This was the second birthday surprise for my mum! Lunch at the famous Casa Julio in Fontanars.
The story goes that it was a traditional restaurant, then got an ambitious chef, they did really well, so well they got a Michelin star at some point, then got really stressed about the implications of having the star, and then gave it up and went back to just serving nice food but without the added stress of being in the Michelin guide.
Star or no star, we did want to go both for the first time and also back again—some of us thought we had been there before in one of the pre-star incarnations. But weren’t really sure, as when restaurants are “traditional” it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between them, specially when that visit was many years ago. Had we been there? Did it really matter? No!
We arrived in good time and were promptly served these beautiful almonds while we decided what to order for lunch:
Devvers just couldn’t stop snacking on them while apologising:
I’m just sorry but they’re just so plump and nice, it’s nothing like the sad dry ones we find in the UK… I’m really sorry, they’re just very good. I can’t stop eating them…
Half of the people in the table couldn’t digest almonds well, so maybe that’s why the feeling of guilt was so strong!
The best thing about the menu is that it’s not utterly long, and it even has special sections for vegetarian dishes. We did not order those in this occassion, but they looked appetising, not a second-rate option as is sometimes common in Spanish restaurants. So it was very easy to navigate, and we quickly ordered the food and the drinks. If nothing else, it took longer because we couldn’t agree on whether to have two different rice dishes or not!
We got some bread with tomato and allioli to start, plus some aubergines with tahini.
Arroz con alcachofas y sepia: deliciously artichokey and cuttlefishy.
It’s such a joy to eat fresh and alive artichokes! Also, everyone who eats this ends up with slightly blackened lips, which give you a gothic flair.
Arroz al horno: this was described as
“quite probably, one of the best arroz al horno I’ve ever eaten”
… and I won’t challenge that!
We accompanied the food with a bottle of “El cordero y las vírgenes” from my beloved Fil·loxera & Cía winery. It was quite full bodied, but it did stand up to the arroz al horno!
We were quite full, as we did finish both rice dishes. The two of them. We did not leave a grain of rice behind. They were delicious.
And yet when asked if we’d have desserts, we not only said yes but each of us choose a whole dessert which we didn’t initially mean to share. This individualistic exercise quickly collapsed as each dessert was placed in the table and they all looked good: everyone ended up having a spoonful of each other’s choices (barring allergies).
We were really stuffed by then, and when the coffees arrived, they came with more courtesy desserts! Aaah! 😱
And yet: we ate them.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to stand up (let alone going through the door), but as we say in Spanish, sarna con gusto no pica (“scabies for pleasure won’t make you itch”) 😂 —it probably just makes you skip dinner and maybe breakfast too, ha!
After this we tried (we really tried) to go for a slow and digestive walk around town, but the weather had become so Utterly Miserable with icy wind AND horrid rain, we just reached the end of the street, turned around and went back into the car.
I don’t know what it is about Fontanars, but almost every memory I have of visiting it also includes mountains skirted in thick clouds, winds and copious storms. Maybe this is what makes it so good for wine making!
The trip in which we did everything we couldn’t do before
We once went to Moixent to visit la Bastida de les Alcusses, a super interesting archeological site for an Iberian city (four centuries BC old). Moixent is very close to Fontanars dels Alforins, and we very innocently tried to visit Casa Julio both without a reservation and without checking whether it would be open at all.
When we arrived, if it was open, it was very well concealed. If there was anyone inside or in the town at all, it was impossible to tell. The only inhabitant we encountered was a cat sunbathing in the middle of the road. So we had to go back home and make our own lunch.
But this time it was so very different. We had checked and confirmed, and we did finally visit the restaurant!
Between this and finally visiting Arráez, I felt so much accomplishment 🥳
Comte Salvatierra, 9
46635 Fontanars dels Alforins
Tip: you can try to book by e-mail, which is what I did! No need to call if you can’t quite speak Spanish fluently yet. I asked if they had space for a date and and time and since it was in advance enough, they said yes, and it was confirmed. No stress! 👌🏼