I've noticed recently that 'productos' is a word that pops up again and again in self titled descriptions of Spanish restaurants online. As previously discussed on this website, the Spanish know that only if you start off with the very finest produce can you hope to achieve real excellence. You often see it in 'normal' everyday Spanish restaurants too. I realised this when we went to a fish restaurant in Anglesey recently. The quality was completely lacking and hugely inferior to that found in Spain. I'm guessing that customers here may not demand superior produce because they are not used to it so cannot recognise it.
There are some places that are elevated by their world class 'productos'. One such restaurant is Asador Etxebarri. Another is Ibai in the back streets of that foodie capital; San Sebastián.
Ibai is a temple for food travellers. But it's not your obvious choice like the famous starred places that people tick off their list like Arzak or Mugaritz. It's almost a secret, hidden behind an unassuming pintxos bar. The very idea of Ibai; the hidden cult status and the elevation of the product to mythical levels. All this is so attractive to me, I just knew I had to book. But it's notoriously difficult to reserve a table. You'll need a friendly Spaniard to phone for you unless you're very confident speaking another language on the phone. (I wasn't). They only open weekdays for lunch too.
Bread arrives. Strangely it is the average sort you get at usual Spanish restaurants not exceptional at all as you'd expect. We begin with a plate of warm rich Chorizo much better than the usual stuff with a dense texture and rich flavour.
Guisantes. As good and as fresh as the ones at Asador Etxebarri. The confidence of the chef, serving just a plate of peas. You're unlikely to find better anywhere.
I've seen cooking described as accurate elsewhere and you couldn't describe Ibai more perfectly. Everything in it's own genre here is about as simple and as perfect as it can possibly be, using without doubt the freshest, finest produce in this part of the world or in any world for that matter. We all loved it here, it really was a mighty fine lunch. Although it's the antithesis of 'fancy fine dining', that is indeed it's charm and part of the whole experience. My only reservation is that it's somewhere I could imagine being a little bit of a bargain but it isn't at all. Locals I hear describe it as overly expensive and in anyone's book, it is. With a Michelin star restaurant you can see where your money goes; service and staff. That isn't the case here.
The question is would I return? Even though we all enjoyed it, I wouldn't, as we've experienced it now. There are too many quality choices here in San Sebastián for a lot less money too.
You pay your money you take your choice but as a one off experience and with 'producto' of this quality, Ibai is hard to beat.