WHEN I researched a restaurant book on Andalucia a decade ago, I came across some wonderful hidden gems tucked away in the tiniest inland villages all around the region.
But, what is one of the real Dining Secrets of Andalucia, is that Marbella is the region’s definitive Foodie Capital.
Forget Malaga, Sevilla or Granada, cities with far more tourists and many more locals, Marbella had the best spread and quality of places to eat that I came across. And that hasn’t changed.
It’s no coincidence that the resort of 150,000 people counts on the second highest number of Michelin starred eateries in Spain, per capita, after San Sebastian. That’s five in total, while it also, coincidentally, has the same number of references (14) in the famous guide as Sevilla and one more than Malaga.
But that’s only half the story, for there are perhaps a dozen more incredible places jostling for a listing in the famous French food bible.
Meanwhile, eight also count on prestigious ‘soles’ (suns) from Repsol’s Spanish equivalent, with one, El Lago, counting on two.
A long time visitor to the resort and now living nearby, my personal favourites include Ta-kumi and el Lago, which have never let me down.
And then there is the stunning simplicity of the soul food at Gaspar, run by a young lawyer Carlota, as well as the intriguing Kava, where the chef, Fernando, is also a lawyer and entirely self-taught.
Casa Tua, run by an Irish expat and her Italian partner, have been serving up magical Italian fare for a decade.
Meanwhile, befitting the glamour of the Golden Mile, Boho Club is style personified, with the former chef of el Lago Diego del Rio at the helm and fast heading for its first star.
And also on the Golden Mile and amazing for sheer variety all in one place is the Puente Romano hotel’s famous La Plaza restaurant zone.
Here you will find the Asiatic delights of Thai Gallery, as well as the Monkey Club, Nobu and Lena, while the brand new Peruvian joint Coya is making massive waves.
And then there is my top tip for something new and exciting this year; Sauvage, in the heart of town, run by two former Marbella Club chefs, one who trained at three Michelin starred Celler de can Roca.
Also extremely likely to do big things this year is Nomad, the latest creation of the talented Metro Group, which has just opened in Nueva Andalucia.
A stunning place, with no expense spared, their launch chef Alex Craciun, is the executive chef of the UK’s leading Jason Atherton group. A man who has also worked with top UK chef Gordon Ramsay and at world-famous Noma in Denmark, it was no surprise to find an extremely varied menu, with some amazingly deft touches
For beach clubs Bono Beach is a surefire winner, in particular, for its amazing attention to detail and client care. Another favourite, Macaao will hopefully reopen later this year, while Puente Romano’s Sea Grill is always popular.
It’s more tricky to find somewhere good to eat in the old town, but Candela, with German chef Andy on the chopping board, is a good tip, while Casanis is a great spot, while Altamirano comes highly recommended by most.
I must also mention Skina, which now has two stars in the heart of the old town, and its owner, a sommelier by training, Marcos Granda’s new Asiatic restaurant Nintao, which already has a star around the corner.
Nearby in San Pedro de Alcantara, you have the excellent Savor, where well travelled Pablo Castillo regularly changes the menu with a sprinkle of stardust, while the secret spot El Cortijo de Ramiro, in Guadalmina, is where the power-brokers-in-know go to eat.
For a drive into the hills look out for the charming restaurant at Alcuzcuz, one of the true gems in the hills of Marbella (albeit technically Benahavis).
Just 200m further up the road is the architectural masterpiece El Coto, which recently opened for the super rich and super-picky gourmands around Zagaleta and Madronal.
In the tourist hive of Puerto Banus one might expect it to be rammed with great places to eat, but the truth is it can be very hit and miss.
Stick with the classic spots like Jacks, Leone and Mumtaz, probably the best Indian in Marbella, and you can’t go wrong.
You’d probably however, be better off walking out of the port up towards the unbelievably popular stalwart of La Sala… that is if you can get in.
Incredibly, not 15 years old (well it has moved), it is the place to do your star spotting and just about everyone who’s anyone has been to eat here (see our centrespread this issue).
Most likely Marbella’s most successful restaurant of the last decade, it employs over 100 staff and includes a football team of investors, including David Bentley, Shay Given and most recently Harry Winks.
The food is not just excellent value for its location, but the menu changes regularly and there will always be some entertainment. In particular, with the fellow guests.
Finally, and reluctantly, I feel the need to mention one Dani Garcia, a man who really helped to put Marbella on the map, in particular a few years ago when he won his third Michelin star at his Puente Romano joint, before controversially throwing them all in the same year.
A local Marbella man, who became famous winning a star for Ronda two decades ago with Tragabuches, he still has his imprint all over the resort, and is involved in at least half a dozen restaurants.
You literally can’t miss him, with a huge advertising hoarding as you pass Corte Ingles in Banus, but the truth is, among the local culinary movers and shakers, his star is waning.
Marbella is the place to go star-spotting, particularly in the summer months with Ronaldo, Robert de Niro and Michelle Obama all visiting for a meal over recent years.
But for me, the most exciting visitors are the actual chefs themselves, who regularly come down for holidays, but also for a string of key events.
The best of these was the once annual, A Cuatro Manos, organised by Dani Garcia for years at the Puente Romano, where I met the great and the good of Spain’s famous food scene.
Plus a few global greats to boot, such as Daniel Humm, of New York’s Eleven Madison Park and international megastar Joel Rubuchon, who sadly died the following year.
My all time favourite interview though was with El Bulli legend Ferran Adria, who told me how much he liked the resort and, in particular, Andalucian cuisine.
I later got to grill the three-Michelin geniuses Joan Roca, of Celler de Can Roca, and Valencia’s Quique Dacosta.