Thursday, 9 October 2014

Aponiente, Spain.

Like many of our favourite restaurants, it seems Aponiente could only ever be in Spain, more specifically on the scruffy windswept Atlantic coast of the Costa de la Luz. They take fish very seriously around these parts. You only have to eat out a few times to realise that. Chef Ángel León, 'el chef del mar' has uniquely elevated his love of seafood into an art form here. I hear he's become a bit of a TV star in Spain these days, so you may forgive him if he concentrated on that (as many other chefs have done) and let the restaurant coast a little. But not a bit of it. We were so impressed last year that we planned our trip through Andalucia, in part around a return to El Puerto de Santa María on my birthday. The word on social media was that Aponiente was even better this year as we were soon to find out.
Aponiente is an elegant, simple, modern restaurant with quirky touches, the shell like sculptures on the wall and the lime green paint, and crisp tablecloths, nothing seems starchy or cold though and the service this time especially was warm and efficient.
Looking back at the photos now, it strikes me at how simple everything is in presentation, but it was all about the flavour and showing the beauty and quality of the product. Wave after wave of little starters came and went, all as exquisite as the last. We didn't always know exactly what we were eating but each little morsel was so striking and so pure that it was almost overwhelming. To begin, small appetizers, Seaweed butter (much nicer than it sounds) and chorizo imposters Boga Fish and a delicate Leather Fish.
The first real wow moment were the three - Sardine - European Anchovy - Roes.
One of the only advantages of me taking photos in restaurants is to hear the sheer joy as Mrs B's murmurs of delight, as I still have it all to come. It's good for me, it stops me from scoffing everything in about three seconds. In this case three of the most beautiful little morsels we've had the pleasure of eating. The quality of these product are amongst the best I've had but it seems creativity is only used to enhance and to delight, for flavour, never to show off for the sake of photographing a pretty dish or to get affirmation on social media from other chefs.
The simply named 'Brown shrimps' is their take on the famous Tortillas de Camarones, shrimp fritters. We'd eaten the famous version at Casa Balbino a day or two previously. These were superior as the delicate crunchy lattice fritters were thinner and lighter, decorated with tiny fresh prawns.
Albacore were little green ice cream like cones, gone in a delicious mouth full.
Mackerel, was just that, pure and simple, almost like sushi, nothing more is needed.
Wave after wave keep coming, but unlike other places, it's not overwhelming, the seafood is light and fresh. Razor clams in a sparkly sea blue bowl, more Clams and Cuttlefish.
Then the wonderfully intense but minimal 'Ink' a jet black squid ink dish. Blink and it was over. Must try and savour each mouthful.
A gorgeous silky broth of Salted Tuna ends the first wave of courses and then we get bread. I try to limit myself but how can I when the bread is so good?
So we begin again, Plankton doesn't sound appetising does it? Here it is, a cold, fresh liquid sorbet.
Light and fluffy foam Atlantic Bonito, Greater Weaver, then Venus clam with the most lurid green creamy soup.
The oyster for me was the most perfect dish.
The waiter explained that they'd recreated an oyster but removed the texture as to some people it's unpleasant. Not me. But this was exactly like an oyster in flavour but with the most gorgeous mouth-feel of a creamy mousse. I was genuinely sad when I'd finished it.  
The large Shrimp was for us the only misfire. They had tweaked with this one just too much, when the product is so wonderful, better for me would be to just leave it as is, the flavour wasn't quite right for us.
The greenest green plankton risotto we remember from last time, a signature dish.
Superior Scallop and Red Tuna dishes sadly brought the savoury part to an end.
In between, they kindly gifted us some beautifully sweet dessert wine from Malaga, Jorge Ordonez & Co. No 2 Victoria Moscatel. Mrs Bacon sensibly had a mint tea.
Both desserts were also strong, a beautiful fresh beetroot sorbet dish, Sweet Sea first.
Then the waiter with a flourish and knowing wink brings over what looks like fish in salt. Of course it a little joke, underneath is a cooked gooey banana. Simple but effective.
Eating at Aponiente again was a complete joy. The innovation as in many of the great Spanish restaurants is built on a complete understanding of past, the basis of fine culinary tradition and in absolutely wonderful local produce. The modern cutting edge techniques are used in harmony and balance with the fantastic local seafood, to enhance it and not just for the sake of using them. Ángel León is a fisherman himself, he respects the sea and champions the use of more sustainable lesser known fish on the menu. His philosophy says, "the best way to speak of the sea, is to be totally in love with it, live for it, from our stance on the Earth."
Chef Ángel León and his team are creating food that is completely unique and individual and very much of their specific place and time. It may have a single Michelin star at the moment but this restaurant is on an upward trajectory, for us it's one of the best restaurants in Spain right now. It would be no exaggeration to say that we feel lucky to have eaten there again. It was well worth that return journey.

To see more photos click here.
The grand menu cost us €135 (£105) each. There is a smaller tasting menu for €105 but we didn't come all this way for half measures. A bottle of Albariño was around about €20.
To see our earlier visit click here.

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