It had always been his dream to open his own restaurant. And as soon as he graduated, Israel Ramos took the leap, and it was the right decision. Now, he runs a Michelin-starred restaurant in Jerez, named Mantua. The key to his success? Serving traditional dishes that transport people back to their grandma’s recipes, but with a surprising twist. However, his main focus is not on the dishes, but on the hospitality and the overall guest experience. Every detail counts, and with that in mind, Ramos has been running his restaurant for four years now. We headed to Jerez for an interesting chat with the chef and founder of Mantua.
Just two years after its launch in 2017, restaurant Mantua was awarded its first Michelin star. A modern cuisine, it is based on tradition and love for its products, with the aim of introducing its guests to the Andalusian gastronomy and wine culture. Israel Ramos, Chef at Mantua, explains with conviction: “We believe in an honest and full-flavoured cuisine, free of prejudice and open to the world.”
What brought you here to this location to open a restaurant?
Israel Ramos: “Ever since I started my hospitality and cooking studies, it was my dream to open my own restaurant. So, as soon as I graduated, it was time to make that dream come true. Since Jerez is my hometown, it wasn’t too hard to choose the right location. The square where we are located is very nice. Back in the day, it was pretty calm and there were no eateries. It was therefore the perfect place to start up some social life.”
What does the name Mantua mean?
Israel Ramos: “I was looking for a name that would perfectly embody our culinary philosophy of turning traditions into something modern. The name derives from a grape variety once widespread in the vineyards of Jerez, 200 years ago: the Mantua. It is a practically extinct grape that modern grape growers are now trying to re-establish. So that was the perfect link to our vision. With this grape, we’re taking something from the past and turning it into something contemporary with a deep respect for the heritage.”
How would you describe your cuisine?
Israel Ramos: “It’s a combination of the cuisines of Andalusia, Cadiz and Jerez. With my roots, my memories and personality as a source of inspiration, I want to create my own delicious, full-flavoured cuisine.
The key to success here is to serve something traditional and familiar, yet with a unique and surprising touch. I want to evoke emotions and feelings among the guests. When many of them say they recognise their grandma’s recipes with a very unique twist, we know we’ve succeeded. Andalusia has a long history, with many influences. And it’s this long and rich history that offers a great inheritance that makes our gastronomy and flavours so exciting.”
Are there certain trends, cuisines or chefs that inspire you?
Israel Ramos: “When I need some inspiration, I like to go to other local restaurants. Then I focus on popular as well as traditional recipes to create new dishes with my own, unique touch of flavour. When it comes to ingredients, I don’t have certain favourites, but I can say that local ingredients are key. I instantly think of garlic, extra virgin olive oil or sherry vinegar. But it is hard to choose my favourite, because there are a lot of fantastic, flavoursome ingredients to cook with.
Although fast food is very popular in nearly every society today, slow food is gaining in importance, too. It is all about local producers with all the seasonal, tasteful and fresh products they have to offer. I believe that this is what consumers seek now more than ever. So this philosophy also inspires me day after day. Wouldn’t it be great if our governments would also be more aware of this evolution and invest in education and awareness? This idea makes me really hopeful for the future.”
Does Mantua restaurant have a signature dish?
Israel Ramos: “One of the ‘signatures’ at my restaurant is ‘mar y montaña’ i.e. surf ‘n’ turf. Andalusia has so many great products to offer, from the mountains as well as from the sea. I combine the best of both worlds to create surprising dishes that inspire my guests. So, instead of a signature dish, I prefer to work with signature ingredients. It is all about the philosophy of mixing both worlds on one plate. From the ‘mountain’ side, I love playing with sweetbreads and local meat. From the ‘sea’ side, I mainly experiment with local fish and seafood.”
Wines from this region play an important role at Mantua. What makes them so important?
Kristell Monot (sommelier): “I was born in France, but my love of Sherry brought me to this region. To this day, I am very passionate about these wines. Nowhere else in the entire world can you find wines like these. That’s why we want to give them a place of honour in our restaurant. Not only is wine pairing essential when serving our dishes, we also integrate sherry into our cooking, for example, to marinate meat.”
What’s typical of Andalusian gastronomy? Why is it so special or unique?
Israel Ramos: “1 word: variety. In every region of Andalusia, you find such rich variations. Even within regions, no smell or colour is the same, but everything is so delicious.
The growing popularity and enhanced reputation of Andalusian cuisine nowadays really makes me happy. The Andalusian gastronomic revolution has contributed a lot to the popularity of its cuisine. Cooks in general have become more admired, and that’s what we’re experiencing in our region, too.”
Did the first Michelin star come quickly, and has it always been your goal to achieve one?
Israel Ramos: “After just two years, we were awarded our first Michelin Star. So yes, it came earlier than expected. Sometimes, it makes me kind of dizzy. We only have six tables, so every detail counts to get the best out of it.
That star is amazing, of course. But what we really focus on are our delighted and astounded guests. Both with food and with the whole experience and service, they have to be satisfied. It’s important to keep it authentic and spontaneous. Being too obsessed with Michelin stars will not necessarily improve the quality you deliver.
So, my goal is not to receive more awards or stars. Most important is that I really want to do better than the year before. And thanks to my great team, we’re sure to have reached that goal every single time I look back.”
What do you want your guests to remember after visiting restaurant Mantua?
Israel Ramos: “Our focus is not only on the dishes, but more on the hospitality and overall experience. The customer should be happy, not only because of the delicious food, but also because of the service and customer care. The cuisine and hospitality are on the same level. For a full three hours or more, we serve a total experience, and that is what should linger in mind.”
You have another restaurant as well, named Albala. Is there any connection between these two?
Israel Ramos: “In fact, these two restaurants run on completely different concepts. I started Albala 12 years ago with the idea of entertaining people with a simple food-sharing concept, serving somewhat basic, yet high quality dishes to enjoy together. With Mantua, I want to take things to another level by surprising people, with attention to each and every detail.”
Every three to four months, Mantua’s menu gradually changes. To offer a full experience that tickles all the senses, they present a degustation menu instead of à la carte. Guests can choose either a 16-course menu (Menu Arcilla) or 20-course menu (Menu Caliza).
As for wine pairing, guests can choose from Sherry pairings – which is of course recommended for that region, or the more extended Mantua wine pairing.
The menu starts with two entrees:
- A fish soup, made with a kind of small sea bass
- A ‘dressed carrot’: a traditional tapa from Jerez, fully liquid inside
The next course serves up a few appetisers:
- Frozen foam of shellfish and caviar, with an exhilarating combination of salty and ice-cold flavours
- Dried veal tartare and a Payoyo cheese cracker
- Brioche, rabbit, and pickled onion
Up next: sea anemone fritter, aioli, and manzanilla (liquid inside).
This is followed by finger food, allowing you to eat with your hands: grilled head of lettuce.
The first starter is a local tuna belly salad, from the Straits of Gibraltar. This salad is totally liquid, so isn’t actually a real salad. You get that typical tuna salad taste from marinating the ingredients.
Then it’s time for mushrooms, asparagus, Iberian Pancetta, and truffle, with consommé.
Next, we’re served spiny murex (local shellfish) in a Bolognese stew.
The next round serves up a pretty presentation of pine nuts, spinach, lamb, bearnaise and black olive caviar.
To follow, grilled octopus, mushroom, and pumpkin seed cream.
Then there’s monkfish, beans, and pork tail juice.
We also taste the delicious glazed sweetbreads and green chili ‘sphere’ (liquid inside).
To finish the main course, we are served venison with cauliflower puree and pastry soufflé.
Now, it’s time for dessert, which also comes delightfully presented. First up is a raspberry, ginger and chili sorbet.
Next, caramelized peach, rhubarb, and yoghurt meringue.
To keep the sweet tastes coming, we’re served a honey-coated fritter, lemon verbena, orange, and egg yolk flan.
Almost done, we savour wood ice cream (infused with slices of sherry cask), sweet potato, lemon grass and coffee.
And last but not least: petit fours!
Israel Ramos’ cuisine is a delicious and full-flavoured one. Combining flavours from several regions, his own roots and personality, he creates a unique cuisine with a surprising twist. To offer the full experience that tickles all the senses, the degustation menu has 16 or 20 courses and is always paired with the best wines.
Mantua restaurant, Plaza Aladro 7 – 11402, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain | +34 856 652 739 | firstname.lastname@example.org | www.restaurantemantua.com | www.facebook.com/restaurantemantua | www.instagram.com/mantuajerez