Dave Pynt is the Australian chef behind Burnt Ends in Singapore, ranked 12th in this year's Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. But perhaps the bigger accolade was receiving the Chef's Choice Award last year from his colleagues.
Pynt trained under Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya's), Rene Redzepi at Noma and Fergus Henderson (St John in London). Yet his biggest influence was his stint at Asador Etxebarri in Axpe, Spain (about an hour's drive from San Sebastian) in 2010.
Basque chef Victor Arguinzoniz taught Pynt the magic of bringing out the flavour of fish, meat, and fowl using a grill. Like an adopted Basque son, Pynt was happy to return to San Sebastian in 2015 to present at The Gastronomika Congress before his Spanish chef mentors. Falling in love with this Spanish city, he has returned four times since his first visit. "Every time we go, we think how we can get back to San Sebastian." Apart from Burnt Ends, Pynt is fired up to push his barbecue game further. His latest baby is Meat Smith in Singapore's Little India district, using a spit rotisserie and tandoor oven.
What's your "must visit" restaurant in San Sebastian?
Obviously Asador Etxebarri! The menu is very seasonal, so it depends which season you go. The highlights are the house-made chorizo, made from acorn-fed pork, the mantequilla de cabra (butter made from goat's milk with black salt), the turbot, and the helado leche reducida (reduced milk ice-cream). These are always excellent. The gambas de palamos (Palamos prawns) are insane.
I always go to Restaurante Elkano as well, which is in Getaria, a fishing village some 15 kilometres west of San Sebastian. They serve seasonal seafood. My must-have when I go there are the kokotxas, which are cod throats.
What is your quintessential San Sebastian dining experience?
The pintxos bars are so unique to that part of the world. You don't spend the whole night at one. You sort of bounce between five or six different bars and you have a few things at a place and then move on. You have a drink and bump into people throughout the night. It's such an amazing and friendly place.
Old Town or Barrio Gros for pintxos?
I think there's definitely merit to both. Old Town has old world charm. It's traditional and classic. Gros has more beaches. It's a little bit more innovative, exciting and fun.
Top three pintxos bars?
I've probably got four that I always go back to: La Cepa, Bar Nestor, Geralds Bar, and Museo del Whisky.
La Cepa has the best mushrooms. They're just perfectly in season and seasoned really well. That and a glass of txakoli (a slightly sparkling dry white wine produced in the Basque country) and you're good. Go to Bar Nestor for the chuleton (T-bone steak), tomato salad, and padron peppers. There's always a queue to get in. It has one of the best steaks in the whole region. Geralds Bar is actually owned by Gerald Diffey from Melbourne. He fell in love with San Sebastian so he spends half his time out there. He's one of the musical guys on the East side of town. There's stuff like a bacon-wrapped cheese sandwich. There's charcuterie and wine reflective of the Melbourne taste.
Museo del Whisky has the best gin in town. They've got the biggest selection in San Sebastian. They serve it in a massive goblet, with live music at night. It's just a fun place to drink gin, when you finish it all.
San Sebastian has the highest ratio of Michelin Stars to its population, with only Kyoto beating them to more stars. What's your pick for Michelin Star fine dining?
I actually really enjoyed Arzak. It's just so creative and so challenging. And it was all so delicious. There were a lot of flavour combinations that I have not seen before. At the same time, I found it all really quite tasty.
Go to the kitchen and wine cellar. You will see all the different ingredients from their travels labelled in the hundreds of boxes. It's all those little touches. It's there as reference points and guides, sort of hands-on creativity. I think there's something special about that. The dish that really sticks out is the white chocolate and sweet corn, which is really, really, delicious.
Best time to visit?
For really, really good food you go in the dead of winter, around Christmastime, because you can get all the anguila (baby eel). They do all the charcuterie and all the game. But during spring, you get all the beautiful vegetables. It's really an amazing part of the world where seasons bring something beautiful you can look forward to. In the summer, you enjoy the outdoors. Take a stroll on La Concha beach. It's absolutely stunning. It's packed with people playing, swimming, and people on the footpath drinking. You can have wine in the terraces and eat some brilliant food. There's something for everyone at any time of the year.
What makes it an amazing food destination?
The thing about San Sebastian is that all those chefs and cooks from that region love the idea of hospitality, cooking, and eating. It's not about who's number one or who's number four or we're busier than you are or we cook better than you do. We cook differently and we love what you do. We hope you do really well. Show me how this is done. You know they are very supportive and engaged, and they enjoy hospitality and restaurants for what they are rather than being competition and who can be higher up in the list.
Asador Etxebarri, Plaza de San Juan, 1 48291 Atxondo, Bizkaia +34 946 583 042
Restaurante Elkano, Herrerieta Kalea, 2, 20808 Getaria +34 943 140 024
La Cepa, 31 de Agosto Kalea, 7, 9, 20003 San Sebastian-Donostia +34 943 426 394
Bar Nestor, Arrandegi Kalea, 11, 20003, San Sebastian-Donostia +34 943 424 873
Geralds Bar, Iparragirre Kalea 13, 20001, San Sebastian-Donostia +34 943 083 001
Museo del Whisky, Alameda del Blvd, 5, 20003, San Sebastian-Donostia +34 943 426 478
Restaurant Arzak, Avda Alcalde Elosegui, 273, 20015 San Sebastian-Donostia +34 943 278 465