There are few times in my life I have regretted ordering lobster. Güeyu Mar is one of them.
And no, not because it wasn’t fresh as hell, cooked to perfection, yielding sweet, tender flesh that was basically manna from underwater heaven.
But because ordering meant I accidentally deprived myself of this glorious restaurant’s signature dish.
To this day I don’t know how I managed it. I’d analysed the menu, analysed reviews and listened carefully to recommendations from those in the know like Owen Morgan from Asador 44, who writes about it in his book. He’s not the only one to dedicate words to this stand-out restaurant in the pretty Asturian beachside town of Ribadesella in his book. And now I know why.
The king fish ordering error is something I’ll regret for a while, and a mistake I’m putting down to the sheer joy and gravity of being somewhere so many people I respect for their knowledge of great restaurants had recommended, muddling myself up and ordering lobster instead. But that’s the only thing I regret about that day – the rest of it earning me a smug pat on my own back for an excellent life choice.
Güeyu Mar is somewhere you kind of have to be looking for to find. Ribasasella is a tiny, laid-back place, with a pretty beach, a few restaurants/beach bars and not much else. You can’t miss the restaurant itself, thanks to the huge fish that emerges impressively from the building’s walls. But other than that, you could easily wander past, thinking that it’s just another little seaside restaurant on what is a stunning coast packed with great places to eat.
Trust me, it’s much, much more than that.
Once upon a time I’d have been organised and booked in advance. But my query to Güeyu Mar comes a day before we hope to go for lunch. Not only do they agree to squeeze us in, but their voice note (helpfully in English after it becomes abundantly clear to them that I’m relying on Google Translate) confirming the reservation, their smiles as we arrive, and the careful escorting of us to a corner with plenty of room and water for the dog all feels special. And like we’re not just accepted, but wanted.
We’re talked through the menu, which is a fish and seafood lover’s delight. There’s no meat – the focus is on the fruits of the sea, reverently cooked over white hot coals in a feat that deserves a medal in thirty-odd degree heat.
As we decide, we’re presented with a hockey puck of pate – straight out of a tin that Güeyu Mar produce themselves and you can buy back in the UK, or right here from a table that groans under the weight of them just next to the charcoal grill. It’s smooth, fishy in all the right ways and to the perfect degree, and has been chargrilled before it’s canned, giving depth and flavour on a level I’ve never had before.
I decide on the lobster, and am even given the choice of which one will meet its demise for me. Even as I choose the poor blighter, it doesn’t dawn on me that by ordering this I’m missing out on the king fish. Again, I don’t know why, given that the moment it was explained to me that it’s Güeyu Mar’s signature dish I knew I wanted it. A mystery. Too much sun and excitement maybe? Or just idiocy on my part.
What I do manage to order are some charred padron peppers. It seems like an obvious choice, but here I know they’ll be better than anywhere else. They are. Charred to perfection, their sweetness contrasting with a hefty heat that we’d been pre-warned about but couldn’t resist.
The sardines that come next are easily the best either of us have ever had. Cooked over fire again, cut into manageable chunks and dressed only with the lightest of seasoning and glugs of grassy, peppery olive oil. Their sidekick is an array of plump, crimson chunks of tomato – those tomatoes that you can only get on holiday and are light years away from the sorry excuses in UK supermarkets.
There’s more olive oil, black pepper and some charred chillis. It’s one of the simplest plates of food of the trip and one of the best. An exercise in why less is more, why great ingredients speak for themselves, and why minimal tinkering can lead to maximum satisfaction.
The lobster arrives. And in writing this I feel like I’ve done the poor blighter a disservice by dwelling too much on my lack of kingfish and not enough on how marvellous this is. It’s grilled, served without ceremony on a plate – no garnish, no messing. Most of the work in extracting its soft, sweet flesh is left to us – a reminder that good food is worth working for and that effort somehow makes it taste even better.
We realise halfway through the lobster that the king fish has been forgotten. We contemplate ordering it anyway, because god knows when we’ll get back here. But we’re full, and it almost seems disrespectful to order something that won’t be appreciated as much as it should by two people with full bellies.
Dessert, however, occupies a separate stomach so there’s room for that. And it’s the first mouthful of homemade fig ice cream that makes me feel less angry with myself about the kingfish. Because at this moment I know we’ll be back to Güeyu Mar one day – even if for this ice cream alone. Yet again, it’s beautifully simple – just fresh fruit and creamy sweetness, perfectly executed.
A second dessert is rice pudding. Creamy, sweet, with a perfectly-judged amount of cinnamon and a brulee’d top that somehow elevates it from a homely classic to a restaurant dessert. It’s the perfect end to a meal that is everything I hoped it would be and more.
Güeyu Mar is an education in what great food should be about. There’s a reverence and love to everything that’s served, accompanied by a noticeable lack of snobbery or ceremony. The ingredients are given the utmost respect, but there’s a reminder that food should be joyful.
Staff ooze enthusiasm and a joy at sharing the creations from their kitchen which are essentially nothing more than the jewels served up by nature, cooked in the most primal of ways and served more simply than you’d imagine in a restaurant of this stature. That simplicity is its allure, but shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of care, because this place has it in bucketloads. Which is what makes it so darn good.
[Disclosure: We paid in full at Güeyu Mar. They didn’t know I was a blogger]