I´m not a nostalgic person. Part of this is due to the fact that I have the memory of a drunk goldfish – I often find myself calculating my age from my year of birth as opposed to just automatically knowing. I prefer listening to other people’s histories than remembering my own, especially from people who have lived more interesting and exciting times than I have. And I certainly have no right to be nostalgic about the good old days of San Sebastián, my first visit here was only 14 years ago and I´ve only been living here 9 or so. Fortunately I can work all these sates out from my CV and DonostiLass helped me write that so it must be true!
But even in this time I´ve seen a lot of changes in San Sebastian. And one of the things that is most noticeable are the amount of “always shops” which have shut down. I´m translating that, pretty badly granted, from the Spanish expression “de siempre” cause I can’t think of a better way to put it. Shops which have lasted forever. Shops which have always been there. Shops which have character, charm, history and individuality.
I´m thinking of places like Graphos, a shop close to the corner of the Boulevard and the Calle Mayor in the old part which sold exclusively travel guides and maps. Or Comet, the bike shop in the Avenida which was an oasis in amongst all the banks and building societies. Or deli whose name I don’t remember in la Plaza de Gipuzkoa with the boar´s head above the entrance which for ages was the only place that I could find selling Bovril and Heinz Baked Beans. Or the antique bookshop in Reyes Catolicos.Or El Pez art gallery. I suppose I´m more sensitive than most to this as DonostiLass´ family owned a shop which lasted 60 years until my in-laws decided to retire a year or so ago and nobody wanted to take over the running of it. It´s now a fruit shop.
The real shame is that these locals are then taken over by shops in the majority selling tat. These shops are referred to here as “los chinos”, shops run by Chinese that sell, err, everything… kitchen utensils, cheap toys, DVDs, footballs, coat hangers, slippers, Armani suits, toilet brushes, fancy dress, glue, tables and chairs, just, well, everything (ok maybe one of those was made up). Other new start businesses seem to find it hard to survive which is unsurprising due to the extortionate rents that are being asked for.
A couple of years ago my favourite furniture shop closed down. Now that may seem a fairly odd thing to have but for someone at my stage of life who has bought a flat and is gradually filling it with things that he likes, this is important. And in my defence I only realised it was my favourite furniture shop after it shut and I didn’t know where to go and buy stuff. I´m not an obsessive furniture buyer or a collector or anything, my TV sat on top of a cardboard box for 18 months while I got round to buying a unit for my living room. And I only changed that cause I bought a plasma and the box was too narrow. Oh shit, I just realised that I could have put the telly on top of the box that it came in and saved myself a fortune. Now that was an oversight.
Considering the local is sat right on the edge of the zurriola beach and has enormous windows from which you can contemplate the surf, maybe it was better suited to other uses than selling furniture. And a few months after shutting down “Itxas Magalean” emerged in its place, a bar, restaurant and cafeteria which makes the most of these views. It’s a great bar to meet at the start of the night, a great entry point for some of the best pintxo bars which are just a little way down the street. It’s open, airy, light and modern, with plenty of tables and chairs for chilling as well as a long bar with high stools. Due to its size, it can lack atmosphere when there are only a few people about. Unfortunately it can also become incredibly noisy when there are a lot of people.
I like it best in the morning or early afternoon for a coffee when it most benefits from the light coming in the enormous windows and there’s lots of activity outside. My favourite breakfast of late has become grilled croissant with apricot jam and a white coffee and it more than passed the test in Itxas Magalean. It is slightly let down by its offering of spirits and wines, there was very little choice and the house whites and reds were pretty standard fare. I had been in quite a few times before trying their pintxos and was really looking forward to the experience. So when I arranged to meet Jon from San Sebastian Food for a few pintxos in Gros it seemed like a good chance to give
them a go. The menu looks great, loads of choice, loads of variety and with a couple of intriguingly original looking bites. I was also drawn in by the nice minimalist design of the menu, the cool fonts and confident presentation. So we ordered up a few and I wasn’t disappointed by what I saw when they were brought out, the tempura prawn looked fantastic and had been recommended by the waiter as something a little different. But the proof of the prawn is in the tasting, as they don’t but should say. And although it looked great, it was all a bit of a jumbled mess on the pallet. Tastes which didn’t quite complement each other, too little taste of prawn, too much taste of sauces. Textures that were slightly off putting. The subsequent pintxos were pretty much the same. Maybe we ordered too many pintxos, cause the chef looked like he couldn’t really be bothered by the time it came to making the pork loin skewer, a sadder looking pintxo I have rarely seen. And most of it remained on the plate. A safe bet pintxo for me is to ask for anyhhing with goats cheese, but here it was nothing special. Better on the eye than on the tongue and that´s no good.
So we left Itxas Magalean behind to try more assured delights in some favourite bars a little further into Gros. I’m sure I’ll be back. But more than likely just for a beer.
Itxas Magalean, Nafarroa Hiribidea, 2 , 20013, 943 32 12 25.