A restaurateur who’s always looking for what’s next shows us the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood, where some things are better left unchanged.
Photographs by Ana Nance
I have lived in the Cuatro Caminos neighborhood of Madrid all my life. My parents opened their restaurant, Taberna Asturianos, here in 1966.
They lived in an apartment above the restaurant, and that’s where I was born. My dad taught my mom all the traditional recipes of Asturias, the region in northwest Spain where he grew up. He died in 2008, but my mom still lives in the same apartment, and we both work in the restaurant—she in the kitchen, me in the kitchen and dining room.
When my parents moved to Cuatro Caminos it was a working-class neighborhood, and it still is, but it’s more diverse now. Immigrants, especially from Latin America, have taken over a lot of the traditional, two-story housing. You can find plenty of ethnic restaurants, shops, and markets. But the area is also seeing the first traces of gentrification. There are towering glass offices and chic restaurants opening in the parts that are being redeveloped. You’ll find interesting galleries, including Ivory Press, run by architect Norman Foster’s wife, and what may be the best high-end restaurant in Madrid right now, DiverXo. But the neighborhood still feels authentic, with lots of mom-and-pop grocers and old-fashioned fishmongers.
My family and I live in an apartment about a 15-minute walk from the restaurant. Taberna Asturianos is the opposite of trendy. We haven’t changed the decor since it opened. The dining room is tiny, and there’s only enough room in the kitchen for my mom and one other person. The food my mom cooks is simple: cockles sautéed for barely an instant in garlic and olive oil; slow-cooked beef shank; the region’s famous bean stews—that kind of thing. But everything is made with the best ingredients. That’s what we’re known for. And we serve interesting wines. So we’ve always been a place for people who really know and care about food. You come here on a Sunday night, and you’ll probably see a restaurant critic from one of the big Spanish papers, or an off-duty chef, or a winemaker.
I’m in the restaurant most nights, acting as host, manager, and sommelier. My brother Belarmino and I have always worked in the restaurant. We also make wine—a red called Tres Patas and a white called Loco. (Its bottle comes strapped in a straitjacket.) Literature is my other great love besides food, which led me to start writing a food column for the Span- ish edition of Esquire. I also have a radio show and filmed a cooking program. Once, I even appeared on Anthony Bourdain’s TV show. I took him out with a group of shepherds and we made cheese and caldereta—lamb stew. I like mixing it up. I guess you can say that when I get bored I look for something new, except when it comes to the neighborhood where I live.
The Fernández family restaurant, Asturianos, is located at Vallehermoso 94, 34/(0) 91-533-5947.
This appeared in the May 2014 issue.