After the amazing turbot at Elkano and mouth-watering Galician beef at Etxebarri, it was the turn of Ibai, another Basque gem in San Sebastian focusing on excellent ingredients. Alicio Garro name might not be famous internationally, yet he is one of the finest chefs I’ve ever encountered. When perfect, seasonal ingredients are concerned, Basque country is very like Japan. Minimum cooking and maximum freshness is what counts most and in Japan, and in Basque.
Ibai, located in a basement of a tapas bar and opened only for lunches on the weekdays, is not a conventional restaurant you might expect to visit in Spain. Chef Alicio Garro and the two hosts ( family members?) are known for their unwillingness to take reservations, although this time I got my table two days prior to my lunch. The ambiance at the restaurant is non-existant and is very much like at traditional kaiseki restaurants in Japan. Once the restaurant opens at 1.30 pm, you are shown down the stairs to the basement. “Modest” is pretty much all that I can say about the interior design of the dining room.
The cooking here, though, is stellar. Like Japan, Basque country is worth visiting twice per year for the various products available during the different seasons. This time it was the season of “guisantes lágrima” or “teardrop peas”, which are only grown in an area of five hectares north of Guipuzcoa and can cost up to 200 euros a kilo. They were followed by perfect baby Saint- George mushrooms with scrambled eggs and tender lobster with a delicious sauce made of lobster heads, a dash of olive oil and vinegar. The simple rice with clams and parsley dish was a satisfying end to my meal, very light and pure in flavours. Finally, I didn’t manage to clarify what the homemade ice cream was made of, but it was really tasty. Happiness was the state of my mind when I left the restaurant, one of the greatest (and atypical) “off the radar” restaurants I’ve been to.
Ibai: Calle de Getaria, 15, 20005 San Sebastian,Spain; tel. +34 943 42 87 64