A few days ago we had the honour and the pleasure to have lunch at Aponiente. It’s an experience that we will never forget. Our 5 senses were bombarded during a 4 hour meal that involved 22 taster dishes and numerous perfectly paired wines.
My wife and I enjoy our food! But I hasten to add that our favourite gastro experiences don’t necessarily need to have ‘t Michelin stars next to their name! Each dining experience has its moment and should be enjoyed for what it is. Very occasionally we do blow the doors off it and head to a leading restaurant to immerse ourselves in cutting edge epicurean delights!
I won’t talk you through our meal dish by dish as I think that is really a bit boring. I’d rather tell you about our sensations and the message that the Chef, owner and Maestro of this project, Ángel Leon transmits.
The Setting: Aponiente’s new restaurant is located in a nondescript line of warehouses next to the Puerto de Santa Maria train station. The building itself is an old tidal mill that used the movement of tidal water to grind wheat and make flower. Today, the mill has been completely restored by Aponiente and offers an original entrance patio that imitates the salt plains and salt mounds from the local “salinas”. On entering, guests walk past an action-packed open kitchen before being seated in a large and elegant dining hall which reminds us of being inside the hull of a large boat. Circular windows give views over the mud flats that are either filling or draining with the tide during the course of your meal.
The food: During the eating experience, perhaps the most surprising thing is hearing the names and ingredients of some of the dishes. Baby shrimp, dogfish, mackerel, jellyfish, cuttlefish, squid and eel are just a few examples. Simple, humble, local ingredients from the ocean that Ángel Leon has transformed into exquisite creations. If we talk about taste, the experience is simply off the chart! Smells and aromas as well. Visually and aesthetically, Aponiente has stepped up their game in a big way. We made our own soup, pressed a cuttlefish and then watched them flambé it! We chose our own fish on entering that was then oven baked in mud!!
The wine pairing also has a local undercurrent. All the wines are either from the sherry triangle or are somehow linked through grape variety or ageing process.
The message: Ángel Leon deserves added merit for what he has achieved. The path that he has chosen fiercely protects and projects his hometown and its fishing culture. In my eyes, he is one of El Puerto de Santa Maria’s, Cadiz’s and Andalucia’s finest ambassadors. He takes a derelict tidal mill and converts it into an exquisite restaurant. He uses local, “poor man’s” fish and transforms them into unique dishes. Highly revered amongst his peers, he is well on his way to achieving 3 Michelin stars. The difference is that he has chosen to do so using mackerel and dogfish instead of truffles and foie. You’ll see him on local TV, promoting Andalucia with a cookery show. I can tell you that he is member of a non-profit organisation that is trying to protect and re-create the old salt marshes that surround Cádiz and El Puerto. He has marketed an area that has a fabulous history, but that has been living off nostalgia and has been going through tough times recently. For me, this meal was much more than an eating experience. It was, as Ángel says, a complex journey made up of many layers with him and his crew.
We’re lucky enough to share some very dear friends with Ángel Leon. After talking with them, we’re delighted to be able to offer some very special experiences that have to do with the Aponiente eating experience and with the unique and exceptional salt marshes that surround his restaurant and that offer him some of the finest ingredients for his most special dishes!
Please write to us to find out more!