Review: Esenia Café and Restaurant, Jimena de la Frontera. Cadiz province.
For me, finding Esenia was like finding a little gem tucked away in a quiet corner of one of my most comfortable spots, it’s a vegan and vegetarian oasis in the notoriously meaty campo of Andalucía. We stumbled across it when waiting for the train to Ronda from the station at Jimena de la Frontera, where the restaurant and cafe are situated. I can still remember my first visit and the stunned silence between me and my friends when the owner, the lovely Maria-Belen smiled sweetly and said yes they did have a vegan option, and that the entire place was vegetarian and vegan….it was like one of those tumbleweed moments…
It had become like a joke between us, ‘go on, ask if they have a vegan option again, it’ll be funny’ (us vegans have to get our laughs somewhere you know), so we were even more surprised to hear that there was not only one thing to eat on the menu, there were actually thingS, in the plural.
I’d been living in Spain for 6 months by this point and was starting to get a bit jaded (only a bit, I still love to eat it) about the standard blank faces in restaurants when I asked, sometimes quite desperately (I know, poor me eh), if there was a meat-free option on the menu, or if I was feeling really crazy – a vegan option! I won’t complain about the endless combinations of chips, olives and salad I’ve settled for because I like it as an option, and…what’s not to like when you’re eating it on a Spanish beach which looks like it should be in the Bahamas?
But sometimes you just want more, and that’s what Esenia offers – a lot more.
The renovated cork processing buildings which now house Esenia, sit quietly and unassumingly to the left of Jimena de la Frontera Train Station entrance, the small sign above the door and a couple of tables outside don’t really shout restaurant at you, but that’s a big part of its charm.
On the left is the restaurant which serves hot food on a menu del dia (12 euros for 4 courses) basis and has an intimate, familial feeling to it – this is where Maria-Belen’s twin sister Susana serves all day vegan lunch.
Esenia really is a family affair and the clientele feel like an extension of that. Their brother Javier joins Maria-Belen, Chris and her twin sister Susana to complete the welcoming, smiley team – I can personally vouch for their humour, if you have ever heard me try to speak Spanish you will know what I mean.
The first time I had lunch there I was bowled over by the simple yet powerful tastes of the meal. Each ingredient spoke for itself and was the centre of each dish. I has a roasted red pepper soup to begin with (this was 6 months ago and I still haven’t forgotten it) which was creamy and light and had the full taste of ripe, succulent peppers in it. Next I had simple but really lively tasting Bulghur Wheat with stir-fried local vegetables …….. things get a bit blurry after that course, I must have slipped away in some sort of reverie – all I remember is cake, yes vegan CAKE!
My birthday was due in a couple of days, so I “mentioned” it out loud. Next thing I knew, chocolate cake with a candle in it had shown up for me and people were singing. There was also a (very kind) gift, but all I can remember is cake….caaaake!…..it had been so long since the convenience of London eateries where most places now have vegan options, I think I ate two pieces in under a minute!
Now, six months on, me and my partner are regulars at Esenia’s café. Its presence has influenced our decisions about where we want to live, so much so that we are now living on the other side of Jimena. We regularly drop in for a late breakfast as we have become devout acolytes of the Moroccan Semolina Pancakes called Msemena, which we like to eat with the mouth-wateringly delicious sundried tomato pesto called Sobrasada (recipe below) and black olive tapenade. With a cup of coffee, pancakes and Sobrasada is just 3 euros.
I am a creature of habit, so I will nearly always start a meal at Esenia with a ‘Fairy Juice, This energising juice is a house speciality – its usually made with apples, oranges, carrots, beetroot and ginger, or, I start with a glass of elderflower presse and sniff the sprigs of mint in the top of it while I wait for my hot freshly made pancakes to arrive and chat to the other customers who are always really friendly. Esenia has a wide and internationally mixed crowd as its clientele, many languages are spoken so everyone gets understood and there’s no pressure which adds to the relaxed aura about the place.
And then there’s the cakes again, in my eyes cake can only improve the aura of a place – my favourite is currently the apple /Torta de manazana, which is what I treat myself with when I come out of my Spanish lessons just around the corner.
Esenia is also a great place to meet new friends, find a Spanish teacher, maybe hook up with someone who knows about the perfect rental opportunity – I even met a yoga therapist there, its not the sort of place you’re going to be lonely in for long (unless that’s what you want).
There is also an informal language exchange group held at there, Aikido has been mentioned more than once and it is also the local hub for the organic food co-operative [details on request], where orders can be made one week and collected the next in the large carpark out front.
This year, I understand there is going to be vegan ice cream on sale, so I will probably be there even more, in fact I might just move in!
- Esenia on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Esenia-1386918671552684/?fref=ts
- Esenia: Calle Juan de Dios, 13, 11339 Jimena de la Frontera, Cádiz – directly to the left of Estacion Jimena.
Andrew’s background is in Anthropology (a mature student, in the application process to write a PhD based in Andalucia) but since moving to Spain he has been editing and writing vegan recipes (for a cookery book published in 2015) as well as writing historical documents for a website based in Bath, UK. His current studies make him an avid reader on a very wide variety of subjects, all of which he is happy to report on.