THERE has been a quiet revolution in Sotogrande over the last couple of years seeing the opening of a string of new gastro bars and restaurants.
The most celebrated is Trocadero in the old Cucurucho beach club, which is high on style, but a little lacking in taste.
Many of the other newcomers have latched onto the trend for tapas, artfully presented in an array of avant garde culinary concoctions.
Yet, it is a trio of stalwarts – the Hairy Lemon, La Finca and Lombardos – that are still your best bet if you are looking for genuine quality dining.
La Finca is one of those amazing spots that you don’t just discover by accident.
Hidden away on an enormous finca, hence the name, just outside Alcaidesa, it is a secret, atmospheric escape that won’t let you down.
In summer you sit around a charming leafy courtyard, a riot of colours and candles, while in winter you dine inside the authentic Spanish farmhouse with stone floors and fireplaces.
The restaurant is run by New Yorker Chris Cousins and wife Syrie Blanco Walsh, whose family has owned the estate since the 1800s.
Much of its success is down to the chef Benny, an amiable Thai/American, whose Thai fusion menu is adventurous with plenty of specials to add to the mix.
The Thai soups, summer rolls and ‘sticky rice’ are legendary, while the duck salad starter and the Massaman curry are surefire winners.
Another fantastic spot, now in its fifth year, is the Hairy Lemon, and its more formal next door sister The Lemon, in the port.
A great place for families, kids can happily run (or bike or scoot) around the square by the fountains and the children’s menu is popular and healthy.
It is run by chef Lorenc Hunda and his wife Liz May, who worked for years as a waitress while studying business at the University of Greenwich, UK.
There is an excellent all-day menu, but its real strength is the excellent range of tapas, which are freshly-prepared each day.
There are over a dozen, while mains include a fantastic teriyaki duck breast, with a complex meaty flavour enhanced by a delicious Asian glaze and a zingy wasabi coleslaw.
There are plenty of cocktails and you can see most live sports events inside.
The last of the trio is Lombardos which has been plying its trade for 26 years in the Paniagua centre.
Run by the father-and-son team of Enzo and Stefano, it has a brilliant mix of authentic top-quality Italian dishes and one of the best Italian-heavy wine lists on the coast. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of good value Spanish options too (see review, below).
Quarter century of excellence at Lombardo’s
WITH its crisp white tablecloths, candles and fresh-cut flowers on every table, there is something a little different about Lombardo’s.
Atmospheric in the extreme, the long-established Italian restaurant transforms the Paniagua business centre courtyard every night in summer.
High on customer care and attention to detail it is no surprise that the place has been running for 26 years.
“And it is getting busier every year,” explains manager Stefano, who studied languages and business in the UK, before coming back to Spain to take over the helm of the family business.
He keeps a keen eye on the quality of ingredients that father Enzo knits together in the kitchen.
As well as personally choosing some of the best Italian cheeses, hams and pasta on his travels to the motherland, he also hand-picks many of the wines.
It means one of the most exciting Italian wine lists around, with over three dozen different references, even including Barolos, Brunellos and an excellent crisp Pinot Grigio.
Foodwise the generous serving of spicy grilled prawns with a rocket salad is a superb starter, as is the Provolone cheese with Parma ham, with oregano and parsley.
There are special pasta dishes by the day, including the original Amatriciana, a Tuscan classic, while the veal fillet steak mains, cooked in various ways, mine char-grilled with parmesan and rocket, are extremely succulent.
Pudding-wise there is plenty of choice and thankfully a few nice sweet wines to wash them down.