By the time we finished checking in at the Villa Soro, it was almost 2 p.m. and we were ready for some lunch. I had recently read about Aloña Berri and their award-winning pintxos (tapas)and was looking forward to trying them. The lady at the reception told us that it was a short walk away so we left our car at the hotel and proceeded to Calle Bermingham, known for its’ many pintxo bars. We almost missed it since the entryway is quite small with a very simple sign. The restaurant has a few tables right near the bar and a few more in a separate area for a la carte items. The interiors are simple with lace-covered windows and wooden tables and chairs.
Aloña Berri, which opened in 1986, has this as their motto: alta cocina en miniatura (miniature haute cuisine) which is apparent in the large variety of both cold and hot pintxos with original names in the menu.
On the bar was a large spread of cold pintxos with the hot pintxos made to order. Most cold pintxos are on slices of baguette although there were also some on ceramic spoons. From the cold selection, we had the Mosaico – goat cheese, fig and walnut; then one with smoked salmon, onions, pickles, mayonnaise and cream both on bread. On ceramic spoons, we tried the shredded duck confit with caramelized pineapple and finally the nine-ingredient Guiller which has aioli, thin slice of aubergine, Hollandaise sauce, bacalao (salt cod), quail egg, purple potato, a spinach leaf, trout eggs and caramelized red wine.
From the hot pintxos, we chose five: Milhojas – paper-thin slices of potato, a sliver of goose liver, a thin slice of apple, chive, parsley and Maldon sea salt; Brandada de Bacalao – shredded salt-cod, mashed potato, scrambled quail eggs, Hollandaise sauce, olive oil and garlic; a wild mushroom and mashed potato croquette. Two special creations followed – the Tobogan de Mar which was a sauteed slab of txitxarro (horse mackerel), a long piece of caramelized sugar chip topped with salmon roe, dehydrated black olives, flower petals, apple and an arugula sprout and finally, the award-winning Chipiron en Equilibrio – a flavorful combination of baby squid eaten in this order: first, the crispy squid-ink risotto followed by the caramelized sugar chip encrusted with red peppercorns, then the grilled baby squid stuffed with onion confit and finally a shot of concentrated seafood consomme. We enjoyed our meal with a glass of slightly chilled Crianza (100% Tempranillo) from Bodegas Campillo in the Rioja.
As an introduction to pintxos, Aloña Berri is undoubtedly the best choice. With a few small bites, we were given a taste of the gastronomic Basque cuisine we had heard and read so much about. After our wonderful lunch, we walked leisurely towards Zurriola beach to watch the surfers and sunbathers enjoy the rest of the afternoon.
Calle Bermingham, 24 20001 San Sebastian
Tel: +34 943 29 08 18
***** Food (excellent choice of distinctly different cold and hot pintxos)
*** Atmosphere (the interiors could do with a bit of modernizing)
***** Service (helpful, efficient and friendly)
My tip: Sit at one of the tables by the bar instead of in the main restaurant and order a load of pintxos to share.