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Nacho Manzano, Iberica, The Power Of Land & Sea

Schofield and Gordo preview a MCR arrival with crabs And cider

Written by . Published on September 8th 2014.

Nacho Manzano, Iberica, The Power Of Land & Sea

“I WANT to capture Asturias,” said Nacho Manzano of Casa Marcial restaurant. “I want to take the sea and what it gives us, I want to take the land and what it gives us, and I want to wrap them up together. I want my fine dining to be rooted in its region, not fantasy rooted, but as much a part of Asturias as the view outside. This is what I’m attempting now.”

"We're lucky," said Nacho. "In Asturias people say it rains too much but in truth we the have climate conditions to produce some of the finest ingredients whether from the land or sea. 

It was 2am in the morning in Asturias in Northern Spain. Gordo and I had been up since 4am, flight, lunch, beautiful views in mountains, hotel lost in more mountains, and then a booking at 9pm at Casa Marcial, Manzano's two star Michelin place. We dined at 10pm.  

Nacho Manzano, crabs and cider

Nacho Manzano, crabs and cider

Time melts like a Dali clock in Spain. From a precise instrument it morphs into an approximation, a guess. 

Waiting an hour to begin the meal would have most Brits impatiently chewing their own arm off, here it seemed natural, part of the charm of the place along with the big smiles on the faces of the staff such as Emma, or Nacho's PR, Fatima. 

Sunset over the mountains from the terrace at Casa Marcial


Sunset over the mountains from the terrace at Casa Marcial

At lunch we’d eaten at Esther Manzano’s one star Michelin restaurant at Gijon. We wondered whether there was another brother and sister combination in world dining with Michelin stars each. 

In pursuit of Nacho's dream of marrying the Asturian fruits of land and sea we sampled dishes at Casa Marcial such as spring lamb kidney, peas and pickled tuna belly, exquisitely cooked, beautifully presented with explosive flavours throughout.  

Land and sea at Casa Marcial


Land and sea at Casa Marcial

We also ate a dish with an almost mythic description, ‘pigeon marinated in seaweeds with emulsion of Kalamata, herbs of the seaside and sardine cream’. There was fish with this too, a square of it, highly pickled or marinated.

This plate showed how far Nacho Manzano is pushing his turf and surf experiment. It's very brave. Pigeon and pickled fish of any description are two very powerful ingredients. To me the dish seemed in conflict with itself. Gordo loved it. What was undeniable was the craftsmanship and imagination. 

Meat and fish


Meat and fish

The pictures on this page give an idea of the skill of Manzano, two favourites were the beans with avocado and foie gras, a take on the classic Asturian bean stew, the fabada, and the weirdly perfect combination of peas with yoghurt for dessert. 

The fabada at Esther Manzano's place, El Salgar, had also been lovely. These fine dining variants of the famous peasant dish are a Manzano family speciality, a signature. 

Nacho's fabada


Nacho's fabada

Esther's 'fabada'Esther's 'fabada'

It was clear at Casa Marcial how the place has become a feature on the gourmet tourist's itinerary. There were Far Eastern guests, British, German too plus Spaniards from other regions of Spain. They were still chatting away as we left about 2.15am and didn't look like they were leaving anytime soon. 

Half an hour away, back at our hotel, the Palacio de Rubianes, there was no-one on reception. We had no key for the outer door either. Problem? No. The door was unlocked. The Palacio de Rubianes is beautiful but so far off the beaten track people need a sherpa to find it. Security isn't an issue. 

Palacio de Rubianes: open all hours

Palacio de Rubianes: open all hours

On a broad terrace high in the 17th century building I drank a whisky from the mini-bar and counted shooting stars. The Milky Way looked in touching distance. The peaks of the high Asturian mountains, the Picos de Europa, cut the night. Behind the hotel the landscape looked like a wraith spreading its wings: Guillermo del Toro would have loved it.

I tore myself away around half three. 

View from the terrace at Palacio de Rubianes


View from the terrace at Palacio de Rubianes during the day

We met Nacho Manzano again just before lunch the following day with our fine and loquacious translator Norma. He was driving, providing for his passengers an experience as experimental as some of his cooking.

"So you must be exhausted after cooking so late," I said to Nacho as we acrobated round a corner on two wheels.

He shrugged.

"After you left last night I went dancing at my wife's restaurant until 6am," he replied before adding. "Right, let's go and look at some cocks."

His sister has a restaurant, his wife does too and we'd met another sister managing at Casa Marcial. Busy family.

Huge cockerelsHuge cockerelsWe stopped at a farm where huge cockerels called pitus were wandering. The Asturians allow these to strut free range through villages, up hills and in and out of houses. They eventually cook them. Slowly. The flesh is remarkable for its richness. 

After the cockerels it was to Ribasella, on the harbour front, where we ate crabs just minutes after they'd been teased from the rocky shoreline. Snap. Crack. Joy.

Food assailed us from every side. We didn't complain.

In Llanes, a village that could have been Padstow, or Fowey, in Cornwall, we had our second lunch. The restaurant was called El Balamu, right above the fish market, right on the dockside were the fishing boats tie up.

Fish assailed us from every side. We didn't complain.  

Llanes: could be Cornwall?


Llanes: could be Cornwall?

Norma drove after lunch. Nacho had joined in the chugging of the local Asturian wine with gusto and was snoring gently on the back seat. There had been cider too, very much an Asturian 'thing'. The cider must be dropped into the glass from about three feet, to aerate it, otherwise it tastes flat. Drinking a bottle at a restaurant can be an exhausting experience.

 The correct way to pour an Asturian cider


The correct way to pour an Asturian cider

That night was spent in the exquisite small city of Oviedo, the regional capital. We stayed in the impressive Hotel Reconquista and dined in another of the Manzano empire outlets, Gloria. This was a busy, buzzy, city dining experience. Helping us navigate the menu was a true gentleman, David Sierra. He also navigated us from Bilbao Airport to Asturias and back. 

Gloria at Oviedo


Gloria at Oviedo

Gloria emphasised why we were in Asturias. The place would work perfectly in Manchester.

Nacho Manzano is the executive chef for Iberica, which is due to open in Manchester later this year. We were in northern Spain to gain an insight into the sort of food Manchester might expect. Well, folks we're in for a treat.

Nacho Manzano gathers to his restaurants the finest of Spanish ingredients and delivers them to the table with respect and imagination. A plate of his croquettas will have you swooning, the breads, hams and cheeses will have you slapping your thigh and calling for seconds.  

Casa Marcial food


Casa Marcial food

"We're lucky," said Nacho. "In Asturias people say it rains too much but in truth we the have climate conditions to produce some of the finest ingredients whether from the land or sea. What I try and do is exploit that fortune."

"We think we have the best food in Spain," said David Sierra modestly, adding less modestly, "The other regions do too."

Maybe he's right. It felt like it on our brief trip.

One final word.

Asturias is perhaps the most beautiful Spanish region I've visited and I've visited most of them. The mountainous terrain of high peaks, gentle foothills, forests, fields and flowers next to an unruined coast line - no speculative beach resorts here - make for a memorable visit. 

Manchester Confidential is going to start a campaign for direct flights to Oviedo from Manchester.

Asturias is delicious in just about every sense. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

Casa Marcial is at El Salgar, s/n 33549 Arriondas–Parres. Here's the link.

El Salgar is at Museu del Pueblu d'Asturies, Gijon. Here's the link.

Gloria is at Cervantes 24, Oviedo. Here's the link.

Gordo and Esther ManzanoGordo and Esther Manzano

Mirador del FituMirador del Fitu

Casa MarcialCasa Marcial

Casa MarcialCasa Marcial

Mirador del FituMirador del Fitu

Picos de Europa as the sun sets: those mountains are more than 8,000ftPicos de Europa as the sun sets: those mountains are more than 8,000ft

Night time at the modern rear of Casa Marcial, there's a traditional bit round the frontNight time at the modern rear of Casa Marcial, there's a traditional bit round the front

Casa MarcialCasa Marcial

El Salgar restaurantEl Salgar restaurant

El Salgar foodEl Salgar food

Casa MarcialCasa Marcial

Casa MarcialCasa Marcial

Fine viewsFine views

Llanes: could be Cornwall?Llanes: could be Cornwall?

Fish market building with restaurant aboveFish market building with restaurant above

Church in LlanesChurch in Llanes

Llanes fish marketLlanes fish market


Goldfish bowl of Gin and Tonic and a wandering Manchester food criticGoldfish bowl of Gin and Tonic and a wandering Manchester food critic

Hotel ReconquistaHotel Reconquista

Santa Maria de Naranco with Oviedo behindSanta Maria de Naranco with Oviedo behind

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousSeptember 8th 2014.

Looks fantastic. Nothing like the chain restaurant in his name thats about to open however i suspect.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 14th 2014.

Yay! The first comment of this wonderful post is from a Negative Nancy. If you're so wonderful, why don't you open somewhere? Otherwise, piss off.

Henry VSeptember 8th 2014.

Iberica are four units in London, of a very high standard; not fine dining but will blow anyone's skirt up with the quality of the ingredients and the skill in the cooking. On a par with Lunya in Liverpool.

Poster BoySeptember 8th 2014.

Nice trip -shame you had to go with Gordo...

1 Response: Reply To This...
Mark GarnerSeptember 8th 2014.

hey, thanks for that Poster, you're a treat!

Michael IngallSeptember 10th 2014.

Oi how does this work, I do the hard work, invest time and money and a mighty load of vision and persuasion in bringing these guys to Manchester and you too toy boys get the filed trip!!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Mark GarnerSeptember 14th 2014.

'Cos we're nice Mike ;-)

RevaulxSeptember 16th 2014.

Not been to Asturias but just come back from a fortnight in next-door Galicia. The food there is pretty fab as well. And cheap.

Pedro1874October 28th 2014.

I recommend Asturias to anyone who likes being off the normal tourist routes. In fact the whole of Northern Spain is lovely, different and interesting. infoasturias used to put out two absolutely beautiful glossy brochures featuring many of the unique hotels, restaurants and sidrerías but it seems they have changed their URL to www.turismoasturias.es/…/home-en…. The brochures were available in the establishments featured and from the tourist info offices. Shame the Easyjet flights from MAN to Santander were stopped some time ago. Another way to get there with your car is on the ferry from Portsmouth ,Plymouth or Poole to Bilbao, Santander and Gijon.

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