FEW places in Spain have such a good range of restaurants as the Serrania de Ronda.
Much to do with its ingredients – its olive oils, cheeses, hams, mushrooms, fruits, nuts and vegetables – as long as chefs use loca and think big, long will it stay that way.
Thankfully every year new restaurateurs arrive in the region, with fresh ideas and skills, all helping to improve the gene pool.
This year’s new additions include the stunning Maruja Limon, Juntera and La Cascada, while the likes of Casa Santa Pola, soulful Almocobar and rural idylls Molino del Santo and Al Lago, go from strength to strength.
While the excitement award must go to la Granada Divino in Gaucin thanks to its TV show with Gordon Ramsay, the real plaudits must – once again – go to El Muelle, in Arriate.
Incredibly, this authentic spot is still (a year on) Number One out of 15,000 restaurants in Andalucia, according to TripAdvisor.
Thoroughly deserving, this converted railway storeroom is worth a journey alone, as many people do from Estepona and even Gibraltar.
Run by friendly Dutchman Frank Rottgering with chef Isa from nearby Alcala del Valle, it has maintained its attention to detail, its customer service and, above all, its amazing prices.
But tiny Arriate has more, thanks to the recent opening of Juntera Gin and Tonic in the heart of the village.
Set up by a local lad Sergio Marin Garcia, he and his brother David, the chef, use organic produce from his family’s nearby vegetable gardens, with some excellent twists.
And then there is Taberna Manolo, which has also been through something of a revolution over the last year, perhaps in a bid to keep up with its rivals.
Equally authentic, expect to try a tartaki of tuna, secretos or a steak in whiskey.
Up in Ronda meanwhile you will find everything from creative Tragatapas, run by former Michelin-starred chef Benito Gomez, to traditional Pedro Romero and lots in between.
But easily still pick of the bunch is Almocobar, which has been producing consistently good quality food for 30 years opposite the old Arabic gate of the same name.
Run by a tight-knit team, presentation is important and a new offer includes a series of interesting four and five course set meals, paired with wines from five of the local vineyards.
Nearby, Meson El Sacristan, keeps on getting better and better.
Run by friendly Antonio from Campillos, this busy spot, which counts on Roman ruins in the basement, has easily some of the best steaks in the town, cooked to a tee in the only wood-oven around. It also has a good wine list.
Nearby, with the best views in Christendom, look out for La Maruja Limon, recently opened by ambitious Barbara Gasull.
Having cut her teeth in restaurants in Santander, she moved south and found this gem of a spot that sits on top of the famous gorge with a charming garden.
The food is organic, homemade and I particularly liked the carrot croquettes in caramelized onions and her tapa of aubergine with miel de cana.
Another great new opening in Ronda is el Quinque, which aims to combine ‘art and gastronomy’ and has some excellent flamenco shows to compliment its food.
Chef Francisco Sobrino has cooked in plenty of places on the coast, including the Marbella Club hotel, and his toasted goats cheese with caremelised onions and oxtail croquettes, not to mention the shallot tart with chicken livers, were superb. And still there is more with the excellent Casa Santa Pola, which certainly takes some beating for atmosphere.
This is all thanks to Catalan chef Ignacio, who knows Spain’s culinary scene like the back of his hand, and who has worked around the country and likes to experiment as much as possible.
Then, let’s not forget the charming El Porton – an institution – run by the same two friends Javier and Pepe for the last 40 years.
Steeped in bullfighting history, here you will find my favourite Ronda tapa, the wonderful quails egg with ham on toast.
Finally for something completely different you must try out the superb vegetarian restaurant The Spice Route.
The brainchild of livewire Juan, who grew up in Mallorca, this is not only the Serrania’s only such joint, but one of the best in Andalucia.
Using fresh ingredients and a wealth of herbs, he is proving that you can eat quality food without meat. Oat meatballs, soya cannelloni and veggie mousaka, my favourite dish was a sweet gazpacho of red peppers.
For international food, Ronda also has a friendly Argentinian, Buenos Aires, run by characteristic Omar.
It is an excellent spot for tapas, breakfast or just a pint to watch the UK football.
It probably also serves up the best coffee in town thanks to its fresh milk.
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