7 May, 2023 @ 10:28
3 mins read

Foodie revolution on the Costa del Sol

Secret Garden Facebook

IT was in Mijas pueblo during a summer holiday as a child, that one of Britain’s top chefs made one of his first formative foodie memories.

“I remember I got a great big chunk of honey in the comb and was baffled as to how to attack it. I ended up just scraping and sucking it,” recalled Michel Albert Roux  (right) of his trip to the Costa del Sol resort in the 1970s.

“I had orange juice, too – made with fresh, real squeezed oranges.” 

One of the true golden boys of British cuisine, the former star of Masterchef and Hell’s Kitchen, added in an interview with the Times: “We drove all the way to Mijas. That’s a heck of a long drive – two days, with my sister next to me being a real pain and constantly whingeing – but I remember tasting things I’d never tasted before.”

Oh to have been on that holiday with the two Michelin starred chef, who owns London’s leading Le Gavroche. His father, also Michel, is credited with revolutionizing the British food scene in the 1970s with his (still) three Michelin star temple of dining, the Waterside Inn.

Michel Albert Roux
Michel Roux

It would have been an amazing time to be in Mijas Pueblo and, chances are, he might have just stumbled across the Secret Garden, hidden at the back of a nondescript white house in a narrow side street.

Today, it is one of the definitive dining secrets of the coast, an oasis, tucked away behind its sister restaurant Aroma.

Secret Garden Facebook
HIDDEN AWAY: The Secret Garden in the heart of Mijas. Photo: Secret Garden Facebook

It is exactly what you would expect from the name, but a lot, lot more, a beautiful hidden garden in the heart of the village.

The best place to relax and enjoy typical Spanish dishes alongside Argentinean fare – particularly steaks – thanks to co-owner Hugo German, from Buenos Aires.

Part of a group of restaurants owned by Hugo and his Canadian business partner Thomas Weller, who’s now in his third decade living in Mijas, it really is something extraordinary.

Secret Garden 1
Hugo German at the grill

Argentinian Hugo, 59, first arrived in Mijas, via a short stint in Mallorca.

An engineer by trade, he left Argentina during the deep 1990s recession, looking to make a new life in Spain.

He had soon found his vocation working with fellow expat Thomas, with the pair opening a series of shops in Mijas pueblo.

Things went well but it was when they stumbled across this hidden overgrown garden in the heart of the pueblo that they knew instinctively to open a restaurant together.

After clearing out mounds of rubbish and brambles they initially turned it into a tea rooms with tapas, but it wasn’t until they changed the concept to an Argentinian-style bbq three years later that the place started to boom.

“It was certainly a very tough start,” explains Hugo. “And it wasn’t until we got the concept right that things started to work.

“Finally we created the bbq out of a recycled staircase and suddenly it went wild.”

Since then they have invested more and more in the remarkable gardens, which are a must-visit, if only for a glass of wine or coffee.

Thomas, who arrived in Europe as a ski rep in the 1990s, recalls: “We wanted to create a sensation, something visual, not just a place to eat.”

Simpler, but equally as tasty, is Weller’s Italian La Cucine di Nico, where the osso bucco is the best I’ve had on the coast.

The pizzas are also amazing, while the salad selection is also highly rated.

Casa Navarro
Casa Navarro has hosted everyone from Princess Diana to Julio Iglesias and the Rolling Stones

Heading downhill from the pueblo, a great place to stop is Casa Navarro, which has been serving the area for decades.

Everyone from Lady Diana to Julio Iglesias have dined there and it’s a true family affair, open since 1990 and with an amazing collection of wines in its cellar going way beyond that.

“We’ve had everyone eating here from Lady Diana to the Rolling Stones and both Julio Iglesias and his son Enrique on lots of occasions,” explains owner Carlos.

On the beach it certainly does not get any better than at wonderful El Oceano, a hotel restaurant which is glamour personified.

Luxurious in the extreme, its use of light and views across the Med are incredible.

El Oceano Rest With Sea
The luxurious El Oceano

The beef tartare is the ‘tete de cuvee’, marinated overnight, then rolled in peppercorns, seared for 30 seconds and rested in the fridge before being served.

I also liked the tempura prawns with wasabi and the excellent scallops with ham while my winning pick would be the original take on Manchego Arancini, rice balls seasoned with saffron.

The restaurant offers front row seats right on the beach and, after a multi-million euro overhaul, is even more glamorous than before.


Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

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