Cenador De Amos Review-Michelin starred food served with a sense of humor

At the risk of cries of outrage from men throughout Cantabria, I’m going to put it out there and say that the best food of the region is not in fact their mothers’ tortilla, or even their grandmother’s age old, six hour to cook recipe for cocido montanes.  Tucked away in the small village of Villaverde de Pontejos culinary maestro Jesus Sanchez, chef at restaurant Cenador De Amos is creating innovative food good enough to impress even the most devout mummy’s boy.

The restaurant is located in Cantabria in Northern Spain, in a small village where every second building seems to be for sale.  This along with the fact that the restaurant is not exactly on the beaten track (read: very tricky to locate!), it is surprising that the restaurant receives enough custom to keep its doors open. It really must be the food.  Cenador de Amos has a range of menus ranging from molecular gastronomy to more traditional fare.  We opted for the Menu de Degustacion, deciding previously to go all out and live off lentils for the rest of the month.  Although it must be said that by the end of the meal we thought we may not need to eat at all for the rest of the month.

The restaurant is housed in a restored stone building, with the dining room decorated in a modern, simplistic style.  Simple white table clothes, polished silver and rustic tiled flooring made for pleasant surroundings that weren’t over done.  Other than the food, the stand out feature was definitely the service.  We were greeted and seated in a manner suited to the style of restaurant (coats taken, chairs pulled out etc), but whilst very polite and helpful, the server and sommelier also proved to have a sense of humor; not always the case in these types of restaurants.

All the courses were explained simply in a mix of Spanish and English, suitable wines were recommended crumbs were removed, and subtle jokes about Manchester United’s recent loss to Bilbao were made.  The friendliness of the staff made the dining experience hugely more enjoyable since we didn’t feel like we were being watched constantly and creating too many crumbs on the table (we are pretty messy eaters).

Now to the food.  The menu we chose consisted of 16 small and surprisingly multicultural courses, featuring dishes ranging from traditional Cantabrian with a gastronomical twist to Moroccan and South American style courses.  There was a great range of flavours, colors and plates.  All the courses were handily printed on a take home menu, not only useful for blogging purposes as it would be impossible to remember the names of all the dishes, but also to remind you of what to expect next during the meal.

I will apologize in advance for the photo quality.  Although I have a camera which in theory should do all the hard work for me, I don’t seemed to have quite mastered the art of food photography yet.  Rest assured the food did not all have a slightly blue tinge up until the 9th course- this is just when I realized the camera was on the wrong setting.

The first dish was Crema de ave y foie (Chicken and foie soup).  This was creamy, rich and utterly delicious, giving us high hopes of what was to follow.  There is nothing more worrying when you sit down to 16 courses than receiving a bad soup to start, it makes you a little uneasy of what you are in for next if they can’t even nail a simple soup, but this did not disappoint.

The second entree was Morcilla sin sacrifico (Black pudding without blood).  This seemed like a puzzling concept, as far as I knew Morcilla was made of pretty much only blood, with a bit of rice thrown in.  However it was soon clarified that the Morcilla was in fact an olive tapanade, shaped exactly into the form of a small slice of morcilla.  It’s amazing the surprise you get when you bite into something that looks exactly like Morcilla, but tastes like olives- even when you know what it is, it seems like your brain is programmed for the flavour you associate with what your eyes see.  This was served with La guindilla (a pimiento stuffed with tuna), typical Cantabrian fare, but shaped into a perfectly smooth sphere.

Morcilla sin sacrifico y La guindilla

The next entree was Tomate pimiento del cristal (Glass tomato and pepper).  This was a thin green pepper stuffed with a fresh tomato salsa,very light and tasty.

Tomate pimiento del cristal

We then started the second part of the menu, (second entree, first main course?  I’m not exactly sure what to call it!).  The first dish was one of my favorites of the night, El Juego alrededor del foie (loosely translated, foie three ways).  These included a piece of fresh pate like foie, sandwiched between to thin wafers, a cooked piece of foie and a creme brulee made from…foie! With a little meringue in the corner, just for fun.

El Juego alrededor del foie

We were then served with what was my least favourite dish of the night, La Ostra Margarita (Margarita Oyster).  I don’t like oysters, so this wasn’t totally surprising.  I was hoping they would do something magical to change to way I saw oysters forever, but it still tasted like sea water to me!  I liked the little spherification pearl though.

La ostra margarita

This was served with a little wafer basket filled with guacamole.

Then the main courses started to arrive.  All of these were totally different and included dishes made with meat, beans, fish and vegetables for total variety.

The first was a rather improved version of french onion soup, Cebolla tierna con queso ‘Divirin’ y oregano fresco (Onions with Divirin cheese and fresh oregano).

Cebolla tierna con queso 'Divirin' y oregano fresco

The next had a South American flavour, Pochas en caldo de arroz venere (red beans in stock with little ‘rice’ like crumbs flavoured like popcorn).  It tasted a little like a corn tortilla filled with beans…but much better.

Pochas en cado de arroz venere

We then moved onto a more Morrocon inspired dish of Como un ‘cus-cus’ la lenteja (like a cous- cous made of lentils).  This was indeed just like cous- cous but with a lentil flavour.  It was served with melting pork belly pieces and grapes.  I don’t know what they had done to the grapes, but the result was like an explosion of grape in the mouth.

Como un 'cus-cus' la lenteja

The next course was Ravioli de apio-nabo con brandad de bacalao (Ravioli of celery and turnip filled with cod)

Ravioli de apio-nabo con brandada de bacalao

This was followed by a fish course of Rape en adobo de aceituna negra (Monkfish in a marinade of black olive).  This was delicious despite the skid marks.

Rape en adobo de aceituna negra

Then came the meat course in the form of Molleja de ternera con alcachofas y queso almendra (veal sweetbread with artichokes and almond cheese).  The cheese was the stand out part of this dish, fresh and light, but with a distinct almond flavour.

Molleja de ternera con alcachofas y queso de alemandra

Then at last it was time for the last savory part of the meal.  La albondiga de pichon y anchoa, (Meatball of baby pigeon and anchovy).

La albondiga de pichon y anchoa

Time for dessert!

The first course of sweets was a delicious Yogur con manzana e hinojo (Yoghurt with apple and fennel).  This was a frozen apple flavoured yoghurt with a variety of yoghurt and apple flavoured accompaniments, and what seemed to be a contact lens on top.

Yogur con manzana e hinojo

The second dessert had a Cantabrian flavour- Sobao caramelizado, leche y tapioca.  (Traditional Cantabrian sponge cake caramelized with milk and tapioca).  Still not a big fan of the tapioca, but the rest was delicious.

Sobao caramelizado, leche y tapioca...hard to see for the bubbles!

Finally, the icing on the cake, entretenimientos dulces (sweet entertainments!),served with tea and coffee.  These featured a variety of meringues, chocolates, Turkish delight, strawberry yoghurt and their own version of the ‘Filipino’, a popular chocolate coated, dohnut shaped biscuit in Spain.

We left full, relaxed and thoroughly impressed with what is without a doubt some of Cantabria’s best food.

La Fabrica San Sebastian Review

A couple of weeks ago we were lucky enough to dine at La Fabrica restaurant in San Sebastian, courtesy of Breadheads parents.  In the city which has the most Michelin Starred restaurants per head of population, it’s always nice to have some guidance on where to eat, as there is almost too much choice and some of the options would leave a sizable hole in your pocket.  The restaurant was mentioned as a place of interest in out Spanish Gourmet Tour guide, and with a degustation menu at 38 euros a head, including excellent wine, six not so small courses, warm bread rolls and coffee, this didn’t seem too bad value. There is also a Menu Del Dia offered for 36 euros on weekends featuring three courses and larger portions than the degustation.

The decor was pleasantly traditional and not at all poncy, as is often seen in high end establishments.  We were greeted by a very friendly waiter who charmed us with some fairly good English skills and the specials menu, making particular recommendations as to the special desserts.  The degustation menu required that we choose out main course and dessert, while all other courses were set.

Prawn Timbale

Our first taste was a delicious watermelon gazpacho, topped with a light foam like cream cheese.  This was followed by a prawn timbal with avocado and fresh herbs in vinegrette, which was light and full of flavour.  The next taster was a creamy risotto of mushrooms and foie, prompting the debate of whether Breadhead was capable of producing an equivalent risotto at home- the challenge has been set!

Foie and mushroom risotto

By this stage we were starting to feel a little uncomfortable around the waist line and were becoming a little concerned about the quantity of food to come.  Although is was a degustation menu, portions weren’t exactly small! We pushed through, however, and were next met with a flaking piece of cod in a creamy sauce.

Baked Bacalao

At last it was time for the main course, between us we managed to sample the fillet steak (very tender and juicy), venison (also full of flavour) and beef cheeks, (soft and melting).  All of the meat main courses followed the same pattern, being served with a very thin potato puree and in their juices.

By this time were definitely full, but luckily our second dessert stomachs kicked in and these desserts were well worth loosening the belt buckle for.  First we were served with a small ‘starter’ dessert of yoghurt ice cream in an

Yoghurt ice cream in red berry infusion

infusion of red berries, which was utterly delicious with exceptionally smooth ice cream.  Our chosen desserts then arrived, a baked cheesecake served with a berry puree and cheesecake ice cream, chocolate in textures (a variety of chocolate delicacies including a fondant type cake and a variety of sauces), Cuajada, (a light cheese curd), served with honey, walnuts and poached pears and a bread and butter pudding  type fried custard dessert served with homemade ice cream.  All were delicious and the perfect finish to a wonderful meal.

Baked Cheesecake, Cheesecake icecream and berry sauce

I would recommend La Fabrica or it’s sister restaurant La Muralla, which has the same menu to anyone who finds themselves spoilt for choice in San Sebastian, looking for quality and value.  The food was outstanding and the service and surroundings unpretentious and welcoming.  The menu represents very high quality food for a reasonable price and gives the diner the opportunity to try a variety of dishes that are both traditional and modern.