On my birthday the year we were in the Asturias in Spain, we had lunch at El Corral (the Barnyard) del Indianu on the main street of a non-descript town (Arriondas) that’s the gateway to the Picos de Europa, the geographical barrier that isolated Asturias which was a kingdom nation on its own for centuries. As almost nothing is written in English about El Corral or the chef/owner José Antonio Campoviej, we had to rely on Google translation. We invite you, as per the translation of one review of El Corral, to “Get moving, and enjoy like a dwarf eating.”
A hungry dwarf. Looking at our photos I wonder how we ate all that food. Then I remember why—it was so good.
José opened El Corral in 1996, making last year the restaurant’s silver jubilee. An uncelebrated accomplishment. In a translation José says,
Salt in times of Covid-19? First I shed a tear, then I locked myself in from the humility to the happiness of those who visit us. the warehouse and I cried uncontrollably.
We chose this restaurant based on what reviewers had to say about José.
His cooking, which he learned in a self-taught way since he left to do his military service and which took shape through the magazines and books that his partner and head of El Corral, Yolanda Vega, brought him so that José Antonio, in the Spanish, -very close to where El Corral del Indianu is located- began to perpetrate what is now one of the most perfect kitchens in Spain.
Another reviewer wrote that,
Gastronomic pilgrims beat a path to the door of Chef José Antonio Campoviejo, who is something of a self-styled madman with wild hair and a penchant for reimagining traditional Asturian flavors in new ways…Their starting-point were traditional dishes, local recipes and home-grown produce, which they transformed, using avant-garde techniques and concepts.
But my favourite translation of José’s success in this remote area of Spain is
a succession of beautiful coincidences and mischief.
Unlike Barcelona or San Sebastián, the Asturias isn’t a culinary destination. Fabada is the region’s most famous dish, a rich and hearty stew made with lots and lots of large white beans, pork shoulder, morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo and saffron. Magellan and I ate fabada many times, though admittedly the chunks of morcilla on my plate moved to Magellan’s.
I ate all of José’s fabada. Which was dessert!
Little balls of pumpkin sorbet represent beans. Small nobs of walnut coffee cake symbolize pieces of pork shoulder. Chocolate stands in for morcilla. Rooibas tea with a little sea salt denote the broth.
José’s dishes are finicky but good. Traditional but modern. Protein-strong but veggie-forward. “Highly wrought miniscule portions all trying to convey the essence of the ingredients via a tiny mouthful.” The à la carte menu is brief because most diners come for the ten-course tasting menu that changes with José’s whims.
Like the food, the restaurant’s décor is both rustic and modern. Burnished wood but a wall painted turquoise showcasing modern art. A formal dining room but also a brighter glass-enclosed room with views of the patio gardens. Starched-white tablecloths but sheepskin throws on the dining chairs.
José delivers more than a jolt to your taste buds in a comfortable room. As Magellan said when I asked him about his memories of El Corral, “The service was impeccable, not the fawning arrogance of many restaurants half this calibre. They made us feel honoured to be there.”
Did they ever. When ordering wine, Magellan let it slip that it was my birthday. Following the fabada dessert, a candelabra birthday box was delivered to our table. Yolanda led everyone in singing Happy Birthday. And because I had praised the wood-fired bread they buy from a local baker, she gifted us two large pieces and a slab of butter.
José works so hard. A diner who hadn’t been for fourteen years writes (translated):
Barely recovered from a small surgical intervention, José Antonio Campoviejo is already at the foot of the canyon. On Wednesday nights, the restaurant is usually closed, but he was kind enough to open for us.
I don’t remember how long we were at the table. When we asked for the bill, our waiter, who was from Mexico, said, “I’ll bring the terminal.”
After lunch José kindly let us take his picture. We chatted with Carlota (or Charlotte as she introduced herself), he and Yolanda’s thirteen-year-old daughter. Having spent the summer as an exchange student in Wisconsin, her English was excellent. We asked her how she liked the state’s cheese. “Ours is much better!” Charlotte quickly replied.
“…a head with eyes fixed on the stars,” the title of this blog, truly describes José. Three years after it opened, El Corral had a Michelin star. In a translation José has said,
Michelin is not destiny,…my advice is not to lose the enjoyment of learning.
Just as Asturias was a kingdom on its own for seven centuries before the marriage of Fernando and Isabella created Spain, El Corral is a culinary kingdom in Asturias.
Here’s a YouTube about El Corral.
Translated review of El Corral from ISSUUU Tasting Magazine June 2021.