[Spain: El Puerto de Santa Maria] 3* Aponiente by Chef Angel Leon
Kicked off our Andalusia trip in Spain with a transformative meal at 3* Aponiente! The restaurant serves only seafood and became the first 3* restaurant in Andalusia in 2017. Set in an 18th century tidal mill behind a train station and surrounded by industrial warehouses, it seemed like an unlikely location for a fine dining restaurant at first. We arrived early before the opening time but when the staff spotted us, they immediately opened the steel gates and welcomed us in. Only one 16-course tasting menu “Salt Water - Fresh Water” is offered at the moment for 215€ per person.
The experience actually started in one of the two glasshouses on the patio with snacks and aperitif. We were first treated with a glass of sherry since the region is famous for it - in fact the wine pairing turned out to consist mostly of sherry wines from the Cadiz area (some are exclusively made for the restaurant). If you like sherry, the wine pairing here is a must-try.
The first snack was Sea Urchin which had been marinated by sea honey (made from the aquatic plant Ruppia Maritima) and served with Payoyo goat cheese wafer, plankton and elderflower.
Next was the crunchy Shrimp Fritter made with baby prawns (camarones) - a highly elevated version of the famous local dish in Cadiz.
The last bite was Sun-dried Cuttlefish made into a nigiri and topped with squid ink sauce. All of the canapés were exquisite and very refined so we knew we were in for a treat for the rest of the meal.
As we moved to the dining room in the main building, we walked through a long corridor and passed by the kitchen and an impressive display of seafood charcuterie in the dry room.
Once we sat down at our table, we were first served with 3 types of bread with plankton butter before the impressive display of Almadraba Tuna Ham was wheeled out to our table. It looked like Iberico ham at first but it’s actually Atlantic bluefin tuna belly that had been treated in the same way as jamon and cured for 43 days. Dubbed “sea ham”, the flavors and textures were amazing - just wished I had more than 2 slices.
What a cute drawing of a tuna pig!
Next up was a silky smooth Oyster Vichyssoise with caviar and sea grapes where the balance of the oyster flavor was just right and not overly fishy.
Sea Snails with charred halophytes which is a type of sea plant that can survive in waters of high salinity.
Mackerel Salad where the fish had been cured in salt with cucumber gelee, horseradish and 3 different types of seaweed. To complete the dish, a deep-fried mackerel head was served with a dollop of adobo cream.
The flavorful Razor Clam with Salicornia (sea asparagus), emulsion of Bilbaina and razor clam jus was easily a favorite.
Sea Cucumber I with mustard, capers and bacon. Typically in Spain, only the insides of the sea cucumber are used unlike Chinese cuisine so I was surprised to see that in Sea Cucumber II, the skin was served with cuttlefish ink hollandaise.
Sea Anemome grilled in Josper with celery and fennel flowers. This was my first time eating sea anemome but apparently it's a common thing to eat in Andalusia and we would end up eating it a few more things on this eating trip around the region.
The last savory dish was a Baby Squid with caramelized onion sauce.
Desserts turned out to be even more creative. Imagine my surprise when I was told that my first dessert was Squid. We thought squid may be metaphorical but it was actual squid slices on a bowl of ice. We were told to dip the squid first in candied egg yolk and then yuzu frozen powder - similar to how you would breadcrumb something. And to my surprise, the combination actually worked! The squid flavor wasn't strong at all so it tasted mostly of egg yolk and yuzu.
The next dessert was a Petri dish with a cover made of apple and a mixture of halophyte, seaweed and plankton inside.
Desserts took a Moroccan turn with the Moroccan Lemon which was cooked with "live salt" right in front of us! Created by the chef Angel Leon who used table salt, vinegar and calcium, the special salt mixture is blended with water, then boiled and cooled. When poured on food, it crystallizes in seconds and reaches temperatures between 65 to 150°C to perfectly cook the ingredient. Apparently the chef has been using the live salt to cook fish and seafood, but for us it was a lemon for dessert. The cooked lemon peels were then served with lemon cream, rass al hanout crumble, Moroccan lemon gelato, goat cheese & cardamom foam, mint oil and baharat.
When this vase of flowers was brought over, I didn't even realize that it actually contained our palate cleansers - Fennel Sorbet lollipops!
Finally a table of petit fours in Moroccan style was wheeled out to our table to conclude the meal. Morocco (and Africa) is actually pretty close to the southern tip of Spain so I guess the restaurant wanted to showcase the Moroccan influences in the region with first the Moroccan Lemon dessert and now the petit fours.
Last thing I want to mention is the service here! I swear the service at Aponiente is one of the best I've ever experienced in a fine dining restaurant - it's like a well choreographed dance where everyone knows what they're doing. This meal was definitely the highlight of our trip in Andalusia!
C. Francisco Cossi Ochoa, s/n, 11500 El Puerto de Sta María, CádizTel: +34 606 225 859
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