“ Address: Paseo Heriz / Heriz Pasealekua / 3 / 20008 / Donostia-San Sebastian / Spain Address: +34 943 578 391 „
When the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano erupted back in April, I was in Portugal. After several days of repeatedly cancelled flights, my colleague, his wife and their 2 year old son took to the road to drive home. Yes, it was crazy, but it wasn't all bad. For one thing, it gave me a reason to go to San Sebastian, a lovely town that I don't imagine I'd ever have visited under any other circumstances.
We checked in at our hotel and then took a stroll to the beach. After having a paddle in the sea and soaking up the fresh sea breezes, we needed to find some food. Marita, my colleague's wife, stopped a passer-by to ask where the city centre was. In pigeon Spanish she asked him 'good restaurant'? and he babbled at us very fast waving his arms around and gesturing to us to follow. What luck (or not) - we had just got ourselves a tour guide and we couldn't understand a word he said. Both Marita and I were caught in the trap of "I don't have a clue what you're saying but I'll nod and smile a lot and hope you give up and let us go". We were OK as long as he did the talking but were floored when he asked us questions instead. Eventually, we spotted a church and faked a sudden interest in taking photos and we ran away. Rude? Possibly, but if this had gone on much longer we'd have been back at his house getting fed by his wife.
~Finding the Bidarte~
We strolled around in search of anything that looked like a restaurant and eventually found an advertising board on the street corner advertising the Bidarte. They offered a 12Euro three course deal and we could understand at least half the items on the menu. We hunted around to find the entrance down a side alley, stepped down a few stairs and into a small subterranean restaurant.
The restaurant was laid out in an L-shaped room which gave the strange impression of making the place look bigger than it really was. In total there were only about 10 tables but even so the poor single waiter was running around like a headless chicken looking after all his customers. The room had thick yellow stone walls and the floors were red quarry tiles. The alcoves were stuffed with a weird variety of 'country-themed stuff' - old wooden ploughs, stuffed chickens and barn tat and there were lots of old black and white photographs on the walls.
We took a table for four close to the door and Marita wheeled her son into place beside the table. They had no child's highchair so she tried him on a regular chair but after an 8 hour drive that day he wasn't in the mood to settle or, unfortunately, to eat much either and was soon back in his pushchair having a nap. He'd picked up a temperature and our meal was rather cut short by his mum's concern for him. Perhaps we shouldn't really have gone out with an unwell child but fact is you've got to eat something.
The aforementioned waiter brought the menu and we muddled along. He spoke no English and it probably isn't a priority since I doubt that many Anglos make it to this particular little corner of Spain. We could have tried bad French but we weren't too bothered and could more or less get by. The menu stated that the price included wine, bread and water but the waiter asked what drinks we wanted and we asked for water and two beers. When Marita later asked for wine, he tried to bring a bottle rather than a glass and we had some confusion. All the drinks ended up on the bill at the end so I think the free water and wine might have been only for people who spoke Spanish and understood the system.
There were four choices for each of the three courses. Starters included a tomato tart, some kind of salad with meat in it, something called a 'revuelto' of prawns and asparagus, and a fourth dish which I didn't make a note of but it was almost certainly meaty or I'd have remembered. Main courses on offer included a chicken dish, a pork dish, tuna and something else which I thought was probably a flat fish but I wasn't confident enough to take a risk on it.
The beer we received was bottled Heineken which seemed a bit strange. It's not as if Spain doesn't have a thriving beer industry but it was cold and fizzy and hit the spot. A basket of bread was brought to the table and the bread was still warm, though disappointingly of the 'bake from frozen' mass-produced baguette type. OK, it's a cheap restaurant so perhaps I shouldn't be so picky.
~Tucking In - vomit eggs and grey gravy~
After ten or fifteen minutes nibbling on the bread and supping our beers the starters arrived. Dominik had the tomato tart and Marita and I had both ordered the revuelto. On first appearances, Dominik seemed to have won big on the 'value for money' stakes with two big square tarts with puff pastry base and thick baked slices of juicy Spanish tomato on top. It really was far too much for a starter portion. I had been tempted by the idea of the tart but was very relieved to have not taken it as there was a thick slice of ham between the pastry base and the tomato top. Please tell me if I'm being unreasonable but wouldn't you expect that to be described as a 'tomato and ham' tart and not a tomato tart? As a fishitarian, I'd have been really annoyed if I'd just wasted one of my courses on something that I'd have to send back untouched. Being a Brit, I'd then probably have given myself indigestion from the fear of causing offence to a waiter and chef that I'd never see again.
The 'revuelto' was a revelation. I had no idea what it was going to be but it looked (please look away now if you are squeamish) like someone ate a load of prawns and asparagus and had then been sick into the bowl. It was like heavily undercooked scrambled egg but it tasted absolutely fantastic. Probably this is the sort of dish best avoided by anyone with a delicate tummy or anyone who is pregnant or paranoid about salmonella poisoning, but it was juicy, fresh and extraordinarily tasty with an interesting blend of herbs and seasoning. I checked with a Spanish friend who confirmed that it really IS supposed to look like that. The online dictionary I checked told me that revuelto comes from the verb 'revolver' which means to turn or to rotate so I'm guessing it's roughly the same as our idea of scrambled eggs.
The main courses were a little bit of a let down after the starters. Marita and Dominik had both chosen a chicken dish which came as two large drumsticks per person surrounded by a very beige onion and herb gravy. My dish was bonito which should be a type of smaller tuna. It was a very big piece with some killer bones and a slight off taste that suggested it wasn't quite as fresh as it should have been. It was served with a juicy and rich tomato sauce which was needed to lubricate the rather over-cooked tuna. I like my tuna still pink in the middle (to tell the truth, raw is still too well done for a sushi-queen like me) and this wasn't a great piece of tuna or particularly well cooked. In each case, there were no vegetables of any kind to break the monotony of a large slab of protein. I'm used to this being the way things are done in Spain but I still find it very disappointing to not have a mix of vegetables, starch and protein all together on the dish.
For puddings we again had four choices - cheese cake, lemon cake, brownie or fruit kebab. Dominik and I went for the lemon cake which was a bit disappointing and rather like a the 'out of a packet' cheesecake I made far too often in my student days. Marita had the fruit kebab which was served with a hot chocolate sauce that was so good that she only remembered that she'd intended to share it after she'd despatched the last piece of fruit and scraped the final trace of sauce off the plate.
We turned down the offer of coffee and asked for the bill which came to a few cents short of 47Euro. Since the three 'menus' were 36, this meant an extra 11Euro for water, two beers and a glass of red wine which didn't seem extreme although perhaps the water and the glass of wine really ought to have been covered by the menu. It certainly wasn't enough of an over-charge to be wroth attempting an argument with a waiter who spoke no English and still represented one of the best value meals of our trip.
If you find yourself in San Sebastian - lucky you - and you want a decent value dinner, then I don't think you can argue too much about the Bidarte. The menu apparently changes daily although I think that if my rather poor Spanish serves me well, they also have a second slightly fancier menu on the weekends which costs 21Euro. The restaurant is closed on Sunday evenings.