As you will recall, my last article saw me off to a lunch engagement in Spain at a restaurant we were told was constantly viewed as being worthy of a Michelin star but still didn’t have one. With this high praise and the assurance that it was reasonably priced, we decided to try it and see if we could determine why it was mentioned in the 2015 Michelin guide but failed to be awarded that most prestigious of accolades.
From the point of view of setting and décor, you certainly can’t complain. The tables are dressed in starched white tablecloths and modern crockery, with a picture postcard window providing the visual stimuli. The view really was impeccable, as the restaurant was on the curved corner of a building overlooking the beach, providing 180° wrap-around views, though some of the topless bathers one would perhaps have preferred not to have featured in said view.
The restaurant provided a choice of two menus (there is also a dinner menu for the few nights each week that it’s open to serve it) – a €30 three-course menu and a €39 tapas tasting menu. While the tapas menu seemed most appealing, we went for the three-course option as much of the tapas involved tomato which, as many will by now know, my partner is allergic to. Nonetheless, we were able to sample the tapas as the start of our chosen menu was a choice of three of those dishes to share.
I wouldn’t normally bother to mention them but we both my felt that the bread, served with a tomato and olive oil mix, and the salted almonds were worthy of it. They were both wonderful with our drinks (indeed my favourite gastro pub, The Anchor and Hope, used to serve such almonds on a regular basis). The promising nibbles meant we were full of anticipation for our shared starter, and our confidence in this was to be rewarded.
The tapas came one at a time, the first being a monkfish carpaccio, a dish I have had many times before but not, I can safely say, done in this way. It was meant to be served with a mimosa sauce but of course this had to be substituted due to its tomato element, so instead it came with a honey mustard, caper, shallot, salt and hard-boiled egg topping, a combination that sounds truly awful on paper. To my great shock these flavours worked; the monkfish was beautifully fresh and, while I’m not usually a fan of honey mustard as I find it sweet and sickly, I enjoyed it. For me it worked best when all the flavours, especially the salt, were discernable as when balanced it worked, otherwise to my palate it could be overly sweet, though my partner enjoyed it immensely and never found it excessive.
Our second starter of fried anchovies was, as you’d expect given our location and the high quality of the monkfish, perfectly cooked and fresh. The fine batter had a suggestion of added parsley, though this gave no real flavour but, with the addition of a slight hint of lemon juice, one had a lovely sweet and salty mouthful. I did feel a little salt would have helped and this thought occurred to me on a number of occasions throughout the meal, but the table was salt and pepperless. The next tapas starter of cuttlefish with artichoke was by far my favourite (though again salt was required) – beautifully prepared small artichoke hearts fried with capers, and the cuttlefish was lovely with the best mouthful being the tentacles.
Up until this point the meal was excellent and, save for the odd bit of lacking in seasoning, one couldn’t see why Abiss was missing a star. Then, unfortunately, came the main and dessert courses and all became painfully clear. I had ordered beef with mushroom duxelles and pepper potatoes. What arrived were two slices of meat covered in a thick brown sauce accompanied by a brown quenelle next to a soggy looking orange quenelle.
The meat needed to have rested and was only just warm, while the mushroom was cold and the potatoes were not pepper potatoes but a wet mash of large pieces of potato mixed with pimento powder or similar; frankly it was just soggy and flavourless. In fact, both on first look and taste, it reminded me of the usual beef you get on business class BA flights, which is not what you want from a restaurant striving for a Michelin star.
The cod had by my partner was a large and perfectly-cooked piece of fish still translucent in the middle, though it lacked flavour, at least to the palate of an Englishman used to the powerful flavour of cod from the North Atlantic. The orange looking sauce on top did not work and the asparagus was tasteless, something common with green asparagus on the Continent where they are more used to handling the more flavourless white asparagus. The star, though, was the layered potato and bacon slices on which the cod sat.
Dessert too was problematic. I had the Abiss Caipirinha which was a tri-layered dessert version of the drink, starting with a white creamy layer that was so flavourless I have no idea what it was made of, topped with an alcoholic gratin and finished off with a mint foam that never lost its volume and tasted of very strong spearmint toothpaste, causing all else to be overpowered and my leaving it after three mouthfuls. It was served in a chipped martini glass. The white chocolate brownie wasn’t great either and was really more of a nutty cake.
In the end we felt that, had we just ordered the tapas, we would have fared better and, on the basis of the tapas alone, the place was worthy of a star. But then the second half of the meal was so underwhelming and poor in comparison it is quite right that Abiss lacks a star.
If you’re in the area its worth a visit for the tapas menu and, on the basis of London dining, its very good, something that made us feel better about the failure of our lunch’s second half. At €30 we would have paid the same for the three tapas plates themselves in London so, in a way, we felt we ate the bad dishes for free. But when you’re having to hang on to thoughts like that to make you feel better about part of your meal, you know the restaurant has a few issues it needs to sort out