Donostia is the Basque word for San Sebastian, the north-western coastal city that is the foodie heart of Spain and is famous for its pintxo (tapas) bars. This particular restaurant is in the slightly less exotic location of Marble Arch, in a quiet street not far from Oxford Street. Its chef Tomasz Barranski previously cooked at Barrafina, though he was not at service when I visited. The dining room was quite small and sparsely decorated, with an open kitchen at one side of the room.
The short wine list had detailed notes on each wine, prices starting at £17 but including a few grander selections. El Cortijo De La Vieja Iniza Four Cepas Tierra Laujar Alpujarra 2009 was £22 for a wine you can find in the high street for £12, Psi 2009 from Pingus was £70 for a wine that will set you back £29 in a shop, and Remirez de Ganuza 2005 was £105 for a wine that retails at £53. Bread was bought in from a bakery I had not come across, and was uninspired.
Leek, egg, apple and mayonaisse salad (£2.50) was served on a piece of toast, and was heavy on the mayonnaise and too light on the apple, so was rather too rich (2/10). Jabugo ham (£18) is a top class pata negra and is of course a bought-in product, but the carving of the ham makes a difference, and here it did not seem particularly skilled, with too many rather hard pieces served.
In San Sebastian the pinxtos bar Nestor serves the most famous tortilla in town, and I had by chance eaten this very tortilla just a few weeks before my visit here. The Donostia version (£5.50) was actually a very respectable rendition, served warm with a nicely balanced filling, the egg, potato and onion carefully cooked (4/10). Patatas bravas (£3.50) was much less good, the chips, which according to the menu were triple cooked but didn’t taste like it, were rather pale and soggy, served with a pleasant tomato sauce (1/10).
The meat dishes were on surer ground. Pluma (pork shoulder at £12.50) was carefully cooked and had very good flavour and texture, served with a punchy Romesco sauce (4/10). Quail (£10.50) with slices of pickled vegetables (such as courgette) was itself very good, the quail cooked through nicely and served whole, but the pickled vegetables, a logical enough pairing, had rather too much vinegar, the sourness rather dominating the dish (still 3/10 due to the enjoyable quail).
Lemon tart (£5) with summer fruit sauce and a couple of raspberries as garnish was very good, the pastry having pleasing texture and the lemon filling well constructed, rich but with enough acidity from the lemon to balance (4/10). Figs (£6.50) with vanilla cream were pleasant, though after eating figs from the markets in the Mediterranean it is always sad to compare the ones that we have to put up with in England. My main issue was that these figs, which were actually quite good by English standards, did not need the orange zest with them, which was rather distracting and detracted from the dish, at least to my taste (2/10). Coffee (£2.50) was a little on the bitter side.
Service was friendly enough though pretty casual e.g. drinks were topped up irregularly, and staff did not seem to always know who had ordered what; not a big deal in a tapas bar, but what was more irritating was that we turned up for an early lunch at noon (which is the time that their web site said that they opened) only to be told that the kitchen didn't start operations until 12:30 - restaurants really need to be aware that in this day and age customers are relying on the accuracy of their web sites. The bill came to £40 a head for three dishes each plus dessert, with only tap water (and a coffee) to drink. This is not unreasonable in the evening, but at lunch there are no obvious concessions, and at lunchtime many much grander London restaurants than here offer set meals for a lower price. Still, Donostia is a pleasant if slightly inconsistent addition to the already quite extensive list of capable tapas bars in London.