Sunday, 7 February 2010

Heaven is a grill house in Gijon

I've just arrived in Gijon, my next port of call along the northern Iberian coast. Although slightly ramshackle around the edges, it's a sturdy looking sort of place; squat and sprawling. The old town and harbour are placed strategically on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the bay, with a long, sweeping playa to one side, and very industrial port stretching for what must be miles to the other.

The city is renowned for it's sidrerias, but as well as the cider, the city's other specialities are the slightly scary-looking ericios (sea urchins) and zamburiƱas (little scallops), which are often served with a spicy tomato sauce. I dump my bags and head off in search of a seafood dinner.

By now it's getting late on Sunday... Nothing around the harbour is open, and the fancier places in the main square are a bit beyond my budget. Considering my options, I turn on my heel and head back the way I came, feeling slightly dejected. Until my nose pricks up, that is - there's nothing quite like the smell of sizzling animal flesh to lift the spirits.

Las Brasas - The Grills - is a no frills kind of joint, the equivalent of a greasy spoon back home. The menu is scribbled on plain white paper, one dish per sheet, and Blue-tacked to the wall as you walk in. The sports pages of the Sunday papers are strewn across the high benches near the bar. The table cloths are made of tissue paper. And there's plastic fruit in the fruit bowl. But none of that matters. What matters is the massive grill, filling a whole corner of the room, and the huge array of meat that's taking pride of place upon it.

Behind the counter, the big guy takes the orders and flips the meat, while his wife runs the plates and sets fire to her frying pans at the back with alarming regularity. Still, she's busy back there... Dishes at Las Brasas are either served with fried eggs, patatas fritas, patatas (also fried, just left in potato shape, as opposed to be being cut into chip shape), or, slightly bizarrely, all three... Do you really need chips and fried potatoes?

So far, so greasy, I hear you say - and you would be right - but the meat is definitely a cut above your average car park caff. Huge racks of ribs, plump lomo sausages, juicy looking chuleta, and some of the biggest morcilla I've seen. But aside from the meat, it's the array of people that really sets Las Brasas apart from similar places at home. A group of five pensioners who look as though they've been there for hours chat over the remains of their meal. A family with teenage kids share anecdotes, laughter and desserts by the window. Three men sit at the bar, their attention split equally between the football match on the TV, and the eye-poppingly large mixed grill in front of them. Two well-turned out young children tuck into platefuls of chops as their (very) yummy mummy looks on, adoringly. Two men as wide as they are tall get their protein fix in the corner, tearing the flesh off chicken legs with their teeth. Suddenly, with my huevos con chorizo, I begin to feel slightly inadequate.

By the time I'm done, it's passed half eleven, and whilst the two little kids may still have bags of energy, I'm spent. Just as I'm getting up to leave, the yummy mummy gives a kind of nod-wink-wave gesture in my direction, and what could only be described as a pouting smile. Perhaps my luck really has changed, I think. The pension I'm booked into is pretty shoddy anyway, and hey, I don't have a problem with Spanish kids.

I draw breath and cue up my best sophisticated-Englishman-speaking-Spanish accent. Her eyes widen... Ok, here goes... And then the big guy steps out from right behind me with a huge block of blue cheese, and plonks it on the table in front of them. She grins a Penelope-Cruz-at-the-Oscars kind of grin, and thanks him, as the kids immediately dive in.

A lamb chop and a cheese plate... Now that's my kind of mamma. Ah well... I reckon it's time for me to go home.

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