Gerald's Bar goes to San Sebastián

Author: Pat Nourse
Photography: Tim James

Noma in Tokyo? Very exciting. Heston at Crown? Pants-wettingly so. But the excitement surrounding even these epic transglobal restaurant migrations has been dwarfed by the news today that Gerald's Bar is branching out from Carlton North in Melbourne to open a second venue, in the Basque seaside city of San Sebastián this September.

Proprietor Gerald Diffey is working with a local operator to take over a restaurant called Errota Txiki. Basque for Little Grill (Diffey gleefully pronounces it "eroh-ta cheeky"), it's in the old town, on the Calle del Ángel just behind the fishing port. "It hasn't changed in the last 45 years," Diffey says. "It's beautiful: old stone, beaten copper, massive wooden beams. It's perfect, and I don't want to change it. We're just going to take some of our ephemera s*** to hang on the walls and away we go."

There won't be pintxos - "why compete with what's already there?" - and the food won't comprise traditional Basque dishes so much as a simple reflection of what's good in the region's markets: meat, cheese, bread and the bounty of the mountains and sea. "It'll be like the early days of Gerald's in Melbourne," Diffey says.

"Katherine McLaughlin, the proprietor of Barcelona Formatgeria la Seu, is a friend and she's going to help us out with some really great mountain cheeses, and Ossau-Iraty is made an hour away. You can't get much better than that."

Wine-wise it'll be a similarly personal selection, with international bottles sitting alongside Spanish names. "Everyone stocks local wine there, so as a point of difference I want to have a bit of French and a bit of Australian and Italian. We're playing to our strengths, working with things and people we know and like."

In addition to its fiercely loyal local following, the original Melbourne branch of Gerald's (Gourmet Traveller's 2010 Bar of the Year) has become something of a place of pilgrimage for vintners, writers and chefs passing through town. Heston Blumenthal has manned its decks, David Chang has downed its beers, Fergus Henderson has significantly depleted its stocks of Fernet, Stefano de Pieri has presided over impromptu feasts, and many a winemaker has danced on its tables.

Fans worried that the expansion may detract from the wonder of the Melbourne original can take comfort in the fact that Diffey is duplicating rather than dividing his famed vinyl stash, and won't be removing any of the bar's signature ephemera. "I have enough s*** to open four new places and still have some to spare." Long-time collaborator and front-of-house fixture Mario Di Ienno will also be making the transcontinental hop, and is reported to be already working on translating his signature quips into Basque.

And what of Diffey himself? He plans to split his year between Australia and Spain. San Sebastián has become something of a second home for the London-born sommelier and restaurateur of late, and he says he's ready for his Sexy Beast years. "I'm going to walk around with a ridiculous tan all year. I've already got the gold lamé budgie-smugglers," he says. "I'm wearing them right now, in fact."

Gerald's Bar, Calle del Ángel, 10, 20003 San Sebastián







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