“TUNA? No way… it’s the last thing I’m going to serve in a town with 120 restaurants serving it,” barks Ali Palmiero. “I only ever put it on the menu if my girlfriend Marina really insists on it.”
It’s a brave statement for a restaurateur in Zahara de los Atunes that sets up its stall on having not only the best tuna in the world… but is even named after it.
But Ali is anything but your normal chef on the Costa de la Luz.
For starters he’s an Aussie, and secondly he produces a menu that would be much more at home in San Sebastian or, indeed, Barcelona, where he worked for many years.
One of the genuine up-and-coming stars of the coast, Ali and his girlfriend Marina, a photographer/designer from Madrid, set up their restaurant three years ago, after meeting and falling in love in London.
Combining Marina’s exquisite eye for style with Ali’s skills in the kitchen has created one of the hippest restaurants around.
There are few places in Andalucia that have so much panache, combined with delicious and creative food.
Full of antique Andalucian furniture, much donated by their families, alongside some bold Jackson Pollock-style paintings, the sense of place is challenged by creativity.
It is perhaps a metaphor for Ali’s cooking skills that were picked up around the world in Australia, London, Spain and Italy, where he studied for four years at cookery school in Modena (he is actually half Italian and his family own a mortadella company there).
“I started baking bread at the age of 12 to make some pocket money and my first real job was shucking oysters at the Sydney Opera House,” he tells me, before profering a long list of places he has worked.
But forget the CV, I was literally blown away by the quality of ingredients that Ali puts in his dishes, that are heavy on vegetables and light on calories.
The menu gave little away being incredibly simple and short, but soon came out some delicious home-baked bread with salted garlic butter and an amuse bouche of ‘sausage roll on carrot earth’ served on a beach pebble.
Now, I was excited.
There was little that disappointed over the next hour, from the chargrilled scallop, served with a wakame salad and trout caviar with diced apple and chilli strips to the signature dish of fresh foie served on a brioche with violet potatoes.
And NOTE WELL, this was not your ordinary foie gras, but carefully selected cruelty-free foie from world famous Pateria de Sousa, in Extremadura, where former President Barrack Obama and UK cooking wizard Gordon Ramsay source it. (Want to know more? Visit the Olive Press website, where you will find a feature from four years ago).
I also loved his fish dishes including a smoked sardine creation that was as off the wall as it was delicious, basically slices of the fish, with cherry tomatoes, ‘smoked’ yogurt and radish, all installed into a poppadom, no less. Seeing was believing.
And then came out his surf-and-turf-style French cod dish, which was like no other fish dish I have ever eaten in Andalucia, served with pork neck on a bed of spinach, artichokes and quinoa. Think north Spain and you get the idea.
By the time the panna cotta pudding came out I was in heaven.
As happy, in fact, as on my 21st birthday!
21 Restaurante, calle Palacio de las Pilas, 21, Zahara de los Atunes, Cadiz. Tel: 696462236