Well, actually not in Vejer itself but “hidden” away in the tiny hamlet of (Pago de) Santa Lucía, 5 kilometers below this stunning whitewashed hill town.
We dined on 3/11, 5 days after their official opening and before the State of Alarm.
They close 6 months of the year from mid Oct. to March, when Juan Valdés travels all around Spain in search of the finest cuts of meat for his next season. He has his own maturation chambers, but unlike the owner of Bodegas El Capricho in the León province (another meat lover’s temple), he isn’t a promoter of the extreme aging of beef.
I had called numerous times for reservations without success, then entrusted our hotel (Casa del Califa’s new Plaza 18) to help, but they too struck out, reaching a recorded message. (Reservations aren’t available on the Fork.) So, we visited in person the day prior to make a booking. The restaurant was packed with happy diners, but I was able to snag a table the next day for 2:30.
Reports indicate that in July or August that simply wouldn’t have worked.
(In March/April there is only lunch service.)
When we arrived the dining room was much emptier (some alarm had by then set in regarding the state of Covid in the south), and we were luckily given the “prime table” in next to the open kitchen so as to watch chef Juan Valdés and his staff at work at the grills. The attractive outdoor terrace with its the enormous ancient tree trunks with a canopy of reeds (a kind of Polynesian look), was reserved for smokers.
The meat menu is divided into 3 sections: ovino (lamb), vacuno (beef) and porcino (pork), quite different from the Basque asadores that specialize exclusively in beef or oxen rib steaks and grilled fish (turbot, sea bream…).
The menu here is far more wide ranging and not kilometer zero. The “ovino” menu included baby grilled lamb chops from Aranda de Duero in Old Castile, and the “porcino” options included roast suckling pig from Segovia. There were also several attractive salad options, grilled vegetables from their own garden and Andalusian soups (salmorejo, beet gazpachuelo). Sauteed baby clams in parsley sauce, scrambled eggs with cod, monkfish bisque, octopus with honey and cod salad were among the seafood starters.
We ordered from the "vacuno" menu, organized by origin, age and states of aging, featuring local La Janda retinto beef, blond beef (rubia vieja) from Galicia, Palurda from León, Sevillian Frisona beef, Avila and Salamanca veal and Irish angus, but no oxen. Diners can also choose their selection from the showcase in front of the open kitchen.
Wanting to try the local beef, I chose the Retinto veal loin, age 8-12 months, aged for 25 days, and ordered it medium rare. Being accustomed to Basque steaks cooked extremely rare, I found it slightly over done (my fault, but a caution to future diners). My husband ordered Avila veal tenderloin topped with a wild mushroom & brandy cream sauce, our waiter’s recommendation.
For starters: grilled artichokes stuffed with lamb sweetbreads, plus shiitake mushrooms with bacon.
We drank a local red wine (D.O. Cádiz), Tesalia Arx from Arcos de la Frontera, and finished with a simple liquid lemon sorbet. All desserts are homemade.
Had we ordered a richer dessert, (Payoyo cheesecake with forest fruit marmalade), we could have accompanied it with a local Moscatel Gloria from Chiclana.
The large table of diners nearby, who appeared to be regulars attending the Sunshine Tour jumping competition, ordered a meal that we both eyed with envy (for our next visit!): starters of grilled lamb sweetbreads, white Navarran asparagus, clams sauteed with fresh parsley, the enormous Galician blond beef loin, from the 9-11 years old selection, aged for 35 days, priced at a very reasonable 33 euros, accompanied by a large platter of French fries (extra) and to drink, bottles of Carmelo Rodero from Ribera del Duero.
The wine list extends from all the Spanish appellations to many international offerings.
La Castillería, with one Repsol sun, provided us with a highly recommendable dining experience-- warm welcome and smooth service from both the sommelier and wait staff, and the final tab we found surprisingly reasonable.
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