IT is the one Michelin-starred restaurant on the Costa del Sol that people tend to forget.
Lost in a maze of urbanizations by a golf course at the back of Elviria, El Lago is hard to find and harder to stumble upon. And don’t expect Trip Advisor to send anyone up there, it being 49 on a list of restaurants for Marbella.
But that’s what makes it great… You have to want to go there, which forces it to live up to its billing: For in order to entice people up on the 15-minute drive from Marbella, the food must, of course, be excellent.
And the good news: It is not for nothing that El Lago, sitting on Greenlife Golf, has had a Michelin star for nine years.
It has consistently impressed the inspectors by continually reinventing itself over the last decade. These days, adhering to one of the finest philosophies in food: Use local.
Indeed, since the restaurant became a member of the excellent Slow Food Movement last year, the quality of the food has got better and better.
While it may not be quite as exotic, the ‘vast majority’ of its food comes from Andalucia, even Malaga province.
It is anything but easy to adhere to the ‘KM 0’ concept of the movement that was set up in Italy, as an antidote to fast food and, in particular, McDonalds culture.
But, chef Diego del Rio is having an admirable go. And best of all, he is managing to keep prices down by using good solid local ingredients.
You can order a la carte, but I would recommend one of the two tasting menus, the longer ‘gourmet’ one with seven courses and nibbles coming in at 63-euros-a-head, plus iva…Three fish courses and one fantastic loin of venison, this was exceptional value and cheap by Michelin-star standards.
As Diego comes from the Ronda area (Pujerra in the Genal Valley, to be exact) he knows where to wheedle out the best local ingredients, including chestnuts (celebrated in his village), mushrooms and vegetables.
And there were plenty of local winners such as his sea bream, cooked with a fantastic tower of cauliflower, served in three ways; raw, mashed and pureed, or his onion soup with shavings of squid and a poached free range egg from the Guadalhorce Valley.
A parpatana of blue fin tuna – an unfashionable area between the neck and head – was beautifully cooked with roasted red peppers, aubergine, garlic mash and in its own juices. And it looked fabulous.
But by far the best, a real stand-out dish, was the aforementioned deer loin, from Andujar, near Jaen, that was deliciously tender and served with sautéed mushrooms and dried fruits and a sprinkling of parmesan.
A wonderful palate-cleansing pudding made from Guadalhorce Valley mandarins was another winner, leading to the grand finale of custard cream with cinnamon sponge cake.
A wine list was heavy on Spanish and particularly local Andalucian fare, as one might expect, and owner Paco happily steered me towards a reasonable €30 Rioja, Predicador.
What more to say? Forget the location and décor… this was a definitive 8.5/9 out of 10.