Review: Bodega El Capricho, Spain – is this the world’s best steak restaurant?
December 3, 2023

Standing underground in one of the bodegas filled with the smell of dry-ageing beef, the words tumble out of my mouth: “It’s like a cathedral of meat”. 

I’m aware how strange this sounds. And still can’t completely put my finger on why. Perhaps the coolness in the air, and the quiet as we gaze upwards into the vaulted roof of the room cut into rock. It inspires a similar reverence to that felt by most people – religious or non-religious – when in … buildings, from churches to temples and, yes, cathedrals. 

El Capricho exterior
El Capricho
El Capricho bodega
El Capricho


Maybe it’s also the feeling of having come on a pilgrimage to northern Spain for what we knew would be a unique experience. From the first time I read about El Capricho – a world-famous beef restaurants set up by chef Jose Gordon in the bodegas built by hand by his father and grandfather, I knew I had to go. The word unique is used so readily these days, but I use it deliberately here. Yes, there might be other places with a similar ethos, similar passion, and maybe a similar set-up, but none quite like this. 

The restaurant itself sits inside one of the bodegas, little nooks carved into the rock that were once used to store wine are now perfectly suited to house tables. You enter through the porch, where a glass wall reveals the kitchen behind as a theatre of all things beef. Huge hunks of arguably some of the best meat in the world on display, hewn into chunks ready to be consumed by keen carnivores from across the world. 

El Capricho

But El Capricho isn’t just about turning up and eating great food. It’s about a deeper understanding – and reverence like that inspired as we stare upwards in the cavern full of meat – of the process that has resulted in that meat.

For people who would rather think the flesh they’re diving in to magically appeared in neatly sealed vacuum plastic, this is hell on earth. But for those of us willing to accept that our enjoyment of meat comes at the expense of a life, then the importance in seeing that life, and the care put into tending it and raising it, is important. 

El Capricho

In something like a safari experience, a hop into the back of a Land Rover will take you from sprawling bodega cut into the hillside to the land around it, where hundreds of oxen of carefully-selected breeds are reared. Their destiny isn’t a pretty one, of course, but I’ll wager their lives are significantly better than those elsewhere. The word is that when he decided to turn the bodega into a restaurant, Gordon couldn’t find meat he considered good enough. So he decided to do it himself. 

Nowhere is that clearer than when being shown the hunk of meat we’re about to enjoy for lunch, then told exactly how old the animal was that we’re about to eat, and how long the meat was aged for. If that’s not provenance, care and quality, then I don’t know what is. 

El Capricho

But that ‘steak’ (reducing it to this word feels like sacrilege to be honest) is one chapter in a meal of a lifetime. The ‘essential’ menu (a more elaborate one is on offer but a girl who came here on her own pilgrimage a year before has confided to me in the back of the Land Rover that she thinks this is the one to have) a showcase of the beef that’s been so carefully produced.

A deep vermillion gazpacho that’s smooth and sensuous, satiny in the mouth and full of sweet tomato flavours straight from the kitchen garden we walked past as we entered. Tartare pressed into a hockey puck that’s devoid of capers and mustard and some of the more common complications of this dish. Because, it’s all about the beef.

Gazpacho el capricho

Tartare at El Capricho

Thin slivers of Cecina – the dry-aged ox we’ve seen hanging in the underground chamber is so good we immediately ask to buy some. Paper thin, melt in the mouth, with a slight cheesiness that gives way to a deep meaty flavour.

There’s a simple pasta course. Homemade ravioli, chewy and buttery, filled with pastrami and sitting in a pink, buttery sauce. It’s topped with more of that Cecina, this time fried into salty, beefy crispiness that I’d happily eat alone as a snack. The next course is simply wedges of tomato, soft and sweet, from the garden we’ve walked past outside. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a lesson on simplicity, as so much is here.

Cecina El Capricho

Pasta El Capricho

Tomatoes at el capricho

The main event arrives – a ‘premium ox chop’. Ours in particular is from a seven-year-old animal, dry-aged for 140 days, we’re told. It’s cut up theatrically in front of us, atop a huge wooden table on wheels as we join our dogs in salivating at the sight (yes, you can even take your dogs with you – just only in the porch).

We haven’t been asked how we want it cooked, because what do we know compared to the people cooking it? Of course, it’s perfect. A deep meatiness, a slight chew that’s exactly as it should be – miles away from tough, but a reminder that this meat needs your attention and to be savoured and chewed.

The fat on it has been crisped to perfection and the ageing means it has a wonderful slight cheesiness that reminds me of the meat we had at Bar Nestor in San Sebastian. Go there too, by the way.

There are some red peppers as an accompaniment, roasted over charcoal until they’re sweet, supple and beautifully moreish. That’s the only side and we very much don’t need endless dishes and sauces and accompaniments. They’d be a distraction, and nobody is wanting to be distracted from this. 

Steak El Capricho

The parting course is dessert. El Capricho torte, hidden in what at first glance looks like a dollop of ice cream and cream. That dollop is, in fact, biscuit ice cream, and the cream a white chocolate foam. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. Yielding and silky and creamy and soft and a wonderfully gentle contrast to the meaty zenith we’ve hit in the course before.

We’re torn between feeling like this one-off experience is over too soon, wondering if we should have chosen the more expansive ‘Homage Menu’. Yet we’re ultimately satisfied. It’s been a glorious parade of exquisite products and ingredients, teased into courses that are as special as they are simple. And after all, all good things must come to an end.

Dessert at El Capricho

I knew El Capricho would be good. Too may people who know too much have said so. But I didn’t bank on it being about so much more than the food. As you arrive at this unique location literally hewn into the land, its story and its history are simply impossible to ignore. It seems wrong to refer to this as a restaurant, because it’s so much more than that.