San Sebastian’s counltess pintxos bars are sources of almost instantaneous pleasure, and one that does this better than most others is Ganbara. No matter whether you’re feeling peckish and drop in for a glass of txakoli and a couple of bites at the bar or plan on having a full meal at the restaurant in the basement, this is pretty close to heaven for anyone with a passion for food and wine.
Ganbara is great because no matter whether you come minutes after it opens or late at night, the warm, passionate team around Amaiur Martinez make sure you’re well looked after and have a good time. The wine list is clearly chosen with great attention to detail, as it features the finest wines from Spain, France and elsewhere.
With the backdrop of a warm welcome and superb wine list, we come to the question of the food at Ganbara. There really are two sides to the equation here: the pintxos bar and the restaurant. The pintxos at the bar are certainly not to be sneezed at and without doubt among the finest in town. Take the mini croissants with iberico ham for instance. Buttery, fluffy little croissants, liberally stuffed with nutty, meltingly tender iberico ham make for an almost sinful bite. Spider crab tartlets are just as moreish: before being finished in the oven, a little knob of butter is placed atop each of them, which then melts into the crab meat making this something to avoid when on a diet. Instead of describing each individual pintxo that Amaiur Martinez and his team serve, suffice to say that they are all packed with flavour and will leave you wanting more.
In contrast to the comforting pintxos served at the bar, the dining room in Ganbara’s basement is a different story altogether. Here, the food is more refined and light. As is commonly the case in product-focused restaurants in the area, you will be served dishes featuring at most 2 components on the plate, so don’t come here expecting fancy foams and gels.
A dish that is also served at the bar, and has become the restaurant’s signature is a selection of wild mushrooms with a raw egg yolk and optional pan-fried foie gras. This is a plate of perfectly sourced and expertly cooked and seasoned mushrooms that you ‘dress’ with the creamy egg yolk. In many ways, this captures what Ganbara is all about: understated, refined food cooked by chefs, conscious of the product quality at their disposal.
Squid with caramelised onions are another superb dish: crunchy, springy squid come with intensely flavoured onions that intensify the sweetness of the squid and give them a richness of flavour. This is not rocket science, and it does not require the chefs to perform any stunts in the kitchen, but it is food that simply leaves a smile on your face.
Ganbara is a restaurant that has a soul. It feels like you’re being looked after when you come. The food that comes with this experience is so good that it simply will have you come back and back again for as long as you stay in San Sebastian. No restaurant can hope for a bigger compliment than a happy, returning guest.