The Professionals' Choice

This week Wendy Bartlett, managing director, bartlett mitchell let’s us in on a true foodie secret from Northern Spain…

wendyAbout Wendy

Wendy has spent her working life in contract catering. A manager of the BA VIP and Concorde lounges as well as chief operator of some of the most prestigious City of London catering contracts, Wendy lives and breathes the industry. She setup bartlett mitchell in 1999 with Ian Mitchell.

San Sebastian

As a caterer and avid foodie, I often get asked about where to go, what to do and certainly, where to eat. If you also consider yourself a real foodie, here’s my top, top tip!

In what has become a tradition, the first weekend in February every year I go with David James, bartlett mitchell’s creative director, and a few other friends to a new European destination with the specific task of exploring all things foodie. Over the past 12 years, we’ve been to some wonderful places that we would probably never have visited without this annual weekend ‘tradition’. This year was the turn of San Sebastian in Northern Spain – it’s a foodies paradise and the best find in 12 years of exploring.

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Firstly we discovered a new airline (for us) – Vueling – that flies to all sorts of small wonderful destinations in Spain from Heathrow, so we flew to La Coruna, which apparently has the largest fish market outside of Japan. Alas, we discovered that after we left La Coruna! From here we visited Santiago de Compestela and then drove all day along a beautiful coast road to San Sebastian.

Santiago, as an aside, has fantastic creamy textured cheeses that are made by local farmers’ wives who come to market to sell them along with their home grown produce – not a high street brand in sight! It’s real ‘nose-to-tail’ eating there with everything from pigs snouts, trotters, wild boar faces and all things intestinal, so I’m not sure that’s quite Tesco’s market either!

San Sebastian certainly has its Michelin star restaurants, and other great restaurants, but it’s the bars in the old town that really give you the experience. Foodie culture also extends to ‘mens cooking clubs’ where only men attend to cook for fellow men in a communal kitchen – yes really!! Slightly different to our working men clubs …the clubs in San Sebastian are all about food whereas the UK ones are sadly about beer! It’s a good measure of what the soul of San Sebastian is all about though.

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There is too much to tell in a short article but a foodie tour with a local guide is a must. Even bars are a food extravaganza and we took in everything from ‘real’ local bars to trendy ones where ‘Heston meets tapas’-style food can be found. Here are my recommendations – all tried and tested over a few nights!

  • Atari – best fois gras on toast; the shaved rock salt really bought about the flavour. Perfection!
  • Paco Bueno – for prawns in batter. Eat them with local cider
  • La Mejillonera – for wonderful mussels (you throw the shells on the floor!) & Patatas Brava
  • Gandartas – amazing sirloin pieces on toast – simple, but to die for!!!
  • La chuchara de son Telmo (the door with the wooden spoon on) – amazing beef cheeks & belly of pork and if you fancy them (and like lots of bones) – pigs trotters.
  • Bardaberri – wonderful risotto and kebab (pork ribs in fact). If you’re a brave foodie, try the pigs ears too!
  • Zerufo – Tapas meets Heston! (see picture) Really ‘out of the box’ tapas that are very innovative and push boundaries . These totally blew us away – try the cod on charcoal and a dessert of mango egg ( but watch that flower – what a weird sensation!)
  • Finally, and if you have room, La Vina for the very best baked cheesecake
  • Barirrintz, is a must for Liquors in – the best bit – edible chocolate cups!
  • End your evening with the best Gin & Tonic EVER and experience the art of making one at the Museo de Whisky – my personal favourite discovery was Brockmans

If you haven’t been to this part of Spain yet, book your next weekend there. The whole of northern Spain has the most amazing food– in my opinion, the best anywhere and certainly the best foodie destination.

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