El Cuartel del Mar – sophisticated Atlantic beachside dining in Spain’s Andalucia
Discover the finest flavours of Andalucia and the ocean, in a uniquely styled restaurant with a privileged location overlooking the Atlantic – that’s the promise of El Cuartel del Mar, writes Andrew Forbes (@andrewaforbes) of The Luxury Editor.
Andalucia is renowned for its beaches; yet think beyond the established resorts of the southern coast, and head to the wild west and the Atlantic shore. This is Spain’s spectacular Costa de la Luz.
At the heart of this ‘coast of light’ is the seaside town of Chiclana de la Frontera. The end of the town’s impressive Barossa Beach you’ll find the elegant Restaurante El Cuartel del Mar, where Chef Manuel Berganza and his colleague Chef Mikel Badiola bring renowned international expertise and creativity to Andalucía’s Atlantic shores.
A once abandoned Civil Guard outpost has been reimagined as a super-stylish ocean view restaurant and cultural hub, where urban design converges with the relaxed surfer lifestyle of the Costa del la Luz. This is a restaurant where culture (think live music, art exhibitions, and sundowner DJ sets) and fine cuisine are ingredients in a truly memorable experience. Architectural firm More-co by Paula Rosales, has given a new life to this building, transforming its austere structure into a welcoming place, filled with light, whilst interior designer Alejandra Pombo has brought textures and colours of the land and sea into the calming spaces.
Cadiz province is a favourite with nature lovers, for its rolling pastures and iconic fields of bright sunflowers, to protected pine forests and of course exceptional beaches.
Yet it has truly emerged as a foodie destination too and is home to some stand-out chefs. Although far from being the richest part of Andalucia, this region has a wealth of high quality produce including sought after fish and seafood from where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet; to pedigree retinto beef; and farm fresh produce from the fertile inland areas. Of course, Cadiz is the area where Spain’s famous sherry wines are produced.
To make the most of the setting, I recommend starting your meal with an aperitif in the patio. Mixologist Luca Anastasio creates original and classic drinks with local touches – like a Mai tai with local Jerez brandy, or a Deluxe Mojito. Many of the cocktails can be prepared as low alcohol drinks, or without alcohol if you want something light and refreshing.
That’s another beautiful aspect of this restaurant – the space. The open-air patio, shaded with Balinese parasols has a capacity for 250 people, so you can be assured of plenty of personal space.
The main dining room seats 100, but most opt to enjoy the fresh Atlantic breeze on the shaded terrace with views to the ocean.
These Vinos de Jerez, named after the most important sherry city in Andalucia are still a little misunderstood, especially outside Spain. Yet I assure you that when at El Cuartel del Mar, if you order a chilled Manzanilla sherry wine to enjoy with some crispy, tasty ‘Tortillitas de camarones’ (prawn fritters) your notion of sherry will be changed for ever.
Flavours of the Ocean
At El Cuartel del Mar, the ocean is of course the inspiration, and the local produce the protagonists in the restaurant’s menu.
More than any ingredient, it is probably the wild red tuna of the Costa de la Luz that defines the gastronomy of the region. Caught during the almadraba season, using sustainable techniques that date back to the Phoenicians, these magnificent animals inspire remarkably creative dishes. El Cuartel del Mar has a menu that has an entire section dedicated to the local almadraba tuna.
I can recommend the tartare of fine tuna fillet marinated in anchovy essence – a sauce that is inspired by the garum made here in Roman times.
Dining here, overlooking the ocean, you can expect exquisite fish and seafood including wonderful rice dishes with local white shrimps and also creamy saffron rice with scarlet Atlantic carabineros prawns. What’s more the rice dishes are made for one. The chargrilled octopus is a delight.
Wood Burning Grill
If you are not tempted by the fish, then there are the finest beef steaks from Scotland and Spain, prepared on the wood burning grill. The artichokes from the grill make a wonderful side.
The curated wine list inevitable includes sherries and vinos de Jerez. Let the wine waiter guide you to discover some superb, dry white sherries that perfectly complement the dishes, as well as wines from across Spain. If you love discovering new things, then try one of the local Chiclana wines – I was pleasantly surprised.
If you’re making a day of it, then the roof terrace is the place to watch the some of the best sunsets in Spain. This west facing coast is famous for its light and when enjoying a sundowner cocktails, you’ll understand why.
El Cuartel del Mar is by Madrid´s Azotea Group.