How was it possible that, until what seems like just yesterday, one of the most important world capitals of wine, Jerez de la Frontera, did not have a world-class restaurant? One as excellent as its fino, amontillado, palo cortado and oloroso sherries that have made this town in the region of Cádiz famous the world over. Fortunately, this anomaly was remedied in December 2017, when one of the city’s prodigal sons, Juan Luis Fernández, returned to set up Lu: Cocina y Alma.
Born in 1984, and after having worked in a family bakery and with an artisanal pâtissier, he trained for five years with Martin Berasategui (three at the main restaurant in Lasarte and two in Tenerife at Abama), before joining the then recently opened Aponiente in Puerto de Santa María. After ten years as head chef and being Ángel León's right-hand man, Fernández decided that it was time to fly the nest, and so he set himself up in the heart of Jerez, a stone’s throw from the beautiful Convent of the Capuchins. For the décor he went for the iconoclastic, collaborating with interior designer Gaspar Sobrino. Inspired by the book Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, they set the scene by combining the dream and the story, presided over by a large central kitchen and its bar and stools, around which are tables with stairs that go nowhere, upholstered Louis XVI chairs, shop windows... all designed to lift diners from reality, offer an almost dreamlike experience, and invite them to let their imaginations run wild.
Imagination that has already been unleashed by the very name of the two tasting menus offered in 2018 (although in the first months there was an à la carte menu, it soon disappeared), Follow the White Rabbit, and A Very Merry Unbirthday to You, to be replaced in 2019 by others. In them, this chef offers, as he puts it, a ‘classic roguish cuisine’ that has an unquestionably French core that exudes Andalusia from every pore. Thanks to his solid classical training, and with Escoffier and Carême always in his prayers, this chef has recovered legendary sauces such as Perigourdine and beurre blanc, modernizing them (for example, adding squid ink to a hollandaise) and using them with produce from the region; meat from inland, or with the bounty of the immensely generous Bay of Cádiz (from sea bream to tuna, not to mention seafood), always respecting the seasons. And, to top it off, he adds personal touches that do not shy from a nod or two to fusion cuisine (otherwise, how would you define his outstanding king crab royale with a gribiche sauce prepared with red lard?). The result is a magical journey to other worlds which, fortunately for diners, exist in this one.
Two other aspects of the restaurant deserve special mention. On the one hand, there is his steadfast and devoted commitment to wines from Jerez, among other reasons because they are the ones that best pair with the gastronomic offer. And, on the other, there is the sweet side, directed by the Colombian dessert chef Dolce Nilda, and where the classicism of a baba or a chocolate soufflé is combined with exotic nuances that are unequivocally Latin American in flavour.
By Alberto Luchini