Monday, 5 October 2015

Aponiente, El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz, Spain.

This is the third time in as many years that we have dined at Aponiente. As I have said before, I believe that it is one of the very best restaurants in Spain. The seafood only cuisine of Ángel León is completely unique. He's a TV star over there, perhaps a more affable version of Marcus Wareing here in the UK.
We were if anything even more excited to visit there on this occasion. Aponiente has only just moved to a newly converted 18th-century flour mill overlooking the estuary and most appropriately out to sea. We pull up in a taxi and enter and a grand illuminated courtyard.
The mill itself is a long open building with huge high ceilings and porthole windows over the shimmering water. There are fish motifs everywhere you look, silver scales and metallic barnacles adorn the open kitchen. It reminds us of when we went to Azurmendi in the entrance hall in that this is not just a meal now, it's an event. You get a little tour, it's a bit like an art gallery. You can see down to the old water mill. We love it. I must admit, when you have been to a restaurant a few times and written about them, you do get treated pretty well too. Who wouldn't enjoy such a thing?
We're shown to the best table in the place at the back corner with a view of the whole restaurant. The lighting is subdued, not actually brilliant for food photography but I do my best. We opt for the Select Menu over the longer grand one. (Wisely as it turns out, we've been burnt that way before, this one turns out to be a perfect length).
You don't get long elaborate descriptions on the menu, just "baby shrimp", "marinated anchovy" etc. They do tell you when the food arrives but I never listen properly anyway. So how best to describe the food here? It's never just a beautifully cooked piece of fish on a plate. You can order that at any good restaurant. It's often appears to use very high end innovative techniques to create completely unique dishes that could only come from here. They've created their own language in food. The technique is never for its' own sake though, it always ends up giving you that moment of astonishment. 'My god what's that?' I never know, I just know it's utterly delicious. The only way I can think of describing the mouth-feel is like electricity on your tongue.
We begin with some small snacks.
Waves of little dishes come and go, each one more beautiful than the last. The only course which doesn't convince quite as much are the cold cut cured meat imposters all made of seafood. Some taste identical to the meat counterparts  and you're left feeling, yes this is clever but is it better than the real thing?
Baby squid, Sweet Plankton (much better than it sounds), mussels, sardines, squids, mackerel, cockle, cuttlefish, prawn, crab, hake, sea cucumber, oyster, and Plankton rice (a signature dish that they change slightly each year). Our favourite courses are the ones where you get a creamy broth with them, sometimes lurid green or yellow. One dish has barnacle like holes in it, we ask for bread to mop up the precious juices that are being lost in the little gaps.
I go for a wander and take some photos of the chefs in action. Juan Luis Fernández Fernández, Executive Chef stands at the pass. There's a quiet focused urgency like all great restaurants.
On the way back head chef Ángel León shakes me by the hand and we chat mainly through an interpreter. It always amazes me when you meet chefs like this in Spain, he's charming  and enthusiastic. He even shows us the porthole in which he fishes out of. This is all part of a magical evening for us and our best meal of the year. This is both in terms of food and the restaurant experience.
In my opinion Aponiente will get a third Michelin star in 2016 or perhaps 2017, deservedly making it to the top echelons of Spanish and World restaurants. Maybe then they will get the international recognition they truly deserve. You heard it here first (in English anyway).

2 comments:

  1. Went there 2 nights ago, definitely agree with your assessment. 3rd Michelin star coming soon as well as top mention in the Pellegrino list. One of a kind, almost like a Spanish Kaiseki. With 100% of the distilled essence of Spanish cuisine in a seafood base. Plus the Sherry pairing is mind-expanding. Having a hard time going back to wine! More unique than some of the 3 star restaurants in San Sebastian, which seem a bit "outdated" these days. Angel's food feels more modern and timeless. Wish I lived closer so I could go back! (I'm from Los Angeles)

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    1. Thanks for your fantastic comment Brian, completely agree, we are going back in a week too!

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