La Añepa and the Secret of the Big O.
Tucked away under the tiled roofs of La Orotava, in a quiet back street “Calle Rosales” there is a surprisingly bubbly urban restaurant “La Añepa”. It means “the ceremonial staff of a Guanche Mencey (or king) and the new restaurant certainly serves food fit for one! The Añepa Show Cooking restaurant opened in April this year and is the crowning glory of 30 years of operating as a pub, bar, live music venue and art gallery. The internationally renowned water colour artist Lambert launched his Canarian career here, Per Lillistrom, Pepe Hernandez, Tapiez , Jose Luis Fajardo, Manzuelas, Yamil Omar and Sven Enje are amongst over 200 other artists who have hung their works since opening in 1980. Currently Tomás Gil Velázquez is exhibiting.
The new restaurant was conceived to expand the lure of the location, its owner, the ever cheerful and attentive Pepe says: “For years people have been leaving here happy – I’d rather they left here happy and full of food than happy and full of booze, though it’s now often both!” – and as they are open from 8pm to 2am Tuesdays to Saturdays (closed Sunday and Monday) the move is probably quite welcome to the neighbours whose numbers keep growing in this popular town. “Live music is no longer our key attraction, our “Show Cooking” is the new talk of the town” he continued.
The establishment is worth a closer look, not only for its setting – a rustic agricultural building – long before the days when La Orotava was a village surrounded by bananas – built in 1750 but the atmospheric art that adorns all the walls. When you walk in the front door, you enter the bar and main art gallery. You are welcomed into Pepe’s personal hospitality hotspot, he enthusiastically greets all visitors from behind his bar. From his vantage point he plays the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé, Electric Light Orchestra, and other laid-back tunes. He proudly spins a few vinyl records too on occasion. He serves a stiff drink and prepares an excellent cocktail. We tried his mojito, which we judged as a cut above the usual.
The dining area is al-fresco, in the patio, some rather steep steps descend into this intimate environment which seats only ten tables or so. There is a ramp too, a feature from the original architecture, by which the animals and farm machinery were driven from street level down to the patio. The kitchen is in full view of the diners and David, the chef, stands over the galley confidently.
David worked at the Añepa for 4 years before going on to his military service in the Spanish Special Forces, so this is his second stint here after more than 10 years away. He has since worked at various restaurants including La Rosa de Bari in Puerto and Lucas – and his style is, in his own words, “a fusion of flavours” (fusion de sabores). The menu is decidedly straight-forward – no courses – just salads and a list of available dishes, though David will prepare anything to order so long as he has the ingredients. The menu is varied, and includes Mediterranean, Italian, Spanish, Canary, Thai, Indian, Chinese – well frankly international influences. So we set about putting it to the test.
Ana served us. She’s Pepe’s partner of 22 years and wife for the last 6. She is also a qualified geriatric nurse, so it’s an ideal place to bring or send your ancient relatives!
The bread basket she brought consisted of freshly baked onion and raisin bread and home-made grissini sticks; with a basil pesto and an anchovy, rosemary and olive paste, and “antique butter” – a house recipe of butter and mustard seeds. We tried not to fill up on this delicious treat.
The first dish we tried was the Tuna tar tare. The size of the serving was awesome, though it was for two. It was tangy – tuna dressed with lime vinegar and cilantro – (coriander), that was a tasty starter.
Following on came the Vitel Tonné – thinly sliced veal with a savoury tuna sauce and capers. It was adorned with a slice of lime, tomato and an anchovy. The taste and texture was perfectly balanced, each mouthful mouth-watering.
We were tempted by the “langostinos con fondu de queso” – something we’d tasted on a previous visit. Yes, this was a return visit. La Añepa is somewhere I am sure you will come back to time and time again. The atmosphere is trendy without the slightest hint of pretentiousness. The other customers mostly the Spanish middle classed and middle aged out for a relaxed and good night out – the well informed and well-to-do. There are a few foreigners who have accidently tripped upon this place, but the lack of external signage keeps this locale a closely guarded secret of the Big O. Anyway, I digress; the cheese sauce is a spectacular combination – it really does live up to the word fusion – of different cheeses, smooth as silk. And David’s langostinos are very special, as we were about to find out again.
For our next surprise, Ana had been given carte blanche to bring us any dish she wanted us to review, langostinos in a Roquefort parcel with a sweet red wine reduction appeared. I would never have ordered this. Blue cheese is not my thing. But wait, the pastry parcel was perfect and the langoustines – the memory flooded back; they have the most amazing taste that Chef David gets with his cooking method. It’s a kind of barbeque flavour, and I was prompted to ask how. David shrugged, made a Canary face at me and waved a frying pan in my general direction. This is close up and personal cooking, you can talk to the chef as he prepares your meal if you’d like. His secret remains safe still, but I’d encourage you to try to find it out. The cheese and the red wine sauce complimented the firm and tasty shellfish to perfection too.
By now both Pepe and Ana were encouraging us to try a little more. Just the lasagna de berenjenas – aubergine or eggplant layers between oven-crisped cheese. I loosened my belt and proceeded to taste for the sake of the news. The choice of ingredients confirmed our chef as a master of his craft, with the mix of vegetable, cheese, basil, tomato making a fabulous texture as well. The mozzarella cheese was made to be melty-stringy-stretchy which gave way under the frim bite and the softness of the aubergine.
Waving a white napkin we surrendered before they brought more. A quick look at the menu to check the facts of the feast we had eaten… and despair! No review for a British paper could go without at least men-tioning they have curry, yes C U R R Y!
Chicken masala with Basmati rice, to be exact. So another full portion was ordered and on its way. The first sense that one is assaulted by is the smell; fragrant spices of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, coconut – definitely curry. The dish is presented beautifully, not your regular Saturday night Indian, but adored and adorned by the kitchen – a work of art itself. The rice was beautiful, just right and the masala sauce was hot without being over-the-top. I requested lime pickle, just to be naughty and find fault with something and to my amazement was brought mango pickle every bit as hot and spicy as the lime. I have to admit I couldn’t finish the dish but it was delicious. Curry lovers – I recommend this dish warmly.
Only dessert to go. And the selection is fabulous. We squeezed down a chocolate pudding, which seemed the least rich item on the list. We might have had the white chocolate soup with fruits of the forest (which sounded good and was delicious the last time), the death by chocolate (which might have lived up to its name) or the panacotta, the creme brulée or the lemon mousse.
We climbed the steps back to the bar. We could have ordered the wheel barrow up the ramp. Pepe greeted us with his wide grin and we took to the dance floor to work off some of the extra calories.
Reviewing restaurants is such hard job, I know, but someone has to do it!