A PIPING hot raclette, a burger and chips and a few stale tapas used to be the basic offering in the Sierra Nevada two decades ago.
Today a Moroccan Harira soup, ramen and gyozas or a spicy red tuna burrito are more likely to be on the menu for your evening’s grazing.
Just as the quality of food has gone up around Spain over recent times, the same has happened in the country’s most famous ski resort.
One of the trailblazers in this improvement is former snowboard pro Stevie Silva, who swapped his board for a set of sharp knives, over a decade ago now.
A man never content on standing still (and with three restaurants in Pradollano these days), his main joint Ci Vediamo is still hard to beat.
While he dubs it ‘rebel food’ and there is plenty of creativity here, the truth is you are just as likely to eat a simple soft crab tempura or a superb bowl of pasta.
What he guarantees is quality and always a few nice twists.
This year I loved his deep-fried ‘parcels’ of egg, bacon and leeks that melted in the mouth in one bite, while an amazing spaghetti of giant crayfish with pecorino cheese was unbeatable after a hard morning on the slopes.
“I arrange it so all the juices flow from the head and claws into the dish,” he explains, as he personally shaved the pecorino on top. “It really adds to the flavour”.
A tight ship run by Stevie and his Maitre’d girlfriend Luna, their wanderlust takes them around the world in summer time (to the Far East and around Europe) tasting new dishes.
One of the best places to try their current favourites is their new joint, Makalu, named after the fifth highest mountain in the world, bordering China and Nepal.
This hip spot feels like a Shoreditch pop-up, literally carved out of a wall in the heart of the resort.
Set up by Stevie and three partners, it is focusing on ‘fusion cooking’, a mix of Asiatic, Basque and European dishes, around 12 in total. “We’ve got stuff like Ramen, some cuchara (literally spoon) dishes and an amazing Spanish tortilla with white truffle,” adds Stevie.
His other Japanese restaurant, Shimbuya, now in its fourth year, goes from strength to strength, adding a new chef, who’s ‘spent 25 years making sushi, many years in Japan’.
A bit further up the hill it is well worth seeking out and expect some delicious gyozas, noodles and a cool vibe.
My top tip, go for the California Roll with a king prawn, salmon and sesame seeds.
Another couple really focussing on creative food are Nestor and Sonia, who have just opened their first restaurant, Confusion, in Pradollano after running holiday apartments for five years.
You can tell it’s going to be different from the floral decor outside, while inside it has a sense of Alice in Wonderland, thanks to the creative interior design skills of artist Sonia.
Luckily, the food is able to match and, while just finding its feet, it has a real international team in the kitchen coming up with some great ideas.
There are lots of vegetarian options, which is rare for skiing resorts, and a great section of sharing dishes, salads and soups.
I really liked a Harira soup, from the Rif mountains, a rich broth of chickpeas, lamb, harina and apricots, among other ingredients.
The tostada section was also enticing, with a lovely avocado and anchovy number, with watercress and cherry tomatoes from the couple’s own huerta (vegetable garden).
“We are only using fresh, quality ingredients and insist on proper free-range chicken and proper duck foie,” adds Nestor, a father-of-three, who has set the place up with children and families in mind, the tables each covered with their own animal photos.
Easily the most established restaurant in the Sierra Nevada is Tito Luigi, run by two long term pals Luis and Xavi, whose brother runs Tia Maria cafe just off the slopes.
They can claim at least two kings of Spain eating here and the walls pay tribute to their esteemed clientele, including various international film stars, bullfighters and politicians.
An absolute must for any stay in the resort, in particular to see it in action (it can serve up to 250 people in one sitting), make sure you book in high season.
Expect some of the best pizzas in the resort, generally splendid Italian fare, while a stand out dish is easily the squid-ink spaghetti with prawns.
Looking for something a bit more creative and informal, the pair also run the hipper joint Tito Tapas a few doors up, while a third restaurant is up in the middle of the resort.
Guaranteed to be full every night, the wines by the glass are excellent and the tapas change regularly.
If meat is your thing make sure to try out La Muralla, run by Argentinian Gonzalo Funes, whose steaks sit pride of place in the window and are among the best in the resort.
The ‘tostas’ are also great and come in various guises, while I loved the milhoja of foie gras and a courgette carpaccio with fig sauce and the melt-in-the-mouth bulls cheek is also stunning.
He and his brother Luciano also run Muralla Burguer, almost next door, which specialises in the best quality burgers on the slopes.
It’s hard to disagree trying his ‘gourmet’ burger, which is actually made from oxtail ‘rabo de toro’ with a thin slice of cheese and mayonnaise and cooked in its own juice.
The pair also run popular Las Gondalas just off the slopes and excellent for some apres ski light bites, a hot drink or a beer.
Another great simple joint, but with great home cooked food, is Telesilla Burger.
It is one of the most popular joints with workers in the resort and that is no surprise both for its great value prices, and the fact that owner Maria works in the kitchen.
Cleverly designed using ski lifts as tables, you can get everything here from hot coffees in the morning to superb desserts at tall times of day.
By far the most fun tapas joint is Bar Ski, set up by the funniest man in the Sierra Nevada, Nichi, two decades ago.
His place is always buzzing at lunch and in the evenings and comprises a classic soul kitchen concentrating on hardy, simple dishes.
And, if you fancy something simpler (and available to take away) he has just opened a new joint Nichis Cooking next door, with a great range of roast chicken, pies and other dishes.
Fancy Mexican? Then you are now spoilt for choice in Pradollano.
Somewhere really worth checking out is Canalla a brand new place set up by Raul, fresh from six years living in London and with a really good sense of taste.
A good use of space with an excellent terrace just below the Kenia Nevada hotel, the staff are dressed in utilitarian boiler outfits and music in distinctly London grime.
I loved the decent list of tacos and burritos, an amazing ribs taco coming out steaming and delicious with a delicious sweet sauce.
Nearby, is Calambrito, a lovely space, with an equally good mix of Mexican favourites.
I particularly liked the tacos, while the staff were really attentive and friendly.
Owned by Jesus from snowboard shop, South Star, it has great music and nice decor.
Another place focussing just on burgers, La Calle, opened up last season next door.
Also run by Jesus, this is a place your kids are definitely going to like.
Keep your eyes peeled for the charming Bodega Casablanca run by Jose Carlos Villanueva, who grew up on the slopes, with his father opening one of the first hostals in the 1960s.
The historic photos add to the atmosphere, while the heart-warming soul food is always excellent, and includes stews and lentils.
Another excellent place overlooking the slopes is Tia Maria, which has a good mix of dishes and is a great place for breakfast. A total institution run by Carlos (part of the Tito Luigi family) this is the spot to chill out and enjoy the sun for the afternoon and early evening.
For coffee, breakfast, and in fact just about everything, Vertical is hard to be beaten and also has a great range of snacks and light bites, including hot dogs for the British clientele.
Finally, few places get as busy as the highly-rated Antorcha, which sits by the Kenia Nevada hotel.
Run by Antonio and Maite for over a decade, each table gets its own ‘sausage tree’, while its speciality of the house is the ‘hot and spicy platter’ on which you can cook your own rump steaks, up to 400gr. It doesn’t get much better than that.
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