Huelva – Centro – Acanthum the best restaurant in town

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.

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I’ve been twice, in 2015 and 2017. I’ve posted the most recent experience first. So in 2017…

… the dishes and wines came thick and fast again so I didn’t have time to grade anything. Again I was chatting all the way through with Thiago the new sommelier from Brasilia. His English accent was a little hard to understand at times but I enjoyed his selection of local wines.

I had the €72 Menu Emocion, a ten-dish tasting menu of ten dishes (plus bonus dishes) and the eight-glass Maridaje de Vinos add on for another €32.

We stared with an unknown amuse bouche and a glass of sherry.

Olive – Sherry – Sardine with a glass of red verumut from my old friend, Bodega Saenz.

Mussel – Lime – “Galanga” Spice. I remember really liking the Blue Garay from the local village of La Palma del Condado (where Luis Felipe brandy also comes from).

Prawn – Pistachio

Tomato – Coriander – Swordfish with a Palomino Fino called Espinapura.

Cuttlefish – Wood Ear – Soybean

Iberian Ham Tartar. Sounds very wrong making tartar from raw ham but when it’s the best in the world, it’s a different matter. Video here.

This was paired with a wine from Delea A Marca who are noted for being the first producer to use French grapes in Huelva.

Artichoke – Baby Clam with a glass of sparkling Lume Brut from Contreras Ruiz.

Not sure what this extra was but it came with another wine from Delea A Marca, a Cab Sauv this time.

Partridge – Pig’s Trotters – “Trompeta” Mushrooms with an Oloroso called 1918 from Antonio Contreras Labrador in Condado de Huelva again.

Steak – Pumpkin – Rosemary

Yes, I know it looks like a certain emoji, as one of my kind friends pointed out, but don’t think about that! It tasted great, as did the smallest carrot I’ve ever had.

Lemon – Peach – Ginger with Ricahembra, a sweet blend of Zalema and PX grapes, from Condado de Huelva once more.

Chocolate – Coffee – Hazlenuts

Thiago saved the best wine for last; Entrepalo, a Bodega Saenz wine (as are many others in this post) that is exclusively made for the restaurant. It was sherryesque, but like nothing I’d ever had before.

It cost me €110, the most I’ve ever paid for a bottle of wine, but it really did blow me away, and it was Christmas so I forgave myself.

Truffles

This was a disappointing end for three reasons. First, to my mind truffles should be made of chocolate, second I hate fruit chews and third the menu states a plural. The size of the board just served to emphasise the insufficiency. Ah well, the rest was good.

The grand total came to a scary €226 but half of that was the Entrepalo. Overall the food wasn’t quite as good as last time but I still enjoyed myself a lot.

And in 2015…

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).

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José Antonio’s first offering was a local espumosa called Édalo by Contreras Ruiz. It was fine but not mindblowing (B).

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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With this a local red vermouth; Vermut Sáenz made by Bodegas del Diezmo Nuevo (aka Bodegas Sáenz) in nearby Moguer, which was good (B).

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‘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).

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‘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+).

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With this, a red wine called Bemoles by Cerro San Cristabal. Fine as I recall.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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….

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…Dulce Blanco, a sweet white wine…

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… and in particular Fresa, a sweet wine made with a syrup of the famous strawberries.

fresa

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.

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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.

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