IT was no coincidence that dozens of Michelin-starred chefs from around the world descended on Marbella for the A Cuatro Manos event this Spring.
The town is well and truly on the global dining map – counting no less than FOUR Michelin starred restaurants – and can be considered a definitive dining capital of Andalucia.
As two Michelin-starred local lad Dani Garcia told me at the event, attended by legends including Joel Robuchon and Ferran Adria: “We keep getting better and better here and pushing the boundaries… and I expect it to continue.”
Aside from the quality there is a massive variety with over 100 different nationalities cooking in Marbella.
“You have just about every style you can think of,” explains Japanese restaurant owner Alvaro Arbeloa at Takumi. “But most of all, whatever restaurant you open, if the quality is not good enough you will not survive. The clientele here is well off and demanding of quality.”
One place that certainly epitomises quality is Ban Thai.
Attention to detail and customer service is all too apparent from Malaysian boss Efandi, who set up just three years ago. “There are new oriental places opening almost by the month these days and I just keep telling my staff not to worry, focus on customer care and quality and we’ll have no worries. It certainly seems to be the case.”
Another place that shows no signs of waning is Beach House, in Elviria, possibly Marbella’s best chiringuito/beach restaurant.
A fabulous location is only matched by the views and top quality food, thanks to its team of chefs, led by Jeff Mynott.
Constantly changing the menu under the watchful eye of livewire owners Guy and Lucy McCrow this is a must-visit for any foodie.
Even better, come for the day and laze out on the amazing new ‘luxury’ day beds and fill your boots with the special seafood menu.
Another restaurateur who shows no signs of slowing down is Ian Radford, boss of the La Sala group.
Opening a brand new restaurant, The Oak, this week, the ex-professional squash player has been constantly adding to his La Sala brand.
With a series of famous backers, including footballers David Bentley, Stephen Carr and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, he has been able to create two of the town’s landmark restaurants; La Sala in Puerto Banus and nearby La Sala by the Sea, a fantastic Thai restaurant.
The original La Sala on the way up to the Nueva Andalucia bull ring is, without a doubt, the most famous Marbella restaurant abroad.
This is a must-visit for any holiday to Marbs and a huge hit for ‘ladies who lunch’, not to mention movers and shakers, celebrities, footballers and the wealthy empresarios who make Marbella what it is.
An emporium of glass and seductive lighting, its real strength though, lies in its wood-decked terrace, that is serves as the ideal tourist sun-deck.
But, let’s not forget the food, which has so far never let me down. Whether you are after meaty fare (ribs, burgers, etc) or fish dishes and seafood, you are always well catered for and there is always a contemporary twist.
But if you are looking for some romance, you need to head into the heart of Marbella old town, where you are literally spoilt for choice for excellent places to eat.
One of the most celebrated is Belgian-run Casanis, where boss Guy Sirre has been constantly evolving for the last decade.
Recently reunited with his former chef Tulio Zampieri – who has been on a four year cook’s world tour taking in jobs in Mexico, Fiji and Barcelona – the place gets better and better.
Now in charge of nine chefs at Casanis and seven at the nearby sister restaurant Cafe Flore, he has brought in plenty of new ideas, picked up on his travels.
“But I am also trying to stay as local with ingredients as possible and Iove the excellent local food markets and fresh fish,” he says.
Even better, the restaurant now has its own nearby organic huerta from where, in season, they can get 25 to 30% of their fresh produce. “It save us between 500 and 800 euros a month, for sure,” estimates Tulio, who has worked at Spain’s leading three Michelin-starred restaurant Celler de Can Roca, as well as locally Skina and Messina.
His dishes certainly impress, particularly the fabulous ‘tiradito of corvina’, a variant on a Peruvian ceviche with tomatoes, coriander, chives, baby red spinach and crispy sweet corn, served up with wafer thin slices of toast, while the 24-hour roasted suckling pig, comes with an original creole sauce from Argentina.
While Cafe Flore is more Italian in flavour, but still good healthy ingredients, the team are to open a brand new beach restaurant La Plage this month in nearby Las Chapas.
Another casco historico restaurant heavily focusing on good quality local ingredients is the appropriate named The Farm, which sits in a charming square and counts on its own shady palm-covered courtyard terrace to boot.
Insisting on ‘honest food’ the charming couple behind this wonderful new restaurant Maria del Oso, from Asturias, and Elio, from Argentina, are working to be as close to KM.0 (or using just local produce from the area) as possible.
“We only use seasonal and almost all of it comes from around the Malaga region,” explains Maria, who searched for the ideal restaurant in Tuscany and the Canaries, before finding the ‘dream spot’ in Marbella.
“We try to be as sustainable as possible and even recycle the toothpicks,” jokes Elio, whose specialities include delicious sea bass and squid in potato.
Another great spot in the heart of the old town is Niki’s gastro bar and restaurant (also known as Madre Tierra), which sits in a wonderful leafy square.
Set up by Italian expat Genesio, it has a creative menu that includes some fabulous tuna tataki with a tempura of vegetables and algas wakame, as well as original croquettes of ‘ossobuco de ternera’.
Chef Curro, from Sevilla, is incredibly keen on quality and has a very good eye for fish too, including the amazing turbot I tried.
At night the place comes alive with some super fresh original tapas and the best cocktails in the old town, which even apparently the curate who lives upstairs enjoys.
Another continually improving restaurant is Cibo, on the Golden Mile, which is beautifully decorated and has a great menu.
Owned by the capable Metro Group (Joys, Jacks, Mumtaz, Metro, etc), it is excellent value and a romantic spot for dining out.
Up in San Pedro you will be spoilt for choice, but really look out for Macaao, which really stands out as a special place to visit.
Set up by Belgian Michel Dhondt, who heralds from a long line of restaurant owners and trained with Alain Ducasse on the Cote d’Azur.
Open all year, it concentrates on fresh, seasonal ingredients and there are always loads of specials, including, no surprises, mussels, as well as oysters, shrimp croquettes and ceviche.
The black cod is not cheap but it is amazing. In fact, the perfect cod.
The Vietnamese nems are stunning and the raspberry creme brulee was as fresh and light as it could be. “All thanks to my training with Ducasse,” jokes Michel.
Meanwhile, a great place to drink wines with fine food is at the long-time rated Albert & Simon restaurant in San Pedro.
The brothers Albert and Simon, appropriately, took over the baton from their father, who had one of Marbella’s first Michelin-starred restaurants.
Also in San Pedro is the very elegant L’Impronta, an upmarket Italian joint, run by capable Francisco Vacas, who actually heralds from Cordoba.