As we say in Malay, ‘bak cendawan tumbuh selepas hujan’ which translates to ‘like mushrooms sprouting after the rain’. The tapas culture has hit London like a storm. I am constantly on the lookout for good tapas places, not only for food but for the wine, atmosphere and people too.
Tucked in a little side street that connects at Seymour Place with Upper Berkeley Street in Marylebone, Donostia joined the London tapas arena early this year. Initially visiting on a friend’s recommendation, I have since been there many times and can say it has been one of my favourite places to go of late. If you like Barrafina and Jose’s in London you will love it too.
Donostia, which is Basque for San Sebastian, offers the first authentic Cocina Vasca (Basque Cuisine) in London and needless to say, the food is delicious and beautifully crafted by head chef, Thomas Baranski. For all whom do not recognise this name, Thomas is the former head chef of Barrafina also worked at Fino and Brindisa. To top it all, Thomas’s not only trained, but excelled in Urepel, one of the most respected restaurants in San Sebastian, Spain.
Donostians (people of San Sebastian) are gastronomes, they love their food, love cooking it, talking about it and eating it. This is how I felt being in Donostia, they have a passion for their food, they love to discuss their food, they want to know what you think about the food, they serve it well and cook it phenomenally.
Donostia offers a daily menu of the more famous Basque dishes, to name a few; croquettes, tortilla bacalao, pil-pil and Jamon (from the Basque Kintoa pig), specials are introduced daily. Basque cooking it’s an art in itself, authentically Spanish, traditional and with a touch of modernism. Basque cooking is a cultural, historic and economic revolution in Spain. It was in 1975, when the traditional heavy and creamy food was refined, modernised, and experimented with by chefs who were influenced by the finesse of French cooking from the north, resulting in elegantly crafted Spanish cuisine.
Basque cuisine may at times seem to have combinations that sound outright sinful, but that it is why it stands out, it’s unique; its art and with the right chef it is a masterpiece. However, it is yet to achieve its deserved acclaim and has yet to get the attention it deserves. What better way to start spreading the word than in the exuberant city of gastronomic varieties and culture of London.
The wines are no less interesting and are handpicked by the co-owners Melody Adams and Nemanja Borjanovic (who also owns Mountain Valley Wines).They provide regional Spanish wines that compliment the food and stimulates the curiosity, especially if you have palette for regional Spanish wine, like I do.
I love my Spanish wines, especially the regional ones. When I was in Spain, I was fortunate enough to try different regional wines. Most of these wines never make its way to import market; so you can imagine how exciting it was glancing through the wine list. What they have in Donostia are wines that you never knew existed. From fresh, round, fruity, and bold; they complement the different varieties of food, your palate and even your mood.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do; as they say. In this case, when in Donostia, do as the Donostians do and have a txakoli. A green, slightly sparkling, dry white wine poured from great height into a tumbler. Now, this was the first for me. I loved the idea and enjoyed this ‘spritzy’ white wine. A definite must try.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my visits to Donostia for the food, the wine and the staff. Sometimes I feel I am in one of those famous and often spoken about gastronomic clubs of San Sebastian ‘txokos’; where you cook, eat and talk about the food. Well, I am undoubtedly not cooking there (that’s a shame, what better what to enjoy the food you love than by cooking it yourself), but the experience being in Donostia is very much like a being a Donostian yourself.