TRYING to find a good restaurant in Malaga has been practically a mission impossible for the last decade.
A combination of an increase in cruise liners and the domination of Trip Advisor has seen an almost total homogenization of the city’s central restaurants.
So disappointed was I during a trip with my mother five years ago, I actually went out for a long stroll before supper to see if I could spot something a little different.
To avoid booking yet another average place – with all the usual Malaga fried fish, etc – I literally scoured the menus and even went in to chat to a couple of chefs.
The result was a rousing success and we ended up with the last corner table at what is now the very successful La Cosmopolita and I’ve been back various times since.
Step forward five years and I finally found a day to visit the highly-rated, Kaleja, which won its first Michelin star, the second for the city (the other being Restaurante Jose Carlos Garcia), in November.
It has been on my food-dar for a couple of years, but what hadn’t clicked was that head chef, Dani Carnero, happens to be the owner of La Cosmopolita. It certainly boded well.
Location-wise it certainly couldn’t get better; the small intimate space of just six tables is accessed via a tiny door in a back alley between the Picasso Museum and the Cathedral.
Soon we are diving into the lunch menu degustacion, some 13 courses at a good value of €80.
It kicks off with a lovely warm mackerel soup, cooked with mayonnaise, served alongside an anchovy, with fresh lemon and warm bread, from the wonderful Pan Piña bakery in Algatocin.
Next is a ‘toasted’ gazpacho in an oyster shell, a pretty dish, washed down with a glass of €5 house wine, a splendid Godello and Txeidura from Ourense, called Volatil.
This segways nicely into a curd cheese dish, with white prawn and cucumber soup, an explosive number with the cucumber really matching the richness of the soup.
Now we are into a white bean stew coming with green peppers and cod from nearby La Caleta de Velez. Served on an original potato puree, this is the very vernacular of Andalucia, no frills, but delicious.
The next dish, leeks with chicken wings sounds extremely odd, but when served with a labneh sheep’s cheese it turns out to be a real winner.
Before we know it we are ushered into the kitchen, where it turns out there are seven people sitting at a long bar, serving as a chef’s table. This is where I’ll eat next time for sure.
Sadly, it turns out the seasoned Malaga chef, who followed his hotelier parents into the trade at the age of 15, is not around.
Either way, Dani, who trained alongside famous Spanish chef Alberto Chicote and did stints with Martín Berasategui and Ferran Adria, has instilled his skills in his team.
They look happy and one ushers us over to the grill to take an obligatory photo and witness our next course, a fillet of hake spitting away, set to be served with a ‘lettuce gazpachuelo’.
I love it more than the next dish, which is guinea fowl served with an oyster, a sort of surf and turf idea that, quite frankly, doesn’t work.
The trio of puddings more than makes up for it though. The almond ice cream with pistachio is amazingly good, as is a fabulous bowl of curd with figs in a parsley ice cream that shouldn’t work, but really does.
When we are brought out what is called a ‘suso Malagueno’ with our coffee, the icing is well and truly on the cake. This wonderful small donut, full of Chantilly cream, is delightful.
One final point of note is the staff, who are excellent. In particular our waiter Carlos couldn’t have been more welcoming and was full of stories and analysis through the meal.
Wine wise the list is varied and interesting.
Kaleja, Calle Marquesa de Moya, 9, Malaga 952 600 000