IT feels like a direct reaction to the zany, off-the-wall ‘cocina creativa’ that has made Spain so famous over recent years.
But, that is not to say that dining at El Jardin, in Casares, is in any way less exciting.
The stunning restaurant inside sumptuous five star Finca Cortesin – the Costa del Sol’s most refined upmarket hotel for those in the know – is a celebration of the best of Andalucian food and style.
Authentic in the extreme, its terracotta floors are complimented with classic azulejo tiles, vintage porcelain sinks and antique furniture, while settings are simple, with fresh flowers and candles.
It feels homely and warm (ultimately, I suppose, what you would hope for in a hotel) and its ethos is very much about good, solid ingredients.
Most of this is due to the philosophy of its executive chef Lutz Bosing, an erudite German, who has spent nearly three decades living in Spain.
“Hotels should be about the home and guests should enjoy dining there, not feel like they are stepping out of their safety zone,” he explains.
“I love Spain’s fabulous creative chefs and know many of them, but my cooking is different.”
This means eschewing butter for the best local olive oil and spending hours each week sourcing the highest quality local ingredients.
“I also use lots of different types of lentils and chick peas to give people a genuine Spanish experience and, of course, use plenty of mushrooms and other vegetables when in season,” he continues.
It is where the restaurant gets its name (‘jardin’ meaning garden), but one must certainly NOT get the impression that the food here is boring.
Lutz began cooking at the age of 13 and was slaughtering, jointing and preparing his own cows by the age of 17, so he certainly knows a trick or two.
He duly arrived with a lovely-looking amuse bouche, which turned out to be a creamy pork rillete, with foie gras, goats cheese and sesame seeds.
Next up we tried the lobster salad, which was as close to heaven as I have been with a healthy salad starter.
True luxury, this came with mushrooms, courgettes, carrots, pumpkin, artichokes and a barrel load of different nuts.
And then we had the soup with meatballs of breaded ham and saffron, a dish handed down to Lutz from his mother-in-law, who heralds from Iznajar, close to his previous job as head chef at Hotel Bobadilla.
Increasingly spoilt, we were next proffered a dish of boletus mushrooms, truffle and poached egg tempura, which was as sweet as you like.
A monkfish in a classic ‘pinto rojo’ sauce was rustic, but beautifully presented, while a partridge pie, served in a simple white dish, with a salt crust sealing it took the honours.
Heralding from Elche, it came served in big chunks of foie gras, with mushrooms, ham and vegetables. A true Spanish classic.
Staying with traditional Spanish dishes, the bread pudding ‘pan soldado’, or soldiers’ bread, was delicious served with an ice cream made from sweet Malaga wine.
On the subject of wine, the list was, as one would expect from a five star hotel, impressive and choices were easily made with advice from the friendly sommelier.
In particular we liked the good value Blas Munoz chardonnay from Toledo.
Ultimately El Jardin is the perfect foil to many of the more experimental restaurants in nearby Marbella and proves to be almost more exciting… and certainly more wholesome.
We ate extremely well and while not cheap, with its regularly changing menu and a chef, who really knows his onions, this is one true Dining Secret.
El Jardin, Finca Cortesin Casares, Malaga. Reservations: 952 93 78 00
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