El Planeta: Sardines, fish from another planet in the oldest restaurant in Gijón | Lifestyle

Cloth and paper tablecloths, waiters carrying several plates full of bones, television with some sports program in the background, a table of parishioners playing cards and more than 100 people eating sardines in front of the sea. This is what an ordinary day can be like at El Planeta (Tránsito de las Ballenas, 4), the oldest restaurant in Gijón, founded in 1846. It is located in the picturesque neighborhood of Cimavilla, on one of the liveliest slopes in the city, and It is a good place to go for seasonal fish.

The brothers Roberto and José Luis Cristóbal are in charge of this family business that their parents took over in 1967. “This was a neighborhood eating house where the sailors came. It was 55 years ago in September that my father acquired it and every time he saved, he would make a reform. The last one was in the nineties when we transformed the upper part into the current room —and now its tables with views of the marina are the most coveted—”, says Roberto. On its walls there are stuffed fish given by fishermen friends, paintings that clients paint for them and some family photographs. “The decoration doesn’t make any sense, but since they are gifts made with love there is nothing better,” he explains.

Facade of El Planeta in the Cimadevilla neighborhood of GijónAlmudena Avalos

It is sardine season and the clientele turns to El Planeta because they know there is no mistake. “Until the eighties, the fish market was right below the restaurant. It depends on the day we buy from wholesale fishermen, at the port or they call me directly because we all know each other forever”. Maybe that’s why they always have a good genre. “And because I try to pay for it as good,” he says. They sell a portion of twelve sardines for 18 euros and they have not changed their price for five years. Roberto confesses that to make them well there is no other trick than getting the best quality, iron and salt. “They are so successful because of their smell nobody wants to work them. Everyone wants to eat them but not make them at home,” he says with a laugh.

Roberto Cristóbal, one of the owners of El Planeta, holds samples of shellfish
Roberto Cristóbal, one of the owners of El Planeta, holds samples of shellfishAlmudena Avalos

Another of its claims in the summer season is the tuna from the North and especially its ventresca. “40 years ago my mother began to clean it in a very curious way, putting it on the grill with great care and it became famous until today”, says Roberto. There are still days when his mother, Concha Victorero, stops by to lend a hand in the kitchen. “Yesterday he came to make a pretty roll,” she says as she shows a photo she took in the kitchen. And his salads, simple and impeccable, are the perfect element to accompany any fish or seafood dish. “We try to have the Asturian tomato, even if its season only lasts two months. And for the lettuce leaves, my mother has always had a special cut that she has taught to all the people who work here. She was born in 1931, her grandmothers raised her and she carries above her the cooking stove and the copper pot. She is not worth anything, not even when it comes to cutting lettuce”, adds Roberto.

Support to the local

Gijón cake from the Iceland ice cream parlor and the house rice pudding at El Planeta
Gijón cake from the Iceland ice cream parlor and the house rice pudding at El PlanetaAlmudena Avalos

For desserts, they offer some creations from the neighboring Iceland Ice Cream Shop (San Antonio, 4). “They were the ones who invented Cabrales cheese ice cream, later they made cider and rice pudding. To pay homage to the La Ibense bonbon —a classic from Gijón made with cream and chocolate with a wrapper vintage— they invented a pink cream bonbon that we offer together with the classic cakes, also made in their workshop”, he says. To drink, the cider they have at El Planeta has been protected under the Protected Designation of Origin Sidra de Asturias for three years: “We had always had both references, but we opted for exclusivity with the PDO to support the local product. Normal natural cider is no worse, but it is made with Portuguese, Polish or León apples. The PDO is from Asturias”. They serve it only at the bar, at the tables each diner serves it to their liking and it can also be taken out to the street.

All kinds of people mix in its halls. “It’s curious because during the week business lunches are held and on holidays those same people repeat with their families,” says Roberto. But they also bring together neighbors and tourists, and have been inspiring artists since 1899. In that year, Armando Palacio Valdés wrote about the excellence of his cuisine in his novel The Joy of Captain Ribot. And in 2021, the artist Amalia Ullman premiered her independent film The planetwith which he has achieved good international reviews and in which his main characters appear eating here.

Summer, a bit of fiction, cider and sardines. Little more can you ask for in life.

The kitchen of El Planeta is open every day from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., except on Sunday afternoons when it closes.

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