With a significant birthday to celebrate it was time to push the boat out and with a Michelin-starred restaurant conveniently located within walking distance of Villa Rosario, our gorgeously eccentric casa de Indiano
hotel in Ribadesella (the final stop on our Slow Train through Asturias
holiday), there really was only one option. Lunch at Arbidel was booked.
Tucked away in a side street near Ribadesella harbour, the tiny restaurant of Arbidel
is the culinary showcase for chef Jaime Uz. His inventive creations feature the very best of local ingredients, earning him a Michelin star, and as keen ‘foodies’ we were eager to try his versions of Asturian fare. The restaurant is obviously popular and with such a small number of tables squeezed into the intimate space, booking is advised. Luckily this is very easy, simply book online via the website to receive a prompt email confirming your table.
Inside the restaurant is very simple and rustic, naïve paintings by local artists litter the walls giving it a homely feel, the starched linen tables crowd closely together: on busy nights you might get friendly with your fellow diners. The group of young smiling waiters were multi-lingual and effortlessly polite. We were escorted to our table and instead of any furtive fumbling with a Spanish phrase book beneath the table cloth we were discretely offered a menu in English.
So that we could try a variety of dishes, we opted for the smaller of the two tasting menus, menú Atalaya, named after the nearby coast. The tasting menu comes with an optional wine ‘flight’, with each course paired with a suitable alcoholic beverage. Taking all the hard work out of decision-making (we were on holiday, after all), this seemed the most sensible option.
A glass of bitter red vermouth in hand, our meal began with a variety of delicate appetisers served on a series of earthenware tiles, a taster just to stimulate our already eager appetites. Our waiter described each morsel in detail as we devoured with our eyes before eating the lot, crumbs and all. In quick succession, the first of the courses arrived, a savoury cauliflower custard, heavily scented with black garlic and studded with chunks of smoked eel and slivers of truffle. To remind us we were in cider-drinking country, we drank a very dry sparkling cider instead of the more standard champagne, a refreshing surprise. Next, came a dish of honey crab and cod cheeks sitting on a flavoursome ‘stew’ of beans and Iberian ham served in a hand-thrown earthenware bowl; it tasted like the very essence of Spain.
One of the chef’s speciality rice dishes followed: ‘sailor’ rice, black with squid ink and topped with a poached oyster, seaweeds and samphire. The salty marine tang spectacularly matched with a local albariño. The third fish dish was my absolute favourite: ‘Roman’ hake, a simply cooked, very fresh slice of hake with a tiny pool of potato and ginger puree, just perfect.
The final savoury dish moved the focus from the sea to land, a rich spicy jumble of slow-cooked beef atop a little quesadilla and dotted with guacamole. Strong and flavourful, it was quite a shock to the palate after the delicate flavours of the previous courses but totally divine with the glass of Rioja that matched it.
A tiny patterned tile appeared immediately afterwards bearing two small ‘tomatoes’. Popped whole into the mouth they exploded into a burst of icy cold apple vermouth, both a surprise and an excellent palate cleanser.
A glass of floral dessert wine accompanied the two final sweet courses. The first, a bubble gum pink custard scented with orange, ginger and coriander with a spicy chocolate crumb. The second, a show-stopping iridescent gold cake of honey and walnut contrasted vividly with an icy spoonful of beetroot ‘snow’ and a fantastic rosemary ice cream.
A couple of café solos were very necessary before asking for the bill, which arrived with another decorated tile of elaborate petits fours.
This was a perfect celebratory lunch and at only €48 a head plus the additional €27 for the wine flight it was also extremely good value. We left, a little merry, taking the route across the golden sands of Playa de Santa Marina for a long overdue siesta back at the hotel. It’s hard work turning 50!