Vejer de la Frontera: Dining capital

With a regular influx of talented restaurateurs and chefs it is no surprise that Vejer has become one of Andalucia’s culinary capitals, writes Dining Secrets of Andalucia editor Jon Clarke

LAST UPDATED: 18 Jul, 2015 @ 15:44

Chilled out at Califa

IT is perhaps no surprise to find someone of the calibre of Ellie Cormie in Vejer de la Frontera. 

The former owner of five restaurants in Scotland – one with a Michelin star – fits like a glove in the charming white town, whose food culture is one of the richest in Andalucia.

Taking the helm of the stunning new restaurant Corredera 55, she has brought her own unique sprinkling of magic to the bustling, competitive local restaurant scene.

Alongside owner James Stuart, who owns a number of hotels and restaurants in the town, they have turned this amazing lookout diner into a genuine must-visit for foodies.

With a fabulous, good value menu, heavy on vegetables and fish, 55 will inevitably succeed.

Add in an adventurous wine list and the drive and panache of Ellie and you have a winner.
Vejer is just the sort of place to find this sort of fine dining.

Like a slow-cooked pork belly, the town has gently fused its ingredients to carve itself into the definitive food capital of Cadiz and perhaps only rivalled by Marbella and Malaga in Andalucia.

Visitors now flock here from around the country and it is incredible how many good places there are to eat in this gem of a white town.

“We set the bar high,” explains 55 boss Stuart, who also owns award-winning eaterie La Califa.

“There is plenty of competition between restaurants and all of us keep taking the level higher in order to get ahead.”

Another local entrepreneur Paco Pacheco, at La Tarantella, whose family own a trawling business, knows more than anything else that he has to get the offering right… and above all, deliver quality.

“There is so much competition now I had to work out carefully what would be my niche. I certainly know about fresh fish, but figured that what the centre still didn’t have was a good Italian restaurant,” he explains.

It is this level of thought that has helped to make this small Cadiz town into such a foodie Mecca.

Much of the ingredients of success are down to the local surroundings, which produce some of the best quality ingredients in the world.

The obvious examples are sherry, fish and the wonderful pork and beef from the classic brown ‘retinto’ cows, which you often see wandering around the nearby hills.

Of course the amazing ‘almadraba’ blue fin tuna, caught nearby is spectacularly good and the vegetables available are also of a high quality.

Another reason is the type of tourists who visit the town, which has seen a distinctly better heeled crowd than its nearby rivals on the Costa del Sol.

“We don’t just rely on beaches,” explains restaurateur Ramon at Vina y Mar, which has its own wine shop with over 200 references. “And many of the people who visit are keen food lovers, who come here specifically to eat.”

This is certainly the case and the huge mix of restaurateurs, who herald from France, Denmark, Britain and the north of Spain have helped to put together a rich and varied offering for them.

Frenchman Damian Giroud at long-running La Brasa de Sancho typifies the mix.

Having cooked since his teens – and even had a stint under the Roux brothers at Le Gavroche in London – he knows plenty about cooking.

His near neighbour Javier Duenas at Garimba in the main square has perhaps been the biggest success story of the last few years.

The Madrileno’s bustling restaurant serves up a fabulous mix of excellent value tapas, not to mention amazing tuna and steaks.

Creativity comes in droves and the wine list is one of the best in Cadiz, with a rich and varied mix of bottles.

“We pride ourselves on working incredibly hard, never standing still and keeping the prices down,” he says.

But it is on the outside of town in the most obscure of locations that the bar is really being pushed higher and higher.

Up in Santa Lucia you have one of Andalucia’s best meat restaurants Castilleria that gets better and better each year and next door Venta el Toro, one of the most authentic restaurants around.

Describing its food as ‘comida de cuchara’, basically home-cooked ‘spoon food’, it just serves simple, delicious Andalucian classics.

From here, take a ten minute drive up to Patria to find out why laid back Dane Tomas and his lovely wife Ase are consistently topping many dining polls.

While the menu is compact, the regularly-changing specials are becoming increasingly experimental and always look delightful.

“A lot of our success is the fact that we use so many vegetables,” explains Dane Tomas, who lives next door with his family.

A laid back chap, who spends his spare time surfing, he sums it up perfectly: “We know we have to constantly evolve and create new things if we are to keep up with the excellent quality in town.”

Last, but anything but least, take a 10 minute ride towards the sea to Barbate, where you will find the stalwart Campero, easily one of Spain’s top fish restaurants and a lesson in hard work and discipline.

It is here, that Jose Mellero and his team have been serving up the finest blue fin tuna for the last two decades. Miss it at your peril.

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