This is one of my favourite restaurants! Make sure you reserve as soon as you know you’re going to Huelva as it’s very popular. I’ve put it at the top of my list on my Google map.
Acanthum (Advanced A), 17 San Salvador, Tel. +34 959 245 135, www.acanthum.com
This restaurant requires its own post as there’s so much to say. Huelva province is rich in quality ingredients, from wonderful seafood to fantastic hams and great wines, and so the chef Xanty Elias has plenty to work with. Nearly everything that his diners eat or drink is from the area.
I’d been trying to get in since I arrived but it was booked out every evening as a result of being awarded a Michelin star, the first in Huelva province, the month before.
On my very last day, a quiet Tuesday, I finished work before lunch and was able to get a table by arriving as soon as they opened at 1pm. I was still cursed with my timetable though as I only had a paltry ninety minutes in which to eat before I had to catch a train back to Seville. Consequently I opted for the eight dish ‘Electio’ Menu de Degustacion (they only do tasting menus), which I was told would take an hour or so to eat, rather than the full fifteen dish ‘Acanthum’ which would need at least two hours.
The wine was served up by the very friendly and knowledgeable sumiller (sommelier) José Antonio who speaks good English. We had an instant rapport as we swapped ideas and thoughts on food and drink. I had him to myself for a while as the restaurant only started to fill up around 2pm and I learnt so much in just a short time.
We started with an unnamed amuse bouche of two small crackers with some creamy substance which were okay but lacking in any perceptible flavour (B).
José Antonio’s first offering was a local espumosa called Édalo by Contreras Ruiz. It was fine but not mindblowing (B).
The dishes were usually listed on the menu by their ingredients rather than a descriptive name so I have written them here in the same way.
The starter proper ‘Ortiguilla – Coco – Lemon Grass’ was another pair of crackers this time made with sea anemone (a local delicacy) topped with two small pikelets containing the South East Asian herb, I think, and spotted with a reduction of coconut milk. This did much more for my taste buds (A).
Next a large black tile with an imprint of a right hand arrived on the table and I was required to place my palm into it and have the ‘La Caballa en Adobo’, aka a cube of vinegared mackerel balanced on the back of my hand. However the theatre didn’t really make up for the tiny portion (B).
To drink, Condado Palido by Bodegas Juncales, made from Palomino grapes using the solera method, just like sherry, except they can’t call it that as it comes from the Condado de Huelva DO rather than Jerez.
Next ‘Algarroba – Sardinia Usisa – Placton’. Algarroba is the pod of the carob plant which has a pleasant, sweet taste and is often used instead of chocolate. Unión Salazonera Isleña, S.A. (USISA) is a canning company, located in Isla Cristina near Huelva, specialising in the artisan production of preserved and salted fish, in this case sardines. Placton is of course plankton, currently a popular ingredient in modern Spanish cuisine.
I’d lost the plot with the food by now as I was so blown away by the wines which were backing up on the table as they knew I was in a rush. All I can say is that the fish was fine in combination with the other ingredients (B).
Next ‘Nuestro Ravioli y Clorofilia’ or two tiny little cubes with skins made of ham fat, containing I think a stew of cuttlefish and potato, sitting in a pool of liquidised chlorophyll and I think asparagus . Good flavour (B+) but again a frustratingly tiny portion.
‘Atun – Morro – Cangrejo’. Morro means ‘nose’ or more probably ‘snout’, although I’m not sure which animal it comes from (a pig most likely). I remember José Antonio telling me this crab was usually just used for stocks as it wasn’t large enough to be eaten on its own. Good flavours (B+). Forgot to get a pic, sorry.
To drink, Garay Red, a white wine, yellowed in oak, and made by Bodegas Garay in La Palma del Condado. It was very good as far as I remember (B+).
‘Arroz con Setas y Yema Curada’. I’m a sucker for mushroom risotto and anything similar so this hit the spot (A).
‘Carrillo de Buey – Pina – Vanilla’. I love beef cheeks too and this unusual combination, with the vanilla pod treated like a grissini, was very interesting (B+).
With this, a red wine called Bemoles by Cerro San Cristabal. Fine as I recall.
Next we went off piste with a tabla of two goat’s and two sheep cheeses. Two of these were I think, La Chivita (a goat’s cheese from Asturias) and Zamorano (a sheep’s cheese from north west Spain similar to Manchego). To my knowledge, these were the only things I had from outside of Huelva province.
‘La Torrija del Pobre y Torta de Ines Rosales’. Torrija (a kind of bread pudding) is one of my favourites too and this ‘poor version’ (made without egg and with water instead of milk), worked very well (A). It was served with crumbled torta and strawberries for which Huelva is famous (many of the ones we eat in the UK come from the province).
I was given a whole Torta de Ines Rosales to take with me which was a nice touch. It’s a round biscuit made of wheat flour, olive oil, sugar and spices including a hint of anise, from an original 1910 recipe.
The order and grading of the wines had got quite fuzzy by this point. Despite the amounts poured being very small, José Antonio responded to my enthusiasm by adding a number of wines that weren’t meant to be included in the wine matching.
I remember being very impressed by the wines from Bodegas Saenz (who also made the vermouth). These included La Patriarcha, a dry almondy sherry-like wine made from Palomino and Pedro Ximénez grapes….
…Dulce Blanco, a sweet white wine…
… and in particular Fresa, a sweet wine made with a syrup of the famous strawberries.
Another drink that impressed me was the Misterio Oloroso Muy Viejo (a sherry aged for forty years) from Bodegas Privilegion del Condado. I did email the bodega’s online shop but, as it had been a limited edition of only 500 bottles, it had sold out.
To finish, I also had a glass of Luis Felipe, my most favourite Spanish brandy, which is produced in La Palma del Condado, very near Huelva.
With half an hour left to get my train I had to leg it at this point, so I took my leave of both José Antonio and Xanty the chef/owner who was front of house talking to his guests. I congratulated them on a wonderful experience which I hope to repeat one day when I have more time to enjoy and digest.
The whole shebang only came to £50 which was stunningly cheap considering the quality of the food and wine. You would have to pay three or four times that in the UK, if indeed it were possible to get the same food. I hope you get to experience it too.