I’m having a pleasant day strolling around the city of San Sebastian. It’s Saturday, the weather has improved and everyone is out strolling the promenade and browsing in the shops for some Christmas gift inspiration. The old town bars are full of local Real Sociedad football fans, dressed in the sky blue shirts and scarves of their team. They are enjoying a snack of pintxos and a beer before the match starts. I’m also feeling hungry so I look for a local restaurant offering a menu del dia (daily menu). San Sebastian is known for its Michelin starred fine dining, in fact I am staying only a few hundred yards from the renowned restaurant Akelarre, but I’m looking for something more authentically local and for a much smaller budget.
The first restaurant I find is up a flight of stairs in what looks like someone’s front room. Tables and chairs are squashed into every conceivable space and waitresses squeeze between them with carefully balanced trays of plates. There are tables free but I’m told they are full, or perhaps they don’t want to waste their precious table space on a single diner. I wander towards the new town and the cathedral district, where I find some more options. Restaurant Ardandegui has a promising menu board, so I go through the door and down the stairs into the cellar. Beyond the bar, which is piled high with plates of pintxos, is a large dining area of dark wood benches. It is crowded but a large coach party of pensionistas are just leaving. The busy but calm waiter sits me at a table next to another large group of Spanish ladies who are talking so loudly and animatedly that they are drowning out the ABBA background music.
The €13.50 menu del dia offers several choices for first and second courses. My Spanish is almost non-existent and I’ve forgotten my phrase book so I decide to take a leap of faith. I order Revuelto de Setas y Gambas (I know that gambas is prawns) and Bacalao Encebollado (I vaguely recognise the word bacalao and the waiter tells me that it is a fish). Then I patiently pick at my French baguette and sip my glass of red wine while I wait to discover what I have ordered. The Revuelto turns out to be scrambled eggs with prawns and wild mushrooms. It’s a warming and comforting way to start lunch. Meanwhile the Spanish ladies are being served their second or main course. There is steak, chicken, fish and some kind of brown slop served in a crab shell. I pray that I haven’t ordered that! When my own main course arrives, it turns out to be cod fillet, served in a ceramic pot with caramelised onions and topped with a few frites. For dessert I order what I believe to be cheesecake. It is a very light slice of soft, white, creamy flan on a base of crushed walnuts and drizzled with caramel sauce. It seems that my leap of faith was rewarded with a delightful lunch of local food.