IN a humdrum street in one of inland Andalucia’s most workaday towns sits this genuine dining secret.
Few readers will have heard of Alcala del Valle, an agricultural hub that sits about midway between Ronda, Osuna and Moron de la Frontera.
You won’t find it in the Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide and TripAdvisor lists just one thing to do in the town of 5,000 souls (a burial site, the Domenes de Tomillos, in case you’re asking).
But if you’re searching for the very soul of Andalucia, the very definition of the Andalucian vernacular, then you’ve come to the right place.
For restaurant Meson Sabor Andaluz is authenticity at its best; Andalucian folk presenting the very best of their centuries old cuisine.
OK you don’t walk into some charming rural idyll, with ancient wooden beams and an olive press, but its rustic decor certainly gives you that feel, as do the strains of flamenco that come from a local artist, not Cameron de la Isla or the Gypsy Kings.
The bar area is loaded up with shelves full of dried local pulses, peppers, herbs and peaches in jars. It’s a veritable pantry, with a regiment of fresh vegetables many from nearby huertas, alongside bundles of asparagus… for this is supposedly Spain’s home of asparagus, as owner Jose Aguilera explains.
But vegetables are ‘very much the stars’ of this restaurant, particularly since his son Pedro returned after a long stint as the right hand man of Valencia’s top chef Ricard Camarena, last year.
He picked up many skills from the two Michelin-starred maestro as well as from Andalucia’s top cookery school La Consula, when back in the day it churned out bright stars like Dani Garcia, Diego Gallegos and Jose Carlos Garcia.
Pedro loves experimenting with the local produce, including artichokes, cherries, pistachios, chickpeas, green beans and figs, as well as many of the other famous products from the nearby Serrania de Ronda and Grazalema.
The menu changes by the week and is heavily seasonal, so at the moment there was a superb baked aubergine stuffed with a tuna tartare, as well as leeks cooked perfectly on the grill with an olive and rosemary sauce.
There was a distinct lightness of touch with dishes like the ‘ensaladilla cremosa’ with prawns and chicken croquettes, as well as the wonderful ‘bunuelos’ of cod and parsley.
My main course of half a quail on bread with a herb vinaigrette was about as local inland Cadiz as you could ever hope to find.
His poached cherry dessert in their jus with a creamy yogurt base was wonderfully rich, but equally subtle in creation.
For wines, ask dad Jose, who’s been running this joint for two decades and is a huge fan of local vineyards and serves plenty up by the glass.
The total bill came to well under 40 euros for two, a post-Covid joy.
After lunch take the short trip to nearby Setenil de las Bodegas, or perhaps Ronda, if time allows. But you’ll struggle to eat anywhere better in either place.