SOMETIMES dining out can be all about timing. Choose a restaurant where the regular chef has just quit – and they are placing ads for a new one all over town – and the likelihood is you will be in for trouble.
Pick a popular restaurant at the height of the summer season and the sheer number of people dining may spoil your enjoyment.
El Chambao de Joaquín is a well-established restaurant located at the nicest end of the beach in La Herradura – the calmest place on the Costa Tropical.
Go there at the height of summer holiday season and you will spend much of your time lost in admiration for how the staff copes with such vast numbers of diners.
I opt to avoid the place in July and August as the restaurant, and the beach it sits on, are each too busy for comfort.
This means I miss out on their legendary BBQ nights and the live music that can be enjoyed at weekends.
Instead I visit again from September onwards when the masses have returned home and it is once again possible to take your time over a nice lunch in a splendid location.
Unless you are wealthy (and many regular clients clearly are), then this restaurant is more likely to be a place you visit for a special occasion. It is more expensive than any other establishment I visit on an irregular basis. The food is good, without being stupendous. They know how to make and present a proper salad (hurrah!) and the fish is allegedly fresh.
I say allegedly not because I doubt the word of the ever charming waitress, Sabrina, but because it seems to me that in Andalucía the words “fresh fish” can mean only the fish once had a life. One local food expert tells me the fish sold as ‘fresh’ in some supermarkets, for example, look and smell so bad that it is possible they were caught by the last Moorish King, Boabdil!
Being a glass half empty kind of fella, I only truly believe my fish is fresh when I see it caught in front of my eyes.
However, I always believe the word of Sabrina, in any of the four or more languages she speaks. If there were to be a “friendliest waiter/ess award of the year”, Sabrina would surely win it. That woman displays more patience in one day than I could ever show in my lifetime. I presume that is why the equally charming owners of the place hang on to her.
On my last visit I enjoyed a fresh merluza (hake). Nola had her favourite habas con jamon (broad beans with serrano ham), James had pollo ajillo (chicken with garlic) and Wendy had a tasty brochetta (spicy skewers of meat).
Known for her sweet tooth, Wendy gave in and had a postre: cheese cake (tarta de queso). It must have been good, as it vanished from the plate very quickly. rinks included a jug of Sangria (a cliché, I know, but it was a birthday treat).
The total bill was 89 euros, which is probably the most I have encountered at this particular restaurant. However, the setting, the consistency of the food, the excellent service and the feeling that you could stay at the table all day and night if you so wished – all made for an enjoyable visit.
It may not serve the best food to be had on the Costa Tropical. Nor the cheapest. However, you know what you are going to get. El Chambao de Joaquín does not suffer from the peaks and troughs of so many restaurants in the area.
This stretch of coastline is in for some big changes. I hope that despite changing times, and tastes, this particular culinary sanctuary stays just the way it is.
El Chambao de Joaquín, Playa de la Herradura, Punta de la Mona. Telephone: 958 64 00 44