THERE are few delicacies in Spain that can’t be sourced on the Costa de la Luz.
Be it bluefin tuna, retinto steak or incredible seafood, foodies are spoilt for choice in the key towns of Vejer, Tarifa and Conil.
But, there is something about the province of Cadiz that brings out the best in restaurateurs. A combination of style, creativity and, above all, positive vibes has created some of my favourite restaurants in Andalucia.
In Tarifa, the place to look out for is Paseo de la Alameda, where half a dozen fantastic places all vie for trade.
Take Petit Bistro (www.petitbistrotarifa.com), an idyllic shady spot, which just gets better and better.
Run by Benoit and Veronica, who have lived in the town for nearly 20 years, you get a fantastically creative menu by night and a good value, but tasty, set menu at lunch.
I particularly like Benoit’s foie gras with quince chutney, as well as his excellent tuna salad with mango and beetroot.
Next door, look out for Trattoria, run by ambitious Italian business magnate Luciano, from Naples.
With a fondness for his country’s top ingredients – not to mention the excellent Slow Food Movement – his restaurant just gets better and better.
As does the fabulous fish restaurant of former architect and tastemeister extraordinaire Victor at La Pescaderia (www.lapescaderiatarifa.com)
With his trademark scientist-style glasses, he designs plates, like he used to design houses, and they look as fabulous as they are tasty.
A massive tuna fan, he goes out of his way to prize the very best specimens out of the clutches of the Japanese… and always wades in to buy his own fish.
“It is vital as our clients absolutely love it,” explains the friendly Argentinian.
Enjoy the separate tuna menu including a great carpaccio, sashimi and best of all tartare, all washed down by some excellent wines, including Guitian at just €16. Finally, you might consider the excellent Pizzeria con Cucina, which has consistently kept families happy for years, not to mention the excellent father-and-son team of Daniel and Javier, whose restaurants La Ternera Mimosa and Lola Mora are highly rated.
There is however, one more fabulous place to look out for is Silos19 (www.silos19.com), which is easily one of the most beautiful restaurants in Andalucia.
Stylishly created, it sits in a huge open-plan space with historic vaulted ceilings and an original clock that seeing is believing.
It also offers a varied international menu with such chestnuts as marinated tuna in Bloody Mary foam, and Thai beef cheeks with coconut foam.
Heading along the coast towards Bolonia, you will find one of the region’s most alluring restaurants.
Overlooking rows of vines and a sea of undulating umbrella pines, ‘Tesoro’ – or Treasure – is one pot of gold that really is worth seeking out.
Aside from the fabulous food – including fresh langoustines and a classic ‘retinto’ steak typical of the region – the views over the Gibraltar straits to Africa are impossible to improve.
This is one spot to waste away an afternoon and owners Jesus and Juana could not be friendlier.
Heading up the coast if it is Atlantic bluefin tuna you are after, then head for El Campero in the workaday fishing town of Barbate. Here, Jose ‘Pepe’ Melero has created an amazing place, that usually serves well over 300 people for lunch alone.
But the highlight of any culinary journey to the Costa de la Luz, must be Vejer, which is a true foodie Mecca and one of the best in Andalucia. So it is no surprise to find someone of the calibre of Ellie Cormie, the former owner of five restaurants in Scotland – some with Michelin stars.
At the helm of fabulous Corredera 55 (www.califavejer.com), she has brought her own unique sprinkling of magic to the bustling, competitive local restaurant scene.
Alongside owner James Stuart, the fabulous, good value menu, heavy on vegetables and fish, keeps getting better and better.
Add in an adventurous wine list and the drive and panache of Ellie and you have a winner.
In particular, I loved the rolled courgette slices, stuffed with goats cheese and rocket, with a smoked salmon paste, while the tuna sashimi with wakame salad and prawns was superb. A lemon cheesecake came as a great surprise.
Another top joint is El Jardin del Califa (www.califavejer.com) reached through the labyrinthine corridors of the 16th century Califa hotel.
Its exquisite palm courtyard is enclosed by ancient walls and is lit with Moroccan lamps after dark.
If you aren’t hypnotised by the scent of frangipani, jasmine and incense, wait until you try the menu, a heavenly harem of authentic flavours from north Africa and the Middle East: delights such as baba ganoush, shish taouk, pastela and tempting tagines. Outside of the town you are also spoilt for choice with some genuine dining secrets, including La Nueva Tajea, sitting in idyllic hamlet of Santa Lucia.
A charming spot in the extreme, you sit in a leafy garden or open terrace with views over green hills towards the classic white town nearby. Concentrating on meat dishes, brothers Francisco and Carlos have made the place look fabulous, in particular with Carlos’ artistic creations on the wall.
Last but definitely not least, you must visit Restaurant Patria (www.restaurantepatria.com), where Danes Thomas and wife Ase are fast garnering a reputation as having some of the best food in Cadiz, let alone Vejer.
This incredible couple have created an alluring spot, where you sit on an authentic flagstone veranda, with some of the best views in Christendom.
Surrounded by vines, oleander and olive trees, its candlelit wooden tables and stylish interior draw you in further. And thankfully your hosts do not disappoint when it comes to the food. Split into a three-course menu of the month and a more detailed a la carte offering, you will be spoilt with lots of vegetables and almost all seasonal produce.
As Thomas explains: “The joy of cooking is about what’s in peak season. There is no need to import anything from far away.”
He raves, quite rightfully about the quality of the local produce, and adds: “We work around what our suppliers can provide us locally be it wild asparagus, rabbit or bulls’ heart tomatoes.
“It is all about being able to adjust, change and create.”
• For more detailed reviews, background and other Cadiz food articles visit www.diningsecretsofandalucia.com