Melody Adams and Nemanja Borjanovic open on Wednesday the Basque restaurant Donostia in London, a 40-seat restaurant that will target to be a flag bearer for the Basque cuisine.
The Donostia restaurant will target to be a flag bearer for the Basque cuisine.
It was almost by chance that Melody Adams and Nemanja Borjanovic, owners of a Basque restaurant that opens in London on Wednesday, got to know the Basque gastronomy almost three years ago. Born in England and Serbia respectively, they had no connection to the Basque Country. They were driving from London to Laguardia to pick up some wine samples for a client of their wine import business when they decided to take a rest and stop at San Sebastian, a famous tourist destination in the Basque Country, home to several Michelin-starred restaurants as well as lots of traditional pintxo-bars.
"Melody had recently read that San Sebastian was famous for gastronomy and being big fans of good food and wine we decided to stop there for the night. We were impressed by how close gastronomy was to the culture and how all the food was of superior flavor to what we had been used to and were astounded at the level of quality everywhere", Nemanja Borjanovic explains.
Nemanja and Melody connected with "simple well sourced ingredients well prepared" and continued the next day their trip to visit Bodega Landaluce with fond memories a Basque cider house "joking how it would be a good idea to have this concept in London".
Since that day, they have traveled to the Basque Country nine times and with every visit they have become more and more convinced that this "Basque culinary gem would be perfect for London". "We made friends in San Sebastian, were invited into a gastronomical society, spoke to owners of restaurants we liked and made a decision we would start this project...the rest as they say is history", Nemanja Borjanovic explains.
The new Basque restaurant, which is called Donostia after the Basque word for San Sebastian, is located at 10 Seymour Place in Marylebone. Surrounding an open kitchen, the 40-seat restaurant will target to be a flag bearer for the Basque cuisine.
Choosing a chef for the Donostia restaurant was difficult at first as there was no obvious restaurant to talk to in the UK. Nemanja and Melody also spoke to the London Basque Society who were very nice but didn't know a chef. They even tried looking in the Basque Country itself but the language barrier often proved they couldn't reach out to the right people.
Finally they found Tomasz Baranski, former head chef of Barrafina who has also worked at restaurants Fino and Brindisa for a number of years. Being Basque can help but is not necessarily a pre-requisite for success, as Nemanja explains. "One of our favorite pintxo bars in Bilbao ‘Bitoque’ is run by a chef who is from Manchester, we couldn't believe it either!"
For the past 8 years, the new Donostia head chef has had some exposure to Basque cuisine working under the supervision of Nieves Barragan Mohacho who is Basque and puts a big Basque influence on her dishes. Besides, he has been recently adding to his experience by staging in two restaurants in San Sebastian for six week in order to specialize in Basque cuisine. "Classic techniques were learned at Urepel and more modern at El Fuego Negro. He is not Basque but he lives and breathes it", Nemanja Borjanovic says.
Although Nemanja and Melody know the cuisine of star chefs such as Arzak and Berasategi, the Donostia restaurant dishes will not be as "technical" as theirs and will focus more on the everyday cuisine that they have eaten in the Basque pintxo bars and restaurants. "We love how ingredients can be made so appetizing whilst keeping a level of simplicity", Nemanja explains.
Fish will have a pivotal role on the menu, not just the bacalao and boquerones as the Donostia owners have done their homework and found some very good suppliers. The menu will change often to use seasonal produce but will also have specials like, cider house steak & cochinillo. They also expect Pil-Pil Cod Cheeks to become a house dish that visitors will need to try. "To us it represents everything that Basque cuisine is all about: simple, well sourced ingredients, handled with care and skill", Nemanja says.
As for the wines, txakoli will be from Agerre, a small family run producer from Getaria, Rioja wine from Bodegas Landaluce and cider from Bereziartua.
London is a cosmopolitan city with a large mix of nationalities and influences, the restaurant competition is fierce and the customers are unforgiving but Melody Adams and Nemanja Borjanovic assure to be ready. "This is why we have invested so much time to get the best chefs, source the best ingredients and establish strong link with the Basque country", they say.