I was stumped; we were all stumped. We’d been presented with five different dishes at the Restaurant l’Estany on the Delta del Ebro (or Delta de l’Ebre if you prefer the Catalan version) and, despite boasting a few foodies amongst us, hadn’t been able to identify a single one.
Four involved some sort of fish or seafood fresh from the Ebro. But that’s about as close as we got in the identification stakes. Having watched a few being netted earlier, we knew that eels were likely to figure somewhere in the meal, so ‘eels?’ was a hopeful guess for every single offering except the very first dish.
The first had the appearance of pizza tomato topping on chunks of bread but with a savoury and seasoned, marine inspired flavour that earned the thumbs up from everyone. It didn’t seem eels-y at all but it was difficult to put the finger on what exactly it consisted off.
A week previously I would have immediately thought tuna flakes for the second dish, but a first encounter with foie at a restaurant in Barcelona a few days earlier gave me the heads up and the buttery smooth texture of the pale shavings seemed to back up my instincts.
Third up was an unidentifiable small filleted silver fish of some sort – eel was the popular guess again.
Fourth was an intriguing specimen that looked a bit like tempura spinach but which my taste-buds simply had never come across previously – a salty, soft green vegetable flavoured with hints of the sea. I liked that one a lot.
It was one of the most intriguing starts to a meal I’ve had. I don’t remember being in a situation where I had no idea about most of what was placed in front of me. I don’t have a problem with trying anything placed in front of me in a restaurant (I always assume the chef isn’t going to deliberately try to kill me), so not knowing what the dishes were added an additional element of spice.
By the time the fifth dish (deep fried puffs of some sort) was presented to a table of totally bemused diners, l’Estany’s owner clearly felt it was time to put us out of our misery. His revelations threw up a few surprises.
The first dish that had earned the thumbs up turned out to be eels mixed with nuts (see, there’s no reason to be repulsed by the idea of eating eels); the second was foie as suspected (an odd man out in the bunch); the third, untouched by some people because ‘it just had to be eel’, was marinated bream; the intriguing fourth dish didn’t disappoint in turning out to be something a bit different – it was sea nettles or anemones, and the fifth was carp roe.
The unconventional feast of the best of the Delta del Ebro’s seafood continued with small eels in sauce, navajas (razorfish) whose unappetising appearance prompted EarthXplorer’s JD Andrews to quip ‘it’s like being on the Fear Factor’, and mini paellas, before the meal was finished off with a more ‘mainstream friendly’ selection of Catalan desserts.
As dining experiences go, the cast of culinary characters may not have appealed to all, but the dishes created a buzz of interest, discussion and a lot of laughs. To say it was a meal to remember is an understatement.
For foodies, especially ones who enjoy seafood, l’Estany is a great place on the Delta to discover some tasty new creatures from the sea and river.
Restaurant l’Estany; Partida L’encanyissada, Amposta; +34 977 261 294; www.resataurantestany.com