Near Marble Arch, a small but bright tapas bar/restaurant which draws its inspiration from San Sebastian, and whose small dishes generally impressed on our early-days visit.
e've never been too much troubled by 'authenticity'. That pan-fried fish you washed down with a bottle of local plonk in some idyllic Aegean port is never going to taste the same as the ‘same’ meal consumed in, say, a Bermondsey back street bistro. It’s not even anything to do with the availability or freshness of the fish: clever people have proved that even the crockery you eat off affects your perception of taste, so transform the whole environment and you can safely assume that taste totally transforms too.
This musing is inspired by a visit to a new restaurant in 'Portman Village' (homage to 'Marylebone Village’, presumably), near Marble Arch. It's called Donostia, which is we all know is another name for San Sebastian. So it’s all about like-being-in-San-Sebastian? Right?
Well, as it happens, we went there once. Rained a lot. And as much as we can recall, the eating places we stumbled into were all very informal, and to that extent didn’t have a great deal in common with the bright but fairly conventionally laid out bar/restaurant-style operation we encountered in W1. But perhaps that's because we were tourists in San Sebastian. And so in a particular part of town, and with a susceptibility for the easy and obvious. Does our weekend’s experience a few years ago define ‘authentic’ today? Could it? Who’s to say?
Would a 'real' San Sebastian operation offer, say, a very good tarte au citron, very much à la française, as we enjoyed in Portman Village. We suspect not. But it did nothing to spoil a meal in which the small savoury dishes had almost all been very tasty. Txipirones certainly sounds authentic enough, and this dish of spicy, crispy squid was particularly good. We also enjoyed Usoa - pigeon with peas and pancetta. Pigeon is an acquired taste, and not one that always works for us, but here it was something of triumph (if not for a guest, who found it “a bit too gamey”).
So, authentic or not, this is an establishment we much enjoyed visiting. At the end we found ourself talking to one of the proprietors, who was pretty obviously English. So, we asked about the others. We're a group of friends who just got swept away by a visit to San Sebastian, she said. So the others aren’t from San Sebastian, or even from Barcelona? Er, no. They’re from Poland, you know…