Restaurant Arroka Berri – Excelente!

Restaurant Arroka Berri (The Rocks), Hondarribia, Spain

We Hounds keep a bucket list of places we want to try for a meal & a beverage and Arroka Berri was quite near if not at the top of our list. We heard some good mumblings amongst our Basque mates and the restaurant became an ardent follower of Hound #2’s Instagram feed, but the final push or raison d’être was our Aussie mates David & Carolyn were visiting us.

The Crew; Arroka Berri Logo

We arrived promptly at 8:30PM as we English, Aussie & American folks tend to do, only to find the restaurant 100% empty, and our arrival seemed to cause a bit of front of house consternation & chaos. We retreated to an outside table for an aperitif of a chilled bottle of José Pariente Verdejo (perfecto) whilst we waited for the staff to receive us. At 9:15 or so, más o menos, we sat down at our table…

Vino of the Night – Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas Mencía…Estupendo!

First order of bidness – vino. The wine list @ Arroka Berri is not only very interesting but stunningly affordable. We opted for some bottles of red with a few glasses of white thrown in for Carolyn. I was most curious to pop a cork on the Dominio de Tares Cepas Viejas – a wine from the Bierzo region which is famous for the use of the Mencia grape & a bottle of which I have resting on my wine table. This wine costs me (at the retail level) €13.50 euros but Arroka Berri lists it at €16 – deal to make ya squeal! A stunner – to borrow an old mate’s phrase, a velvet Elvis.

Platter of Ibérico Jamón…Yum!

Now to the business of starters – I & Hound #2 were going to order 2 of the Ibérico Jamón & Lomo platters but our waiter discouraged us down to just 1 platter – and he was right as we struggled to finish it! Layered on wee toast points & drizzled with the savoury tomato sauce, jamón heaven…

Foie & Arroz Bomba

David decided on a super rich dish — foie gras. The foie gras was a la plancha (grilled) and sat atop a mushroom based risotto…not missing any gigantic flavours here.

Cordero Asado (Roast Lamb)

On to the Mains…and mostly meaty ones at that. Carolyn decided on the Cordero Asado (Roast Suckling Lamb) with Baker’s Potatoes…the pictures here do not do these dishes justice but the flavours were astounding.

Carrilleras de Ternera (Beef Cheeks)

David ordered, sort of on my high praise for beef cheeks, the beef cheeks (Carrilleras de Ternera) and promptly devoured the plate….man can eat but then again he’s an Aussie.

Cochinillo de Segovia (Roast Suckling Pig)

For my plate of the night I opted for Cochinillo de Segovia, a beautifully roasted suckling pig with ever so crispy skin & perfectly cooked potatoes. This was finger lick’n good…we took the remains home to Hound #1 (Billie) for dessert.

Torrija Caramelizada

And speaking of dessert, the guys opted out but the girls opted in – Hound #2 decided quickly on the Tarta de Queso and Carolyn decided to try the Torrija Carmelizada. It was the Tarta de Queso that merited the multiple thumbs up. And the boys were not truly left out as we ended out our Arroka Berri meal with free glasses of Cava and Patxarán! Needless to say, we all wobbled home at around midnight – a typical happy Spanish repast…

Arroka Berri Tarta de Queso (Cheesecake) – Excelente!

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Gíjon – Magical Town…

Our distant impression of Gíjon from various readings & conversations was that it was a seriously heavy industrial port town & maybe not worth a visit, but we had heard from several good friends that Gíjon was mos def worth a visit. These were friends who had lived & spent a chunk of time in Gíjon and, we assumed, they knew of what they spoke. So as part of our return trip to our fave area of Asturias, we put it on the list…

La Galana…Not So Galamorous – Looks Good But Pulpo Tough and My Fabada Vey Weak on Flavour…

We broke up our long Land Rover drive with a brief stop in Noja and pretty much have nothing to report…so on to Gíjon to arrive in a pissing down chubasco (rain storm) & struggling to find a park. But we did, and then zigged & zagged our way to our AirBnB flat that was strategically located in primo territory (Cimavilla). After a warm welcome by our hosts, we headed out with Billie in tow to luckily find a break in the weather! We made a bee line for the Plaza Mayor with a wee bit of hunger & thirst on the burn & several folks had put in a good word for La Galana, so it was our first port of call. This place was the definition of style over substance – staff were surly & rude, prices a tad on the high side and the food was more than a few steps below average. Hoping things would improve…

Gíjon Street Scenes…

Coastal Park Near our AirBnB flat in the Cimavilla Barrio…with a sculpture by Eduardo Chillida

Our AirBnB flat was located within a 3-4 minute walk to the coastal park of Cerro de Santa Catalina which suited Billie to a ‘T’ for his early morning piss & poo walk. Stunning 360 degree views capped off by a wonderful Eduardo Chillida sculpture titled ‘Elogio del Horizonte‘.  Billie was very impressed…

It being Saturday, and Gíjon having a reputably damn decent mercado, we made a bee line for the Mercado del Sur to stock up for our coming days of camping by the sea at Camping Troenzo. And boy did we score! We’d made a list of special Asturias items that needed to make it into our basket & we found several stalls that were packed to the gills with our desired delectable items. By pure accident, we did most of our procurement at a deli stall called Pimienta y Perejil (Pepper and Parsley) that many folks outside the market and post our visit said was THE BEST. The man knew his Asturias products like…well, an Asturian deli expert, so we grabbed some jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, some Cabrales queso and some fat & big Asturias white beans.

Awesome Mercado del Sur - Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

Mercado del Sur – Gíjon’s Major Market…Snagged some excellent jabalí (wild boar) chorizo, cheeses (Asturias is famous for dairy & cheese) & beans!

And as luck would have it, the monthly artisan market was on for that very Saturday – double score. We picked up some more Asturias queso de cabra cheese and some primo cecina from the Gancedo stall — all organic, all home grown, all in the family and free range.

Artisan Market in Plaza Mayor…

And if our supply shopping could not get any better, in the barrio del Carmen we chanced across Coalla, Spain’s version of the famed US of A’s Dean & Deluca. This joint was a taste & smell sensation – our camping pantry was now past fulll…

Coalla – The Spanish Version of Dean & Deluca…Impressive.

As we edged into our Saturday night, one thing we needed to continue to continue ticking off was a decent taste of ciders as Asturias and the Basque Country are THE makers of Spanish cider. So just round the corner from our flat was La Tabacalera which suited all our minimal requirements just fine – it was a sideria and they had cider.

Sideria La Tabacalera…Top Left: 1st Cider of the night, Zapica; Hound #2 Gets In Some Pouring Practice; Chorizo in Cider; Marinated & Spicy Olives; Da Place…

In most other parts of Spain it is quite customary to just order a glass of cider, but in Asturias you have to have the whole bottle. Not too potent @ 6% or so on the alcohol scale, but it does sneak up on you. Asturias is also one of the provinces where a free pintxo comes with your drink…here we were first plied with some spicy, garlic olives. But our hunger was a tad bigger than that so we put in a racion order for sauteed chorizo with, of course, cider!

Way Cool Bar – La Vida Alegre…

Our next destination was the barrio (neighbourhood) del Carmen which our good mate Terra had tipped us off as THE COOL & HOT area of Gíjon, chocka full of bars, restaurants, cafes & stores. And she was spot on…

We started with a wee cerveza rest stop outdoors @ La Vida Alegre (The happy or joyful life) and enjoyed the excellent people watching as the Saturday night crowds began to stuff the streets….

Hop’nest Bar of the Night – Turnedo! Top Left: One of our 3 Free Pintxos @ Turnedo; Outside View; Excellent Vino Selections; Da Crowds; Menus…

Then it was on to Vinatería Turnedo – now this was the definition of popular…but even though super busy, the staff was more than up to the challenge with quick service and always with a smile.

Yawn…More Bars…Tough Life.

Tierra Astur – More Cider!

Almost happy that Saturday night came to an end – our heads & livers thanked us…so up early & in need of a decent, pre-leaving-Gíjon-coffee we had only one choice – Raw Coco, who’s acquaintance we’d made the previous morning. And it was a case of déjà vu too with the same order of two cafe con leches & a slice of sinful carrot cake.

Raw Coco – Fave, fave Cafe

So we waved a sad goodbye to Gíjon, but we were not too sad as we were heading  for a lunchtime rendezvous @ Casa Juanín…

 

Lunch @ Casa Juanín in the Asturian Mountains…

 

Ah, Glorious Asturias…

After a gloriously fun weekend in Gíjon (post coming up soon), we packed up the Land Rover on a brilliant Sunday morning (after a superb coffee @ Raw Coco) and toddled our way towards the pueblo of Pendones…to have lunch at Casa Juanín.

On The Road to Lunch @ Casa Juanín: Top Left – Co-pilot Billie on the job; Río Nalón; Wet Pooch; Spring Pooch in the Wild Flowers: Fix’r Upper & Roman Tower

It being a stunner of a day & we had a little extra time on our hands, and Billie needed a piss stop, we pulled over in the wee village of Condado for a riverside walk. The River Nalón flows through this valley and is reported by several sources to be a very fine trout river. There are two dams (that I know of) on the River Nalón which make it, like a lot of rivers in the world, a tailwater fishery which is both good and bad. The good is that it tends to keep the water temperatures relatively constant and it also helps to prevent severe flooding. The bad is that it can also seriously muck around with the water flows when summertime irrigation extraction hits full bore. Billie had a nice dip, a pee and a run through a wildflower meadow but we saw no trouts….sweet water though.

Casa Juanín, Pendones, Asturias

We had read about Casa Juanín (you can also read about it here in an extract from the Guardian) in a recent book purchase of mine by author Matt Goulding called Grape, Olive, Pig, and thought it special enough to make a modest inland detour for a Sunday menú del día lunch.

Top: Front Of House with Chilled Cerveza; Me & Juanín (he’s 83!); Our Table View…

We arrived promptly (being American & English) at our reservation time of 1pm, but were quickly handed 2 cold beers & told lunch started sometime after 1:30 or maybe closer to 2. No pasa nada…being so early we were able to snag the best outside table and slowly sip our refreshing beverages. Juanín came out to set our table and we had a very nice chat with him and he told us the secret to a long life (he’s 83!) – work! He not only does the restaurant with his daughter Isabel, but also has a herd of cows and goats that he keeps. He told us the pueblo of Pendones only has 15 or so inhabitants in the winter and that the winter can be very tough – now that’s an understatement.

As time slipped by, more & more folks began to appear & for the most part they disappeared inside Casa Juanín. Hmmmm? At 2pm I was sent in to see if I could get the menu for the day, so I asked Juanín who looked a bit perplexed, but soon his daughter Isabel (the chef) appeared at the door & voila! – a menu appeared.

We did a quick perusal, made our 1st plate, 2nd plate & dessert choices & Hound #2 was sent in to place the order…well it seems that the printed menu bears little resemblance to what is on offer, so Hound #2 made some rapid on-the-spot decisions but upon her return table side, she confessed she really did not know what we were eating except the roasted goat.

Top Left: Jabalí (Wild Boar) & Bean (Alubia) Stew; Dining Al Fresco; Bowl of the Good Stuff; Cider!

Quick to the table was our ordered bottle of Asturian cider (Asturias & the Basque Country are THE cider making regions in Spain but very different styles) – yum. Then came a big, steaming bowl of jabalí (wild boar) & alubias stew (Asturias is famous for its big, white beans which go into a traditional dish called fabada) which was promptly dished out & scooped up & devoured. Super rich in flavour, a silky texture with chunky hunks of wild boar…Clean bowls went back to the kitchen….

Top Left: Pre-meal Table; Plated Roasted Goat & Taters; Full Plate of House Raised Roasted Cabrito, Potatoes & Red Peppers

Next in the queue was cabrito asado (roasted goat with potato & peppers), in fact we got Juanín’s goat so to speak, just kidding…beautiful, tender as, succulent & juicy, packed with flavour, crispy as skin and heaps of it. After we pretty much stripped the massive serving bare, Juanín came out and said ‘¿Más?” (More?) to which the only answer was “Nada más!” – (Nothing more!). We thought if we’d kept answering ‘yes’ food would just have kept coming & coming…

Dessert With A View…Homemade Goat’s Cheese with Apple Paste; The Best Cheesecake Ever

With only a smidgen of room left in our gullets, we made our dessert choices – cheesecake for me & some of Juanín’s own goat cheese with fruit paste for Hound #2, who decidedly declared mine the winner by a long shot. We spent another leisurely half an hour enjoying the bright, oh so sunny oh so warm day & letting our stuffed to the gills stomachs digest…and then we asked for the bill. Qué chollo (what a deal)!!! Total damage came to 34 euros for 2 beers, bottle of cider, bowl of jabalí & alubia stew, gigantic plate of roasted local goat and dessert!

So folks, if you happen by chance to be wandering the backroads of the mountains of Asturias, drop a pin on your Google map for Casa Juanín – you will not be disappointed  & say howdy to Juanín and Isabel for us…