Wednesday 18 September 2013

Aponiente, El Puerto de Santa Maria, Spain.

I didn't even wait for the alarm to go off, I was already wide awake. It was 3am, and I'd been awake for an hour at least. Despite taking several flights a year, I never get used to catching an early flight. I drown my worries (about getting there on time) with red wine, but always wake up early anyway. We got to the airport so early, that the shops weren't even open yet, and young lads were still drinking beer from the night before. I managed to get a little sleep on the plane, which made me feel almost human again. Once we'd sorted all the hassle of hiring the car on our arrival at Malaga (queuing etc,) it was a long two and a half hour drive north west to El Puerto de Santa Maria near to the port of Cadiz. (A favourite place of mine.) We were going there especially to eat at Aponiente. I guess this is what Michelin mean by; worth a special journey. It was indeed. 
My tastes have changed with eating quite regularly at good restaurants. I'm no longer too interested in eating at established two or three star places that serve exquisite, expensive but unsurprising food. (The Square in London comes to mind.) No for me, the most exciting restaurants are the relatively undiscovered places, maybe they've just got a Michelin star and they're on their way up. They tend to be more experimental I guess. They're usually cheaper too. Azurmendi was such a place a few years back. I had a hunch that Aponiente would be too. Happily, I was right.

El Puerto de Santa Maria is a very typical Spanish coastal town, there seemed to be very few foreign tourists there, the beach is long and sandy, if flanked a little by industrial buildings, we probably wouldn't have come here if it hadn't been for this restaurant, but we were glad we did, it was a little shabby at the edges, but we liked that.
After chilling on the beach for a few hours, we got a taxi to the restaurant, at about 8.15pm and it being Spain we were the first there. I loved the interior, modern and elegant, with quirky touches, like the lamp shades that look like creatures from the deep.

 I should tell you that the whole taster menu, is all fish and seafood their specialism and chef ('del mar') Ángel León's passion. Without further ado, here's what we had.
"Gran Menu 2013...Cravings from a sail man in land." We didn't travel all that way to have the short version.
Sausages from the sea. Look like chorizo, but they're fish.
First course. Sea urchin Burrata. Absolutely gorgeous.
Octopus bacon: delicate and fresh.

Smoked canned sardines. You've never had canned sardines like this before.

Livers cooked in Andalusian traditional style; superb.

Piquillo peppers filled with unknown fish. They had that intense strength of flavour that we crave.

Mackerel marinated in classic adobo; the presentation is simple, minimal and unfussy but always the flavour is the star.

Local calamari with potatoes. 
Second Course. 
"Something like an oyster in plankton juice."  I love oysters, and this was gorgeous.
Refreshing fish with red beet and lime. 
Cold clam juice with plankton, creamy and totally dreamy, my star dish.
Sweet temaky with plankton. 
"All you can eat a razor clam"; fabulous.
Bonito Steak-Tartare. I actually thought this was a little too spicy and the delicate flavour of the tartare was lost a little.
Plankton rice, an Aponiente classic. Deserves to go along side The Fat Duck's Snail Porridge as a classic dish of its type.
Unpretentious chicken stew. 
Gibraltar's bone marrow with whisky. This was so meaty and flavoursome.
Third Course. All the puddings were great too. Refreshing apple, fennel, celery, basil.
Citric Tart. 
Light Moroccan cake. 
Chef Ángel León came around and briefly chatted to us, (I always think this is a lovely touch). Through an interpreter and my rusty Spanish I tried to tell him that I thought the food was absolutely superb. The quality of the produce was top drawer as you'd expect, but the technical ability and skill combined together to create some truly exceptional cuisine. It takes quite quite a lot to blow us away these days, but the food at Aponiente was totally unique, flawless and simply world class, amongst the best we've ever eaten. Ángel León in my opinion is an up and coming superstar and one to watch for the future. The food and service were top notch, and I can see Aponiente getting a second Michelin star as I would say it's easily superior to 3 Michelin star restaurants like Sant Pau and Alkeleré in terms of food as well as service. 
It's very much worth that special journey.
Price: €98 for the long taster menu and just €25 for a bottle of Albariño. Well worth it.
Service: Superb, snappy and efficient; Michelin star quality.
Atmosphere: A stunning little restaurant.
Food: Excellent.
Star dish:
Cold clam juice with plankton.
Score: 9.5/10.

Soundtrack; Harry Thumann - Underwater.


  1. Looks like I have to book a flight to Spain soon.

  2. Espero ir algun dia a probar su plancton y pescados varios, de momento tengo su libro " chef del mar" que conseguí en una puja del "banco de alimentos" y que él generosamente lo cedió para ayudar a tantas personas que lo necesitan.