La Cigüeña
El Tambuche
La Castelleria
El Jardin de Califa
Trafalger Restaurant
El Campero

Tintero II
The Garden

Hotel Califa
Casa Cinco
Gran Meliá Don Pepe

El Faro del Puerto
Casa Balvino
Casa Bigote
Hecho en Cadiz
Taberna La Manzanilla
Udo Heimer

Features on

what to eat & where to stay

Where to Eat and Where to Stay Along the Coast of Sun and Light
By Heather Sperling
December 2006

Rolling hills of farmland populated by cattle and the occasional goat make their way down to yellow sand beaches on the Costa de la Luz. Aptly named, the Coast of Light enjoys long days as the summer sun doesn’t set until 10pm. Stretching west from Gibraltar and up past Cadiz, the province boasts an abundance of natural resources, some of Spain’s most famous foodstuffs, and relatively little development. Its culinary epicenter is the triangle formed by the three most famous Sherry towns: Jerez, Sanlúcar de la Barrameda, and Cadiz. Manzanilla and Fino come from the west, and Oloroso, Amontillado and Pedro Ximenez from the north; Jamon Iberico de Bellota (the inimitable acorn-fed Iberian ham) comes from the mountains, and fresh seafood and shellfish from the bay. Across the sea lies Morroco, whose hills are visible on a clear day and whose flavors permeate the cuisine; one can taste the remnants of the 700 years of Moorish rule in dishes spiked with curry, cumin, sweet dried fruit and tart vinegars.

The abundance of locally-slaughtered seafood and meat means that every part of the animal is used. Chefs have a horde of cuts to choose from, and forehead, cheeks, throat and tail are common, tender and flavorful additions to menus. Locals don’t bat an eye at this “nose to tail” eating as they wolf down plates of huevos aliñados (marinated tuna testicles) at coastal tapas bars. The region’s resources – from the trinity of cold soups (gazpacho, ajo blanco and salmorejo) to the sausages and hams to the treasures of the sea – form a heavenly marriage with the region’s most famous beverage, Sherry.

East of Gibraltar, the rolling hills of farmland give way to blindingly white urban sprawl of the Costa del Sol. Retinto cows are replaced by bronze Spaniards in bathing suits, who flock to the area each July and August. For 60 years Marbella has been the glamorous center of the Coast of the Sun. It’s a place to see and be seen, with luxury hotels and designer-lined streets reminiscent of Miami or Beverly Hills. It is here that one of Spain’s youngest culinary darlings, 30 year old Dani Garcia, reduces the classics of Andalusian cuisine to their essence and infuses them with alta cocina philosophy, simplifying and modernizing gazpachos and frituras with brilliant results.

With such a bounty of gastronomic history, artisan products and natural resources, what could be the drawback of a culinary life in the Andalusian sun? Tradition, for one. Save for the most culinarily-inclined, the Spanish tourists from the North want the traditional Andalusian experience of sun, sherry, fried fish and beer. This presents a direct challenge to progressive chefs, who often encounter a lack of understanding and support for their endeavors. The food-savvy international clientele of cities like Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian is not found in the same numbers in the smaller cities along the coast. Save for the traditional Sherry towns, there is no single culinary center to which gastronomic pilgrims are drawn; instead, there is a sparse constellation of chef-driven destinations – one in Cadiz, one in Marbella, a handful in Sevilla, and so on. Moreover, the dining infrastructure is not yet built, and a restaurant like Dani Garcia’s – incredibly spacious, with a high-tech kitchen and total experimental freedom – could not exist without the economic security of the hotel to which it is adjoined. But the foundations are being laid. As Spain’s southern coast continues to mature economically, as alta cocina permeates the country, and as chefs like Dani Garcia bring Andalucia’s gastronomic traditions to the international stage, the future will no doubt find more culinary pilgrims like myself searching the landscape for bits of culinary brilliance.

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Costa de La Luz:

La Cigüeña

Calle Plocia, 2
Cadiz, Spain 11005
(34) 956 250 179

Lunch and Dinner

Ventresca of Swordfish with Scallion Confit and Pedro Ximenez Syrup at La Cigüeña on

Ventresca of Swordfish with Scallion Confit and Pedro Ximenez Syrup at La Cigüeña

Born and trained in Holland, Chef Leon Griffoen has spent 6 years as owner and executive chef at his 10-table restaurant in the center of the very traditional, very Spanish, Andalucian city of Cadiz. His cuisine is regional and modern – he serves local ingredients and traditional dishes prepared in a contemporary manner (octopus with warm potato foam, turron ice cream with leche montada) from a tiny, 1-person kitchen. His wife is the sommelier and his sister-in-law is the hostess and server. There is one other restaurant in Cadiz preparing this type of cuisine; he says that neither is doing very well because their vacationing, southern Spanish audience doesn’t really “get it.” A 7-course tasting menu is available for 32.50 euros.

    Recommended Dishes:
  • Fried Goat Cheese with Pear, Thyme Honey and Black Sesame Seeds
  • Prawns with Cauliflower Puree, Peanuts and Coscorrones
  • Ventresca of Swordfish with Scallion Confit and Pedro Ximenez Syrup
  • Ice cream of Turron from Cadiz with Leche Contada and Jerez Brandy Caramel
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El Tambuche
Avenida de la Bajarmar, 2
El Puerto de Santa María, Cadiz
(34) 956 051 154
Dinner Only

Reconstructed Pastela Arabe at El Tambuche on

Reconstructed Pastela Arabe at
El Tambuche

Angel Leon is best known for his discovery of a seaweed extract that can be used to make natural foams (now sold under the Adria’s Textures line). He presented this technique at Madrid Fusion 2005 and soon after opened this tiny restaurant with his friend from culinary school, Mugaritz alum Daniel Torres. The presentations are beautiful and the cuisine is utterly Andalusian. Filled with Moorish and North African influences, it is a perfect example of the innate fusion of the region. Each dish is a well-thought out combination of traditional ingredients, home-cooking and the alta cocina principles in which Leon and Torres were trained. Their sommelier is an enthusiastic viniculture student at the University of Cadiz who will gladly pair your courses with a local sherry. El Tambuche offers a tasting menu (“a small gastronomic journey filled with the harmonies and aromas of our land”) of three plates, one dessert, two drinks and coffee for 32 euros.

    Recommended Dishes:

  • Salmorejo with Jamon Ibérico
    Salmorejo con migas manchegas y jamón
  • Fried alboronía ravioli with prawns, membrillo puree and nut vinaigrette
    Ensalada de raviolis de alboronía y langostinos
  • Red Tuna with Maghreb Spices and Couscous
    Atún rojo con especies del magreb y cuscús
  • Cuttlefish with Butifarra from Chiclana and Pear Aioli
    Choco plancha con butifarra de Chiclana y alli-oli de pera
  • Arab Pastela with Mint pure
    Pastela Árabe con pure de hierbabuena
  • Elbow of Iberian ham with almond ajo blanco and citrus reduction
    Codillo Ibérico Sobre Ajoblanco de Almendra y Jalea de Cítricos
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La Castelleria
Chef Juan Valdéz (chef and owner)
Santa Lucía, Vejer de la Frontera, Cadiz
(34) 956 451 497
Dinner Only

The outdoor kitchen and fresh meat case at La Castilleria on

The outdoor kitchen and fresh
meat case at La Castilleria

Passing through the vine-covered walkway that leads to the tree-lined dining area of La Castelleria, one is met by the equally intoxicating smells of honeysuckle and grilled meat. This outdoor restaurant in the tiny, one-street village of Santa Lucia, nestled in the foothills below Vejer, is the place to go for fresh Spanish meat, grilled to perfection. From his spot in front of the brick-lined wood-burning grill, chef/owner Juan Valdez will guide you through the histories and flavors of the elaborate contents of his meat case: rich pink veal from local retinto cows, aged 8 months; steak from the same breed, deep burgundy and marbled, aged 8 years; pork from the mountains above Huelva; duck breast from Santander on the northern Atlantic coast. The result is meat like you’ve never had it before, simply seasoned and impeccably prepared.

    Recommended Dishes:

  • Razor Clams in Garlic
    Navajas al Ajillo
  • Chargrilled Sirloin of Veal
    Solomillo de Ternera a la Parilla
  • Chargrilled Loin of Beef
    Lomo Alto de Buey a la Parilla
  • Entrecote of Veal with Green Peppercorn Sauce
    Entrecotte de Ternera con Salsa de Pimienta Verde
  • Cheese cream with honey and nuts
    Crema de Queso con Miel y Nueces
  • Lemon tart
    Tarta de Limon
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Moroccan pastries at El Jardin de Califa on

Moroccan pastries at El Jardin de Califa

Jardin de Califa is a classic Moroccon menu with a few middle-eastern twists, the brainchild of Chef Khadija Essâdi (a 36 year old Moroccan woman who learned to cook from her mother) and owner James Stuart, who was born and raised in Lebanon and Syria. The outdoor dining area is a beautiful garden filled with tiles, lights and the scent of grilled meat; indoors the prime spot is a 4-top in stone-lined, golden lit nook that used to be the base of a well. Chef Khadi has a pastry business on the side and makes her own warka, the crispy, layered Moroccan version of filo dough used in sweet and savory pastries. The food is predominantly Moroccan home cooking, but with excellent ingredients – local meat and produce, and spices and couscous brought in from Morocco. The Sommelier is Catalan and has included a few interesting Middle-Eastern wines on the list.

    Dishes to savor:

  • Malfouk (an egg roll of vegetables, curry and black pepper)
  • Arab Pastela (traditional version)
  • Couscous Agrodolce
  • Tagine Oriental
  • Greek yogurt with nuts, honey and caramel
  • Mint tea
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Trafalger Restaurant

Plaza de Eapaña, 31
Vejer de la Frontera, Cádiz
(34) 956 447 638
Dinner Only

Trafalger serves classic regional cuisine in an upscale setting. The two dishes below were excellent – fantastic examples of the versatile and flavorful Pedro Ximenez sherry. Its classic pairing is with desserts (goes perfectly with the apple flan, both on the plate and in the glass); mounted with a bit of butter and stock its sweet and tart raisin-y flavor pairs with rich meats just as well.

    Recommended Dishes:

  • Filet of Retinto beef with Pedro Ximenez and caramelized pearl onions
    Solomillo Retinto con salsa de Pedro Ximenez
  • Apple Flan with Pedro Ximenez gelatin
    Flan de Manzana con gelatina de Pedro Ximenez
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El Campero
Avenida De la Constitución, local 5C
(34) 956 432 300
Lunch and Dinner

Marinated huevas(tuna testicles) at El Campero on

Marinated huevas (tuna testicles) at El Campero

From the outside, Chef Jose Melero’s famed seafood restaurant looks deceptively like an urban chiringuita, or beach-side seafood shack. But anyone who’s talked tuna with a Spanish chef knows better; once inside, the sleek interior and case of fresh delicacies gives it away as the premier destination in Spain for atun del almadraba, the net-caught tuna of the nearby Straight of Gibraltar. Almadraba refers to the method of catching the tuna in a labyrinth of nets as they swim through the straights between April and August to spawn. Much of the tuna goes to Japan, but every bit of what remains is savored--from the forehead to the throat to the testicles to the tail.

    Recommended Dishes:

  • Any Atun de Almadraba – cured mojama, huevas, carpaccio, tartar, and grilled cuts from head to tail
  • Queso Curado Semifreddo with Honey Ice Cream and Pine Nuts
    Semifrio de Queso Curado con helado de mile y piñones
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Costa del Sol:


Hotel Gran Meliá Don Pepe
Avenida José Meliá
(34) 952 764 252
Dinner Only, Reservations Required

Chef Dani Garcia in the dining room at on

Chef Dani Garcia in the dining room at Calima

Daní Garcia is the culinary star of Southern Spain, a culinary younger brother to Joan Roca, Ferran Adria, Martin Beratsegui and crew. His cuisine at Calima is provocative, clever and fresh, notable for its fresh ingredients and impeccable preparation. It is playful, with repeated references to the Andalusian experience of sea, sky, mountains and sand. Though he works with some meat, seafood is definitely his forte and his inspiration. Sea Bass “Like on the Beach, First Smell, Then Eat” is an homage to the beach barbecues of his Marbella childhood, with an unadorned skewer of sea bass served flanked by smoldering coals and black sand from the adjacent beach. He says that 80% of his menu is historical, citing memory as one of the most important aspects of his three-part culinary philosophy (flavor and high technical excellence being the other two). Garcia elevates traditional popular gastronomy to a new level, perfecting it along the way with his celebrated experiments like his take on the classic frituras. Completing the experience is an encyclopedic wine list with varietals from across the globe.

    Recommended Dishes:

  • Cherry gazpacho with anchovies and queso fresco snow
    Gazpacho de Cerezas con Nieve de Queso Fresco
  • Spring salad with olive oil clouds and cañaillas (local snails)
    Ensalada de la Primavera
  • Morcilla infusion with jumbo prawn and greens
    Infusion de Morcilla con Caribenera y Verduras
  • “Fried” sole with its skin / sole in miso with slow-roasted tomato (two-tier dish)
  • Skewer of sea bass “like on the beach – first smell, then eat”
    Lubino al Espeto como en la Playa, primero oler, después comer
  • Passion Fruit Tocino de Cielo broken with Herb Broth and Eucalyptus Thyme
    Tocino del Cielo con Frutas de la Pasión roto con un caldo de hierbas
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Tintero II
Playa del Dedo, El Palo
(34) 952 204 464
Open All Day

Sardines roasting at El Tintero II on

Sardines roasting at El Tintero II

The chirringuita, or beach-front seafood restaurant, is a staple of Andalucian beach culture, and Tintero II is hands down one of the most popular and the best. At 2pm its picnic tables are packed with nearly 200 hungry beachgoers drawn in by the smells of sardines roasting in front of flames and whole fish grilling on planchas, and the sounds of plate-laden waiters yelling the names of whatever delicacy they bear on their arms. Once fortunate enough to land a seat (preferably near the outdoor planchas), your trials are not over; you must stay alert if you want to snag the waiters with the best burden – grilled spiny lobster, jumbo prawns, chilled langoustines, and whole fresh fish.

    Recommended Dishes:

  • Grilled spiny lobster, jumbo prawns, langoustines, paella, roast sardines…anything “a la plancha”
    Bogavante a la plancha, langostinos, cigalas, paella, boquerones
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Paseo Marítimo Pable Ruiz Picasso, 12
(34) 952 601 914
Dinner Only, Reservations Recommended

Monkfish, prawns and fideos at Adolfo on

Monkfish, prawns and fideos at Adolfo

Adolfo is classic in the upholstered, suited, box of cigars sense of the word, but the food bears none of the stodginess or age one might expect from such formal surroundings. Instead the cuisine is completely local, traditionally and excellently prepared; aside from the occasional flowery and wholly unnecessary garnish, dishes were without fault. Tender local baby goat is roasted with rosemary honey that smells of the wild rosemary that grows in tufts by the sea; fideos colored with squid ink and prawn are rich, creamy and utterly Spanish.
    Recommended Dishes:

  • Spiny lobster and arugula salad
    Ensalada de bogavante, rúcola, aguacates y crujiente de Ibérico
  • Skewer of monkfish and prawns with fideos in ink and prawn sauce
    Brochete de Rape y Langostinos sobre Fideuá en su tinta y salsa de carabineros
  • Young Malaga goat with rosemary honey and couscous
    Cabrito Lechal Malagueño a la mile de romero y su cuscus
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The Garden
Calle Los Cubos.
(34) 952 533 185
Dinner Only

The dining room at The Garden on

The dining room at The Garden

Perched in the upper streets of the vertiginous hillside town of Frigiliana is The Garden, an old restaurant recently bought and reworked by young British chef Rob Grimmons. Though only a few moments walk from the main part of town, the route is more or less vertical, and The Garden’s outdoor dining room offers gorgeous views of the winding white houses and green-brown hills below. Grimmons works with local ingredients to make cuisine that is creative enough for the British expat population while still accessible to the more traditionally-minded Spanish tourists.

    Recommended Dishes:

  • Pimientos de Padron
  • Roast pork belly with membrillo aioli
  • Pork chop with preserved lemon dressing
  • Grilled lamb chops with mango chutney
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Hotel Califa

Plaza de España, 16
Vejer de la Frontera, Cádiz Province
11150, España
(34) 956 447 730

Flamingos at Flamingo on

A room at Hotel Califa

Save for the necessary additions – running water, electricity and such luxuries of modern convenience – the buildings that house Hotel Califa have been virtually untouched since the 13th century. One time tariff house, private residence, Guardia Civil stable and jail, the adjoined buildings now form a beautiful hotel with 26 rooms, each differing in size and character, and eclectically decorated with local fabric, crafts and woodworking. There is no parking or room service, but prices are incredibly reasonable for the quality, 50 euros – 120 euros in high season. Hotel Califa overlooks the Plaza de España, Vejer’s central square, and houses the Moroccan and Middle Eastern inspired Jardin de Califa restaurant.

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Casa Cinco
Calle Sancho IV el Bravo, 5
Vejer de la Frontera, Cádiz Province
11150, España
(34) 956 45 50 29

Flamingos at Flamingo on

View from the roof of Casa Cinco

Each of the five rooms of the intimate, cozy Casa Cinco is designed to cater to a specific sense. The light and airy guesthouse is nestled on a miniscule side street above the central plaza of whitewashed and sun bleached town of Vejer de la Frontera, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The rooftop patio offers stunning views of the city and the undulating, patchwork countryside. Owner Collette is a freelance food writer and an excellent authority on the province’s culinary gems.
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Gran Meliá Don Pepe
Calle José Meliá
Marbella, Málaga Province
29600, España
(34) 952 770300

Flamingos at Flamingo on

The pool at the Don Pepe

Situated in the center of the strip of hotels, glitz and glamour that lines the black Mediterranean sands of Marbella is the Gran Meliá del Sol Don Pepe, one of the oldest, most classic hotels in the city. In Marbella’s heyday the hotel attracted international dignitaries, superstars, and cultural glitterati. Today things are a bit calmer, but the scene is by no means stale. Comfortable rooms offer stunning views of the turquoise sea, the spacious grounds and a crystalline pool lined with oversized Bali beds. A private beach, indoor pool and spa, and free wireless are a few of the amenities, the greatest of which is the stunning Calima, culinary wunderkind Dani Garcia’s restaurant named for the winds that blow off the northern coast of Africa.

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Chefs Recommend:

Made in Cadiz on

Made in Cadiz

Chef Daniel Torres goes to El Faro del Puerto ( Rota. ph: 956870952) in Puerto de Santa Maria for innovative and elaborate seafood and the traditional sea-based fare that brought fame to its sister restaurant, El Faro, in Cadiz. He visits Casa Bigote (Bajo de Guía. ph: (34) 956 362 696; cierra domingos y noviembre) and Casa Balvino in Sanlúcar de Barrameda for impeccable fresh seafood and shellfish, and what he calls the best tapas in Spain.

Barrels of Sherry at Taberna la Manzanilla </em>in Cadiz

Barrels of Sherry at Taberna
la Manzanilla
in Cadiz

El Tesoro (Betijuelo 6, Tarifa. ph: 956 23 63 68. Reservations only.) is where James Stuart from Jardin de Califa goes for stunning views of Tarifa and Morocco, and Chef Jesús Silva’s cuisine of beef cheeks, salt cod and other delicacies.

Flamingos at Flamingo on

The beach at Nerja

Chef Leon Griffoen recommends Hecho en Cadiz for local artisan meat, olive oil, honey and cheese. He visits the 100-year old Taberna La Manzanilla (C. Feduche 19, Cadiz. Ph: 956 285 401) for draughts of local sherries and interesting sherry vinegars. He loves to drink and cook with the 80-year Pedro Ximenez, some of the richest and most mellow of its kind.

Chef Rob Grimmons goes to Udo Heimer (C. Andalucia, Nerja. ph: 952 52 0032) in the coastal town of Nerja for inventive European cuisine made with local Mediterranean produce.

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