GIVEN the demands for quality in Sotogrande, it is perhaps not surprising that to survive, its restaurants have had to follow suit.
And there is no doubt, that the quality – and range – of food on offer has improved dramatically over the last few years.
As well as great tapas restaurants and some exciting new eateries, including a sushi bar, the more established joints, such as the Hairy Lemon, go from strength to strength.
But to really appreciate what this exclusive enclave has to offer you also need to venture a few miles outside towards San Roque and Manilva.
Perhaps the most emblematic of these hidden gems is atmospheric La Finca (www.lafincafusion.com), which sits next to La Casita campsite in San Roque.
Thai fusion in style, you don’t just discover it by accident, but when you find it you will keep coming back.
In summer you sit around a leafy courtyard, a riot of colours and candles, while in winter you dine inside the authentic farmhouse with stone floors and fireplaces.
The place is run by New Yorker Chris Cousins and former partner 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.
Heading the other direction you will find firstly hotel Milla de Plata (www.hotelmilladeplata.com), just outside Torreguadiaro, which sits on a headland overlooking a rocky cove and with views to die for.
Its restaurant Mar Sana is a charming spot for an evening meal and heavy on fresh fish, with its own special tuna menu.
This is a place to come and chill out, take in the waters below, before a sherry, supper and then cocktails. Your best bet is to book a room for the night.
Next up is il Sono (www.ilsono.es), on Cala Sardina, which has been voted Spain’s greenest restaurant and has a genuine focus on the environment.
Run by Andrea and Tamara, its food is also excellent, with a real twist being its pasta with truffle.
Continuing along you come to the hidden cove of Punto la Chullera, where the amazing joint of Sal y Sol sits.
Totally hidden from the road, this charming wooden restaurant has been picked out by El Pais as one of the Costa del Sol’s genuine ‘hidden spots’.
No surprise, it has stunning views and counts on some of the freshest fish imaginable thanks to a ready supply of octopus from the nearby rocks, and a daily supply from the owner’s son.
Carry on another mile towards Manilva, and you get to emblematic Floria, where Dutchman Peter has been attracting the key movers and shakers from Sotogrande and Gibraltar for a decade.
Open all year, it is like nothing else around and has the best Prawn ‘pil pil’ on the coast, not to mention amazing clams.
If you are looking for a chiringuito a little closer to the resort, then head for wonderful Gigi’s Beach (www.gigisbeach.com), sitting just outside the marina (See Journeys end, page 26) by the sailing club.
The creation of Georgina ‘Gigi’ Taylor, her youthful hard-working approach to style and taste, makes this a surefire winner, not just for local foodies, but international businessman alike.
Inside the marina, the real standout place to eat is the Hairy Lemon, which has got better and better since chef Lorenc and number-crunching wife Liz took the helm a couple of years ago.
This is the genuine hive for expats and has a sister The Lemon, next door, which is a bit more formal in style.
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.
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, including amazing prawns in mint salad and a fantastic teriyaki duck breast, which has a complex meaty flavour enhanced by a delicious Asian glaze and a zingy wasabi coleslaw.
If you are looking for a place to sit out to enjoy the boats, then there are two perfect spots in the marina, next to the Ribera del Marlin.
The first is the well established Molino del Conde (www.grupomolinodelconde.es), which has just opened its doors, and has the nicest terrace and 30 different types of rice made by world champion paella maker Giuseppe Langastro.
The next place to try is The Pearl restaurant, recently opened by the water just by the Mercado de Verano and food trucks.
Owned by Armenian Juri, who spent many years working in Budapest, it has a great range of dishes thanks to its talented chef Nacho, in particular his amazing Peruvian cerviche.
You literally could not find a better place to hang out and relax.
Finally, you must try and track down two other interesting spots, firstly La cabaña (www.grupomolinodelconde.es) that sits in the old Cortijo Valderrama, which was the house of Sotogrande’s founder Joseph Mcmicking. It sits in lovely gardens, with a pool and chimneys for cold nights and is great for celebrating events.
Last but not least, if you are looking for something genuinely authentic and amazing value, visit La Terraza de Teo (www.laterrazadeteo.com) in Guadiaro.
Just on the edge of town this spot owned by Teodoro Sanz and his chef wife Manoli has some of the best quality tapas I have eaten in Andalucia and at amazing prices to match.
Best were the warm octopus with sea urchin sauce and salmon blini with cream cheese and chives, not to mention the scallop in a potato with hollandaise sauce.
As he is from Puerto de Santa Maria it was no surprise that he also has a great range of blue fin tuna dishes including the tuna tartare extraordinaire.
What a steal
THERE is literally no bakery in Andalucia with such delicious bread and pastries.
Not just that Jan Staels has freshly-made ice cream every day, guaranteeing that the kids will also love his place.
There are also plenty of snacks such as quiches, sandwiches, salads, carpaccios, croquetas and hummus.
Well established in Sotogrande for five years, he opened five years ago, and offers clients free parking and wifi, and there are both alcoholic and soft drinks.
Visit www.janstaels.com for more information.