YOU blink and you’ll miss a new restaurant opening in La Cala these days.
In the coast’s most exciting culinary development for years, the village is developing a distinct food culture.
Spearheaded by British restaurateurs Elliot Wright and Steven Saunders, who both have new joints, at least half a dozen new restaurants have appeared this year.
Former Michelin-starred Saunders, an Olive Press columnist, sums it up succinctly. “It is a very exciting change and well overdue to create a foil to the dining scene in Marbella.”
The former Ready Steady Cook star’s restaurant Little Geranium has been winning consistently good reviews since opening last Spring.
And, no surprises, Saunders being as passionate about food as he was when he served up celebrities including David Beckham, Rihanna and even the Queen, when running a trio of restaurants in the UK a decade ago.
He is a huge purveyor of organic produce and a firm believer in seasonal produce. Expect miracles with pork, tempura prawns in a Japanese dip and some magic with rice. Plus a lot lot more.
His charming joint sits on a pedestrianised street and is the epitome of warmth and charm.
Expect to find Steven in the kitchen with his trademark trilby hat, while his stunning wife Michele bosses the restaurant with aplomb.
For a totally different experience head to Olivia’s, the most stylish restaurant opening of the last year, just around the corner on the beach.
Here, TOWIE star Elliot Wright has invested three million creating the ultimate dining experience.
With fantastic sea views, stunning decor and a menu to match, this is an excellent addition to the Mijas dining scene and contrary to popular belief Elliot is actually a very experienced restaurateur and knows how to deliver.
The first thing to note is the large Asian influence on the menu, inspired by Elliot’s love of the Far East and his favourite restaurant in London, Nobu. These include Maplewood smoked tuna, with Japanese tea noodles, as well as scallops with lentils and dahl and pork spring rolls with shredded Asian vegetables.
My favourite pick was Miso cod though, with pickled ginger imported from Japan, which was succulent and has a great mix of flavours and vegetables.
For yet another completely different style, head 400 metres inland to find the fantastic family-style Ole restaurant, where Juan Gomez has been on the go for 22 years.
Juan is a charming host – speaking perfect English – and puts a great emphasis on fresh ingredients, much from his finca near Ronda. “I buy all the meat and fish and go shopping every day to the local markets to find the very best ingredients,” he explains. “And price/quality is the key to my success.”
Expect to eat fantastic stuffed red peppers, delicious lettuce hearts with anchovies, and great salmon cooked in a spicy dill sauce.
Nearby make sure to look out for Captain’s Bar, which is excellent for a tapa, full sit down meal or a game of pool.
Run by Claire, Gary and Lesley, there are daily specials and some excellent tapas, including chorizo in tomato and delicious meatballs. The fish and chips are also said to be legendary.
Bought in 2001, it still has the original ‘captains maps’ on the wall and a distinctly friendly local feel.
A short drive to the west make sure to look out for El Oceano restaurant, which has just reopened after a stunning refit.
Sitting literally on the rocks at one end of La Cala, the dining room is inspirational in the extreme and the Sunday lunches, with their classic entertainment, famous around these parts.
The menu is rich and varied and the wine list also detailed and complex. See Top tip(ple) below.
Heading inland from La Cala you can opt for a formal meal up at La Terraza at La Cala Resort, where you will be taken care of by an experienced team of chefs, who have worked at Spain’s leading restaurants.
Nearby one of the true dining secrets of Mijas, the classic rural venta, El Jinete, can be found.
This ancient farmhouse has been nicely converted keeping its old beams and painted an atmospheric plum red, while its terrace outside on warm days and evenings is difficult to beat.
Run by Karen Wilson and Argentinian husband Roque Martinez, it specialises in meat on the bbq, but the menu also yields up some splendid chestnuts, such as an avocado tartare with prawns, not to mention an excellent braised rabbit, which came with a very generous serving of potatoes and vegetables.
Heading up to the village look out for celebrated Valparaiso restaurant, where just about every famous person has come to eat for the last three decades.
Everyone from Liam Gallagher to David Beckham and from Ronnie Corbett to Bruce Forsyth have graced the tables at this legendary spot.
Their mugshots are plastered all over the walls, and it is not hard to see why when you see the menu and experience the fantastic friendly service.
Up in the pueblo look out for the oasis that is known as the Secret Garden, which sits behind its more typical white-walled sister restaurant Aroma.
This amazing garden is a delight to kick back and dine in good weather and the menu is a nice mix of authentic Iberian dishes alongside Argentinean fare – particularly steaks – thanks to co-owner Hugo.
Part of a group of restaurants owned by Hugo and his business partner Thomas Weller, make sure to look out for Taberna Meguinez (which means ‘Are you winking at me?’) which has an excellent menu, as well as Latituds 36, a new fish restaurant.
Another authentic restaurant in the pueblo is Restaurante La Reja, which is charm personified and has an amazing dining terrace looking over Mijas and the faraway hills. Run by Manolo and his wife, it has a simple good value menu, described as ‘traditional Andalucian kitchen’, and expect to eat delicious aubergines in honey, perfect steaks and the freshest fish.
IF credentials were needed to run a wine bar, owning your own vineyard would certainly help.
But, where Bernardo Diego Pullido, 30, is concerned, his 2.5-hectare estate in Riax Baixas, where he produces his fine albarino Estrada Vello, is irrelevant.
After all, he spent five years studying winemaking in Galicia (not to mention working in restaurants in London) before making the plunge and opening his distribution business La Pura Cepa in Mijas, half a decade ago.
What began as a wine shop is now one of La Cala’s finest places to tapear and, of course, drink wine.
There are always more than 40 wines by the glass and around a dozen fabulous tapas to dip into. There is also an amazing list of gin and tonics, should you decide for something stronger.