Foodie central: A nerve centre for gourmands has sprung up over recent years in a hive of streets just south of Marbella’s Casco Antiguo

IT is an area of around half a mile square and comprising, perhaps, a dozen streets.

But in this nondescript part of Marbella, you’ll easily find a dozen superb places to eat with half of them, well, simply fabulous!

A genuine nerve centre for gourmands, the area south of Calle Ricardo Soriano has easily become the best place to eat well on the coast.

From the best Japanese in Andalucia to two Michelin-starred joints, it is a real dining Mecca for those-in-the-know.

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This is where business people, politicians and the many wealthy lawyers who ply their trade in Marbella head for light lunches or big slap up meals with clients that often continue ‘sobremesa style’ into the early evening.

It is not for nothing that its apex is Calle Notario Luis Oliver, named after a well known Marbella lawyer and notary, with hundreds of legal firms being based within a ten-minute walk.

“There is so much passing trade from lawyers and business folk all year round,” explains Luis, who runs the popular El Albero on this very street.

“If you want to survive here you need to provide good quality food and wine,” adds the chef, who relocated here with his wife Marta from the nearby casco historico two years ago.

And he’s not the only one, with Irish expat Catherine Visentin and her husband Adriano, from Milan, also relocating their highly-rated Italian, Casa Tua, here a couple of years ago.

The garden at Casa Tua

“While it lacks a bit of the charm of the historic old town we have a much nicer space to work in and have built up a good loyal trade,” explains the mother-of-two.

Things are going so well for the pair, they are about to open a new wine bar just up the road, so watch this space.

“It’s definitely a very up and coming area,” adds British expat Emma Tremlett, who runs a candle shop, Alma Essentials, next door. “It’s gaining a real personality, which is excellent and we sometimes hear it called ‘Downtown’ or even ‘Little Soho’,” she adds.

So it was perhaps no surprise then, that I recently found two new young restaurateurs who had both made their names back in the UK.

One Italian, one Spanish, each clearly has the perfect pedigree to be successful in this incredibly competitive part of the coast’s dining Mecca.

Jose Gonzalez Godoy, at Contracata, actually won the first Michelin star for a Spanish restaurant in the UK, while working as General Manager at Ametsa, in London.

Known as ‘Godoy’ his journey to Marbella came via stints at globally-famous Mugaritz and Arzak in the Basque Region, as well as two years as a sommelier for Marbella’s super-chef Dani Garcia nearby.

I was particularly impressed with his carefully thought-out menu that included some delights, such as a ‘yoghurt of foie gras’ with Parmesan foam, as well as an unusual ‘cachopo’ from Asturias.

While the place is understandably big on wines by the glass, having trained as a sommelier, his punchy fish red curry with coconut milk was full of flavour and at €9, coming with a bowl of rice and steamed vegetables, is easily the best value dish around.

It is a similar story for Angelica Menin, 29, from Padova, who made her way to restaurant, La Notaria, also via Dani Garcia and Malaga’s Michelin star chef Jose Carlos Garcia.

But her true claim to fame was her three year stint working at the UK’s most prestigious three star joint, the Waterside Inn, in Bray.

Angelica’s tortilla at La Notaria

Learning her trade under Michel Roux was the ‘best possible experience imaginable’ and this has clearly rubbed off on the quality of food at La Notaria.

While the menu feels formal, her Spanish tortilla was the best I’ve eaten in Andalucia, created with a true deft touch and her red mullet was cooked to absolute perfection. There was also tons of local fresh seafood and a good number of specials of the day.

“This is easily the most exciting area to cook in Andalucia,” explains Angelica. “There are so many good chefs around and the competition is healthy.

“While the rich and famous know the Puente Romano and the Marbella Club, they are starting to find our area too, where the food is equally good and is a lot cheaper,” she adds.

The truth is the food around here is actually often better and is, most of the time, half the price.

Take the restaurants Ta-Kumi, Kava and Back, which won its first Michelin star six months ago, under the guidance of well-known and popular local chef David Olivas.

David (at back) with staff at Back

He and Alvaro Arbeloa at Ta-Kumi have become the true godfathers of the area, now that Dani Garcia has gone into cyberspace.

The pair, along with Marcos Granda, who owns nearby Michelin starred joints Nintai and Skina, in the old town, have been ploughing their furrow here for over a decade.

Alvaro and Toshio at Takumi

Olivas ran the kitchen for Garcia at closeby Calima for years and oversaw its rise to three Michelin stars two years ago, before Garcia chucked it all in, preferring to cash in with McDonalds ads and more.

Ta-Kumi is easily my favourite place to eat in Marbella, a consistently brilliant Japanese, which is unsurprisingly where celebrities like Ronaldo like to eat when in town.

No surprise it has recently expanded to Madrid, with a third joint in Malaga, and the attention to detail, much thanks to co-owner Anabel Amuedo, from Sevilla, is second to none.

Having undergone a recent upgrade it is even more stylish than before, with minimalism and slick lines order of the day.

It also helps to have 80-something Japanese maestro and partner Toshio Tsutsui, from Fukuoka, who lives across the road and insists on coming in daily to keep things in check.

This is a place to enjoy a tour of Japan’s best dishes, from a simple, good value Miso soup to a soft shell crab Temaki, which I could eat every day.

If these are the godfathers, then the godmother must certainly be Carlota (predictably perhaps a lawyer by training) who is the boss at Gaspar, which has been serving great quality food for a quarter of a century.

Simple, good value soul-cooking it’s a charming joint with a cornucopia of collectables from bullfighters capes to typewriters and murano bottles to sewing machines.

The menu is scribbled out each morning by hand and is entirely seasonal, although many recipes have been tried and tested for years.

These include various stews (such as a potaje of chickpeas and chard) which are offered as half portions (media raciones) if you want to share a few more things or are eating alone. 

And surprise, surprise, there is another lawyer who has switched from the courtroom to the kitchen in the area.

Marbella-born Fernando Alcala, whose restaurant Kava has already grabbed a Repsol Sol and a Michelin mention, had a top job as a lawyer in Switzerland, before he decided to learn how to cook and return home to open his hip spot here.

His attention to detail is big in both decor and layout and it’s great that his chefs double up as waiters to serve up the food, explaining to the customers as they do.

I was particularly impressed with another nearby joint, La Madrina Gastro Grill, which sits just the other side of Avenida del Mar.

Pure gastronomy at La Madrina

Billing itself as a home of ‘pure gastronomy’, it is run by another local lad, Antonio Rivas, who also has pedigree when it comes to food, with a French father, who runs a gourmet restaurant Casa Rivas in the nearby market.

This new spot is set around a hip bar area with a show grill at the back. This is where the magic happens and with two grill professionals, one from Japan and another from Argentina vying to be the best.

I loved his black pudding wonton with sweet chilli, while his bluefin tuna on toast is a classic ‘bomba’, served on a sweet caramelised millefeuille toast and kimchi.

While it really shouldn’t work his steak tartare croissant was actually amazing with parmesan sprinkled on top. Oh, and the cheesecake with pistachio ice cream made from a brie from nearby Campillos was legendary.

Equally creative is Sauvage whose two talented Marbella chefs have trained at a very high level. Award-winning Daniel Ortega did his time at three Michelin-starred Celler de Can Roca, while Nacho Espana trained at the Marbella Club hotel, where they both met.

Exotic in both look and in its menus, there is a real fusion of dishes with an asiatic flavour. They include the Osaka pork ribs cooked at very low temperature, the Yakiniku baos with slow cooked Iberican pork or the Peking duck dumplings with hoisin toffee and cucumber sunomono.

More traditional Spanish fare can be had at El Albero, whose owners Marta, from Salamanca, and Luis, from the wine region of Valdepenas, offer superb fabadas from Asturias and a classic cocido stew from Madrid.

The menu is simple but good value with lots of tostas and traditional dishes like salmorejo and gazpacho soup, perfect for hot days, while the oxtail (rabo de toro) was surprisingly good. 

Finally, fancy a burger then around the corner you will find Gourmet Burger Room, does exactly what it says on the tin… and it has been doing it for seven years.

Run by a Frenchman Franck, he clearly knows his onions but isn’t scared to graft having done his time in hotels and restaurants in France and also a decade in Marbella.

You choose your type of burger (there are dozens, including vegetarian and even vegan ones) and then one of three buns… In particular I recommend the ‘Milano’ which comes with Gorgonzola, bacon and mushroom.

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