to take us up into the hills above San Sebastián for dinner at Rekondo, and a chance to explore its famous wine cellars. We were visiting during the San Sebastián film festival so the whole of the old town was lit but beautifully, and full of red carpets and paparazzi, who were fun to watch. It was like being in Los Angeles again, but so much better.
Dinner at Rekondo was one of the things on the trip I was most excited about, and it honestly did not dissapoint. I'm usually not very fussed if places have Michelen stars or not in London, but this place really deserves one as it is really something special. The food is not fussy or played around with too much. Rekondo serves up good, regional cooing in quite a rustic setting and style, really letting the ingredients and the wines from its 150,000 strong wine cellar do the talking. And how could we not have the tasting menu?
We whetted our appetites with these croquetas. They don't look like anything special, but they were packed with melt in the mouth pork and potatoes; so gooey, creamy and more-ish. And they did this without the addition of cheese to the mix; I know this because the restaurant had been informed ahead of time that I can't eat it! We also shared big dishes in the middle of the table of Padrón peppers, blistered in local olive oil and scattered in sea salt, something that became a favourite of mine in tapas selections.
Our first proper course was a red shrimp carpaccio of local olive oil, strawberries, guacamole, raspberry, pomegranate seeds and dusted with dried black olive. Now, I know this sounds like one of those cleaver, chef dishes that don't really pay homage to simple eating, but past achieving the wafer thin pieces of shrimp, this is simply a perfectly balanced dish of fresh, almost completely (save the guacamole) unadulterated ingredients paired together in a clever (the raspberry threw me) and refreshing way.
Next we moved onto the two fish courses. First, spider crab baked in a tomato sauce which for everyone else also had cheese in. I'd never eaten crab like it, it was like a very hot, rich pate and was very good with the fresh bread that kept on being replenished on our table. I was slightly rhapsodical about the hake that came next, served in its own jus with a pair of giant clams, and clever, baby little peas that made a lovely surprise to the capers we thought we all had on our plates.
Next up we had a choice of what to have as our main dish. I did not go for, but still sampled the absolutely incredible hog roast; sweet, tender and the the perfect piece of crispy glazed skin, and with a pineapple compote and crisp that really made the pork sing. I, however, opted to take my meat from the perfectly rare 'old cow' option on the menu. Both were served with simple lettuce and onion salads and roasted red peppers in olive oil. I'll just leave you for a moment to salivate over the picture of that hunk of meat.
However, the meat was not the most exciting part of the meal. We were drinking with each course different selections of Campo Viejo's wines, but it was the bottle that was brought up from the cellars for us to all sample before we had dessert that really blew my mind. I never really understood vintage wines until we opened this bottle. In case you can't read the label, it is a 1964 Campo Viejo Rioja; a 50 year old wine from the best year in Rioja for wine that century. I had no idea what to expect from it, but even the members of the Campo team drinking with us and knew a bit about how they expected it to taste were blown away beyond their expectations. Wine browns in colour as it ages, and the different elements of flavour in a blend become more pronounced and defined. You can taste all the notes, and all the levels of the wine, and each different thing you're focusing on from sip to sip, moment to moment are heightened. How do you really explain in words an experience that transcends most of the words in the English language?
After a lovely apple tart with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert we headed down into Rekondo's expansive wine cellars, where each room was more astounding than the last, especially after having just drunk that bottle of wine. We started in the cool, more temperate room held to store whites, roses and dessert wines, before moving onto the library, with specific collections and bottles not to be drunk, such as calendars of every single year from certain wineries and vineyards. We then moved onto the reds.
I'm honestly finding it hard to describe the experince of wondering the cellars, seeing thousands of bottles lining the walls, and running your fingers across the glass of wines and vintages you've only ever read about so I'll stop here. If you're at all interested in wine, and you have at least a passing knowledge, if you visit San Sebastián, Rekondo is a stop you need to make, and not just for the sublime food. Stay tuned for the final post from my trip coming up with a totally different style, but still incredible meal and a few of my highlights from the Guggenheim in Bilbao.