HE had to pinch himself when he read the Olive Press story last month.
It only made a column on our food and drink page, but it was an honour that needed noting: an obscure meat restaurant in Ronda’s industrial estate had made Spain’s Top Ten best restaurants, according to Trip Advisor.
“I guess we are doing something right,” joked Martin Abramzon, outside his achingly hip joint, Kutral.
“But really it’s the whole town that needs an award for its incredible range of places to eat,” he adds. “Gastronomically we just keep getting better and better and offering more new places to eat.
“Want variety? We’ve got great fish places, steak places like mine and some excellent tapas spots, all with a very varied price point. We even now have a Japanese sushi place.”
Fellow chef, Javier Pimentel, at Taberna Almacen, agrees. And he should know, having trained at San Sebastian’s three Michelin star cathedral of cuisine Akelarre, as well as later training up Malaga’s top chef, Dani Carnero.
“Ronda is really in fashion now and with so many visitors it means we can really go for a general improvement in quality and push for more creativity,” he explains.
His popular place is a case in point. There are always lots of specials of the day and prices for tapas, starting at just two euros, is startlingly good value.
I ate extraordinarily well here this month, loving his incredibly fresh – and deeply smoky – baba ganoush, which came with fried sweet potato chips, dried carrots and bananas.
Always looking for the best local ingredients, he is now using a superb small artisan baker, Panaderia Maximo, in nearby Benaojan for various tapas.
The best is simply called ‘Mollete de Benaojan’ filled with lip-smacking blue cheese and local Iberian ham.
For something at the other end of the scale, authenticity in the extreme, head just around the corner to the tiny hole-in-the-wall El Porton.
A torero’s cape length from the famous bullring this spit-and-sawdust joint best typifies Ronda for me. Run by Javi for four decades, it is where the local writers, tour guides and business folk go at lunchtime, or for a cheeky mid-afternoon cana or brandy.
This is where you’ll find my favourite Ronda tapa, the wonderful quails egg with a slice of Jamon Iberico on toast.
Washed down with a glass of fino and a snippet of banter, you are watched from all corners by a cornucopia of bullfighting photos and keepsakes, collected over the last century.
To further breathe in the history of Ronda over lunch or supper nearby are two legendary restaurants guaranteed to warm the cockles in winter.
The first, Pedro Romero, is jam-packed with bullfighting memorabilia, making it worthy of almost-museum status.
Named after the matador who founded modern bullfighting and put Ronda well and truly on the map, Pedro Romero is run by brothers Carlos and Tomas, since their 88-year-old father hung up his hat.
He is still often in situ mind, eating at his favourite table, and the dishes have hardly changed, in particular with classics such as carrillada (bulls cheek) or rabo de toro (oxtail) which easily equals the best you can eat in Cordoba, from where the dish heralds.
Another classic joint is Restaurant Jerez, now in its 75th year, and in the third generation of the same family that opened it.
Also opposite the bullring, the Lopez brothers run it as a tight ship and the range of dishes is extraordinary.
It is elegant in the extreme and the amazing light that floods in from outside, as well as a range of paintings of local scenes and vistas, really makes it.
Food-wise I loved the simple cup of minty broth as a starter, as well as a seafood soup, full of vegetables, cod and all round goodness.
The mains vary by the season and in winter there is plenty of game, including an incredibly original venison wellington, in a mushroom and almond sauce.
The pudding of chestnut souffle from the nearby Genal Valley was as good as I’ve eaten all year.
At the other end of the scale, just 50m away up a short alley, is Bardal, which counts on two Michelin stars, putting it among the best in Spain.
The laboratory of Benito Gomez, a genuine livewire, he has shaken up the town over the last decade, following 20 years in Catalunya and a solid training under one of the godfathers of Spanish cuisine, Ferran Adria, at El Bulli.
He is a true champion of Ronda’s local ingredients which, due to its extraordinary geography, includes amazing vegetables, mushrooms, ham, cheeses and meat.
I first ate Benito’s food – a 25-course masterclass – when he was head chef at Adria’s Andalucian sister restaurant at Hacienda Benazuza, near Sevilla, some 15 years ago. It still counts as one of the best meals of my life. And Bardal is not far off.
He nowadays has a second diffusion restaurant, Tragata, near the Parador, which is easily one of the best places to eat well in Ronda.
Extremely popular it’s advisable to book, although you can often find a table outside and there is a waiting list, that normally only takes about 30 minutes.
Another well-trained outsider, who is well and truly settled in Ronda with a wife and two kids is the aforementioned Martin Abramzon from Kutral.
Having trained with famous three star Basque legend Martin Berasategui, this friendly Argentinian grabbed a job at the once Michelin-star joint Tragabuches.
But he grew bored and decided to open his own unique parilla-style dining palace in the most unusual place imaginable: at the end of a dead end road in the industrial estate.
And his plan worked making Kutral easily the coolest restaurant in Ronda, with the best cuts of meat Spain can offer, while also offering some excellent local vegetable dishes and plenty of specials each week.
The word certainly got around and, aside from recently grabbing sixth best restaurant spot from Trip Advisor, he has been asked to cook privately for, among other celebrities, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo over recent years.
And there are more three Michelin star trainees in Ronda, one of the best being Jose Antonio junior at Tropicana, who also trained with Martin Berasategui.
He and his father, Jose Antonio senior, have done an amazing job turning this place into yet another ‘must visit’ joint delivering a great range of carefully considered dishes – many vegetarian and gluten-free – focusing on local ingredients with lots of small twists.
For wine lovers you mustn’t miss Entre Vinos, which has over 100 wines from Ronda, with more than a dozen wines available by the glass.
There are some excellent tapas and it’s a charming place to while away a few hours, particularly on warm days on the terrace outside.
Just up the hill is Siempre Igual, which is exactly that ‘Always the same’, it’s a bloody excellent place to enjoy tapas and some excellent wine with friends. Run by a friendly family team, they always have some experimental new dishes, worth a try and in a great location, just up from the bullring.
Down in Barrio San Francisco, a charming part of the old town, one of the most exciting new restaurants in Ronda has just opened.
Called Barrafina, it’s run by Spain’s former ham-cutting champion Juan Ramirez Gil, himself the son of the town’s first wine merchant.
Already running the town’s best ham and cheese shop, Jamoneria Granadina, it was only logical that Juan would open a decent restaurant to parade his wares.
Barrafina does exactly that, serving up exquisite ingredients, just inside the city’s old walls, by the atmospheric Moorish Almocabar arch.
Aside from the best ham in Ronda, the goats cheeses from Grazalema are spectacular, while the tuna tartare and beef tataki are superb.
Nearby, is easily one of the friendliest places in southern Spain.
Cerveceria Bandolero is always very much service with a smile from these two cousins, who run backwards and forwards charming guests and plying you with excellent simple and local fare, with a bent towards Carnes a la Brasa.
Finally, let’s not forget the recently opened corner joint Mi Manuela, in Plaza Carmen Abela, with Calle Tiendas.
This is a charming new spot run by a lovely local couple with some great local dishes, unpretentious and good value.
Best of all you are sitting in one of the nicest squares in the heart of Ronda.
Another amazing new place, just opened, and completely unique is the restaurant Gloria Bendita.
An agreement set up by a local Ronda family with the nuns at the main convent in the heart of the Casco Historico, you either sit in Ronda’s loveliest squares, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, which overlooks the main church and classic town hall, or inside the actual monastery in a charming dining room.
The menu is surprisingly complete and some of the dishes such as the ‘flowers of artichokes’ served with foie were creative and delicious. The small apple tart with blood sausage is original, while a leg of baby goat also comes highly recommended.
There are some great tapas dishes, a decent wine list, as well as puddings actually made by the nuns.