Alcalá's 'Mesón Asador el Campanero' closed its doors a few years ago, leaving a gap at the top end of the food chain in the town centre. The restaurant was a carnivore's paradise, with the heads of beasts looking down on you as you tucked into their relatives. We ate there a couple of times when we first came to Alcalá, but high prices and highly uncomfortable chairs (the traditional ones with lumpy wicker seats) put us off going there once we retired and moved here permanently.
Following a total makeover, El Campanero recently re-opened under the management of Andalucía and Manuel Jímenez Jímenez, whose parents first opened the establishment in 1999. Andalucía and Manuel also run the popular "Gin Club" bar, Copas Campanero, opposite the restaurant. I'm not sure when they find time to sleep.
The name means the bell-ringer and there is a bell-tower on the roof. (NB It is not pronounced "campanyero". That word doesn't exist, though foreigners sometimes confuse it with compañero, which means companion.). There is also a wooden fishing boat mounted in concrete next door. One day I'll remember to ask why ...
Andalucía and Manuel are passionate about using the best produce from this area, and they offer the full range of cheeses from the award-winning Quesería Gazul. These go extremely well with a red wine from the Sierra de Cádiz, Barbazul, from the Huerta de Albalá near Arcos de la Frontera.
There are three menus; one for main meals, one for tapas and snacks, and one for sweets. The prices are very reasonable, especially important in the current economic climate. El Campanero has quickly become a favourite meeting and eating venue for local people.
Venison, wild boar and partridge feature on the menu along with more familiar meats, chorizos, jamón, and delicious cholesterol-laden chicharrones (lumps of roast pork with the crackling still attached), made by Embutidos Gazules. However, unlike many restaurants round here they do actually understand the concept of vegetarianism, and there are various meat-free options such as pastel de berenjenas (aubergine pie) made in the wood-fired oven.
One of the best features of the new Campanero is the enormous charcoal grill, la parrilla de carbón, great for cooking steaks of local retinto beef, Iberian pork or lamb cutlets. Top of the menu pricewise is melt-in-the-mouth solomillo de retinto - sirloin steak - at €17.50. I can honestly say it's one of the best steaks I've ever eaten.
Restaurante El Campanero
Avenida Puerto Levante s/n
Alcalá de los Gazules
Reservations: 956 420 640
Photos by Chemary Gómez Reyes, reproduced with permission.