Angel León of AponienteLeón and his beloved seaweed. Copyright: Aponiente
Generally I try to keep this blog about eating and drinking in or near to Barcelona. But every now and then it seems relevant to write the odd aside when I stumble across something exceptional somewhere else. And so, after a long, hot summer in Andalucía, baking myself in the sun by day and sipping sherry in the cool of the night, it seems churlish not to share the wonders of Ángel León, the head chef at Aponiente in El Puerto de Santa Maria on the Atlantic Coast, and a culinary star in the making.
El Puerto de Santa Maria is a handsome little town best known for its fried fish—tortillitas de camarones in particular—and a handful of bodegas producing fortified wines to rival that of Jerez. León meanwhile is a chef to rival Adrià and has earned the Cádiz region its only Michelin star for his inspired treatment of local marine life.
Using largely, lowlier types of fish such as sardines, mackerel, squid and various species of shark, as well as plankton (which is essentially drifting marine organisms like plants, small animals including jellyfish or bacteria that provide food for bigger organisms like actual fish) and algae, both of which he farms himself, he works magic upon them and in so doing has hit upon something that is somehow both high gastronomy and salt of the earth, or in this case the ocean.
His embutidos de pescados for example are disconcertingly like the real thing in appearance and texture, yet the fishy-salty-briny-crazy-umami-taste tells you he’s no joker. He’s a master of techniques like salting and preserving for flavour and isn’t adverse to the odd unorthodox combination. His chunk of shark slathered in sticky algae ‘butter’ scented with bitter oranges is daubed with three spots of creamy Requesón cheese. It’s sort of alien, yet invigorating, playful and utterly brilliant, while a plankton arroz with cuttlefish aioli makes the touristy paellas of the Costa del Sol seem like something the cat dragged in.
Even the wine pairing pushes the envelope by running a double bill of still wines against bone dry manzanillas and various sherries so you can pitch the two against the other and enjoy whichever you deem fits each dish best.
Puerto Escondido, El Puerto de Santa Maria. +34 956 851 870. www.aponiente.com. Closed Sun night and Mon. 12-course tasting menu with wine pairing €95.