IT was once a brassic backwater where local transport was by donkey and the main reason to come was to collect wood and esparto grass, to weave baskets and even shoes.
Today, the road from the coast to Casares is a true foodies’ paradise full of veritable dining secrets, where those-in-the-know come for a cheeky lunch or a gourmet weekend.
“The Casares road has long been known as the place to come and eat,” explains Michael Forge, an English expat, who opened his restaurant The Forge with his wife Athene two decades ago.
An atmospheric place, set in stunning wooded scenery, he adds: “It sort of happened out of the blue and in summer you often need to book a week in advance if you want a table.”
Fellow chef at Arroyo Honda Christian Robson-Burrell believes that it is the healthy mix of styles and ‘bags of ideas’ that has helped to turn the road into a true ‘ruta gastronomica’.
“There are none of the usual boring ventas and each place has its own USP with everything from modern Spanish to traditional mother’s cooking and the Asian influence,” he estimates. “And above all, we all work hard.”
Going from the top to the bottom of the hill, here are your best picks:
VENTA LA CHOZA
The tour begins at the bottom of the MA-546, beside Playa Ancha beach, with its ancient watchtower. Here, you will find historic Venta la Choza, beside the N-340 main road with its turn off up to Dona Julia golf. A friendly spot run by a local family, it is an authentic and attractive place to eat, with some real chestnuts such as clam and mushroom stew, which is delicious, and a Parmesan and spinach crepe, which with oozes with goodness, not to mention king prawns with cream and boiled rice and shoulder of lamb.
For those with deep pockets looking for a real treat head into Finca Cortesin, one of the true high-end, glamour spots of the Costa del Sol. Here, you will find two excellent restaurants, the first El Jardin run by German Lutz Bosing and the second Kabuki, which was recently awarded a Michelin star. El Jardin has a distinct Portuguese feel with a fantastic terrace for lunch and warm summer evenings. Kabuki Raw is more Asian-influenced and a superb fusion joint, where you will appreciate creativity at its very best.
It may be a venta in style but this places oozes charm and warmth and sits with stunning views to the hills and coast. Run by Andres Cozar and his wife Loli for the last two decades, it specialises in meats cooked on the bbq, as well as other classics such as beef stew with mushrooms and the emblematic oxtail meat balls, as well as rabbit in garlic sauce. Friendly in the extreme, at weekends punters come from as far as Gibraltar and Malaga.
Previously a spit and sawdust ‘truck stop’, today Venta Garcia has an Ibizan feel with chic urban lines and a fantastic use of light. Broadly ‘modern Spanish’ the menu is enticing with an emphasis on quality ingredients and good, solid cooking. Busy at weekends, it has been in the same Casares family for three generations.
Open since 1942, charming Venta Victoria is one of the most authentic places to eat, beautifully decorated inside and with a nice dining terrace, sheltered from the sun and wind, at the back. Open most of the day, expect to eat the most hearty of meals, including lamb chops, bull’s cheeks and stew.
The grandfather of the modern restaurant scene in Casares is The Forge. Opened two decades ago by Michael and Athene Forge, this 200-year-old farmhouse is elegant in the extreme and has a fabulous menu to match. Thanks to the couple’s love of jazz and theatre, it is little surprise to discover numerous stars have dined here over the years and it is charming in the extreme. Sit on the charming terrace or the candle-lit dining room and opt for exciting starters such as Devils on Horseback (melt-in-your-mouth chicken livers wrapped in bacon) or spicy minced lamb ‘empanadas’. Mains include Cape Malay chicken curry and roast rack of lamb and a superb pudding is chestnut cheesecake. The punters keep coming back.
Things really started to get exciting when clever Christian and his Japanese wife Noriko opened Arroyo Honda a decade ago. A true Dining Secret, Christian honed his skills in London and the Far East. The menu is changed weekly and he uses mostly seasonal produce. With an emphasis on quality dishes, with a twist, the menu might include such delights as braised oxtail with Parmesan gnocci with white truffle oil and king prawn tempura with a Wakame salad and Ponzu dressing. You might find Tempura soft shell crab with ‘nam jim’ dressing and a sea weed salad. They also offer plenty of game through the winter, as well as dishes like loin of venison wellington with jamon serrano and mushroom duxelle.
When you finally arrive in Casares Mi Cortijo takes some beating, with its amazing views of the white town and a coquettish French host Elizabeth (left), who knows how to knock up a decent lunch. A real queen of the kitchen she has fantastic foie gras, wild boar stew and other authentic local dishes.
LA BODEGUITA DE EN MEDIO
With its amazing top floor terrace for summer and charming dining room with views of the sea in winter, the Bodeguita is a place for all seasons. Boasting a very seasonal menu, including mushrooms in winter and the best fish in summer, it also has loads of local classics such as stew and lentils. In the heart of the village, it is important to book your table in advance.
LA ANTIGUA VENTA NUEVA
One of the oldest spots in the village, there are few nicer places to sit and watch the world go by than at la Antigua Venta Nueva. There is a nice wine list, which includes some local wines and dishes including garlic goat, duck breast and langoustines in Jack Daniels! It is open for breakfast too.