THE last time I’d met chef Neil Brown he was wearing the long, vacant look of a doctor, who had just finished a nightshift.
It was hardly surprising having been at the sharp end of a busy kitchen with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay breathing down his neck for a week.
The culmination of an episode of his popular Channel4 show Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, it was supposed to be the night it all came together with a grand fanfare.
But with two camera crews filming his every move, producers barking orders like prison guards and a phalanx of waitresses quivering like jellies, it was never going to be the perfect night for a review.
While asked to proffer my opinions for the show (whether they use them or not, we’ll have to wait and see when the programme airs), I decided to give the place a proper go last week before putting pen to paper.
And the good news is La Granada Divino ticks a lot of boxes.
The Gaucin eatery is both inspired in its layout and design and definitely produces the goods on the plate.
You can hardly fail to be charmed (assuming you haven’t tried to drive to the door) as you arrive at the wooden door of this pretty grapevine strewn white-washed village house.
Unassuming from the outside you walk into a warm entrance space, with a few tables and the kitchen to one side.
And then comes the drama, as you are led upstairs and hopefully, on a good day, to one of the tables on the terraces outside.
Insist on booking one of the three eagle’s nest tables at the very top and you will be in for one of the most spectacular vistas in Europe.
Spread out in front of you is a blanket of untamed rolling scrubland, interspersed with rivers, lakes, oaks and pine woods, all melting down to the Straits of Gibraltar, the Rock and the distant hills of Morocco the icing on the cake. With castle-topped Gaucin as a backdrop, it is hard to be beaten.
Food-wise Neil has done his time in Andalucia (in Medina Sidonia, Frigiliana and Marbella) and is now back in Gaucin for a second stint. A jobbing chef, who trained in London, at places like Scott’s (more recently famous for the Nigella Lawson choke photos last year) and Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor Bar, among other spots, he is a true professional.
And, while he complains that the current menu is more Gordon Ramsay’s than his (he is set to change it this September), he certainly honours it well.
Out came a mixed starters plate, with all the ingredients for a holiday success… a thimble-full of gazpacho, a fresh anchovy on toast, a puchero croquette in a spicy tomato bisque, pea puree and goats cheese and, of course, a slice of delicious Spanish tortilla.
It was a veritable Andalucian meal in microcosm, not necessarily one for the gourmets, but most tourists will love it.
I preferred the amazing flatbreads of mushroom, pesto and grated goat’s cheese, sat on a bed of pumpkin puree, not to mention the healthy dorada (bream) as a main course, which was perfectly grilled and served with a great range of rocket, tomatoes and asparagus.
He also wowed with the way he served up Presa Iberica, or Iberian pork underbelly, deliciously rustic and chunky and also served with loads of veg.
“I try and use as much local produce as possible,” explains Neil. “The local butcher, the local greengrocer and even fish from the local market. And I plan to change the menu regularly.”
I deliberately steered away from grilling him on his Ramsay experience, for fear of being clobbered.
Had he learnt anything? Who knows. Who cares. In his own right, he can put this place on the map for all the right reasons.