Wednesday 25 September 2013

El Campero, Barbate, Zahara de los Atunes, Spain

Barbate is a scruffy little Spanish town on the coast of the Costa de la Luz, the wild and rugged coastline that stretches from the straits of Gibraltar up to Portugal. We've explored this part of Andalucia many times over the years, it's 'real' authentic Spain where you don't often hear English spoken and you'll not see British cooked breakfasts served. As much as I love a fry up, I've never understood the concept of going to a country where the food is generally superior to back home, but eating just British food.
We've not been to Barbate before though and probably wouldn't have bothered unless food was involved as it's not especially prepossessing.
I'd got a hot tip that El Campero was a fantastic restaurant, that pretty much just served tuna in its many forms. Turns out it's quite famous round these parts, and can serve 350 a day in peak season! It's on a side street surrounded by blocks of flats, I had a very good feeling about this place though, it just felt right. We were given the proper menu, but luckily noticed the tapas menu inside which is what I wanted so we could sample as many dishes as possible for very little cost.
They brought us out some very good quality bread (it's nearly always excellent bread in Spain I find), and some small chunks of complimentary Mojama paté.
So this is what we actually ordered:
Atún Picante (Spicy tuna, €5.50). Stunning!
Lasaña Fria de Atún (Cold tuna lasagne €3.75.) Gorgeous!
Mini Burger de Atún (Tuna Burger, €4.75.) We loved the specially made box it came in.
Bombón de foie, mojama y queso con crema de manzana. (Foie Bombon, salt-cured tuna and cheese with apple cream). This is a Michelin Star dish right there and it's just £3! (€4). Unfortunately we had to share it!

Tataki de Atún Rojo (€10). Extremely high grade tuna.
 Tortillita de Verduras y Gambas. (Little tortilla of veg and prawns, €2.50).
 Semi Mojama de Atun (€9).
Langostino en Tempura con ali-oli de tomate (€3). Probably the most superior, lightest, crispiest tempura we've ever had; superb!
Other fabulous stuff.

We were completely blown away by the food, it was extremely good quality, the tuna of course is second to none, but the skill of the chef in preparation as well. The prices too, are very reasonable, and much of the food was as good as if not better than some expensive Michelin starred places we've been to.
So why tuna?
Well obviously it's that old thing terroir again, it's simply the very best product that's local, so they use it, and they serve it in at least 30 ways.
Chef Jose Melero known locally as 'The Master of Tuna' says;
“We never buy tuna less than 30 kilos in weight and mostly around 10 years old. We are extremely careful who we buy it from and we freeze it at minus 60 degrees – or ‘calidad sashimi’ – so we can use it all year round.” *
The almadraba, the fishing of bluefin tuna is limited only to May and June when the fish migrate to the Mediterranean. Barbate is perfectly located as the straits are quite narrow. Mojama is the method that they use to salt-cure the tuna.
 We enjoyed our lunch at El Campero so much that we went to their sister tapas bar in Zahara de los Atunes (literally 'of the tuna') a few days later.
It's about 10 minutes drive down the coast. We were staying there anyway. It's a fantastic little seaside village with a beautiful long sandy beach that's almost like some of the beaches you see in Australia or the West coast of the States. We watched the sunset and then went to eat!
Here's a top tip for you, if you ever want a table in Spain. Everybody comes out at exactly the same time, and never before 9pm. So if you want your pick of tables just turn up at 8.50pm - simple. By 9.30 we just sat at our table watching Spanish families milling about trying to find tables that just weren't available as they filled up extremely quickly. Seems everybody knows how good El Campero is. There's nothing better, when you've got a table and you have all of the lovely food to be eaten ahead of you!
I really like the decoration inside, it's modern and clean with quirky nautical details.
This is what we ordered this time, all off the tapas menu.
Just look at those prices! Unbelievable.
Langostino en Tempura con ali-oli de tomate (€3). We ordered this again as it was so good.
Taquitos de Pescado de Roca Fritos. (Fried rock fish nuggets - €9).
Ortiguillas de Mar Frita (Fried Anemones - €7). I've not seen either of these things much in the UK. Do we even eat them?
Brocheta de Rape Vieiras y Langostinos. (Monkfish, scallop and King Prawn Kebab (€9.50).
Croqueta de Pescado o Mojama. Homemade Fish or Mojama Croquettes (€6).
Other stuff, including a nice pudding Queso Cuajado not made of tuna! I think this below is Beef Sirloin tip in Pedro Ximénez Sauce. (€4.50.) Turns out they can do excellent meat dishes too.
Everything was superb again, just that bit better than at the average tapas bar, even in Spain. People often recommend tapas bars in the UK, and they're nearly always a massive disappointment, if they were only half as good as El Campero, I'd be very happy indeed! They also seem to serve exactly the same several dishes over here, but as El Campero shows, tapas bars in Spain often have much more variety, based on what products are good locally.
It's worth noting that in my opinion, a place like El Campero simply couldn't exist in the UK. This is because British people don't eat much fish. In Spain everyone eats fish, it's not a delicacy for the middle classes, everyone eats lots of it all of the time and in great variety. Something I'll be exploring in more depth next week.
So to conclude, if you're in Andalucia and you like tuna, hell even if you don't like tuna, this place is an absolute must! Probably the best none Michelin star/guide meal of the year for us.
 Price: Amazing value. Michelin guide food at low prices.
Atmosphere: Especially like the buzz of the tapas bar in the evening.
Food: Extremely good.
Star dish:
Score: 8.5/10.

*Quote Souce: Dining Secrets of Andalucia.

Soundtrack - White Sandy Beach of Hawai'i - Israel Kamakawiwo'ole.

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