SINCE the days of Al Andalus the Guadalhorce Valley has been known for its amazing local produce.
Awash with vegetable gardens, orchards and crops, any budding chef doesn’t have to go far to find decent ingredients.
And Santi Camba, 38, at Tottam restaurant, in Alhaurin el Grande, is no exception.
Since arriving in the valley from Madrid’s famous la Tasquita de Enfrente a few months ago the chef has been highly impressed with the level of produce here.
Santi has got food in his veins, with both a father and uncle running restaurants in Madrid and Bilbao, and he needed to have it to do justice for such a wonderful new restaurant like Tottam.
You might also want to consider Tottam Experience, which has recently opened in the hills around Alhaurin, and links to the amazing Tottam restaurant and jazz bar nearby.
There are simply not enough places like this in Andalucia.
Homespun, earthy and original, you feel like you could be in a backwater of Tennessee arriving at this wonderfully rural spot on a back road between Alhaurin and Coin.
Everything from the decor to tablecloths is authentic and cleverly thought out, such as the old gramophone and the coffee sacks from as far and wide as Nicaragua and Cuba that line the bar.
The music is also excellent and expect R&B and soul and particularly jazz, which is also frequently live at weekends, when the place is mostly open.
But it is Santi’s food which is the true highlight here. Mixing northern Spanish dishes, with local Andalucian with an Asiatic fusion, he is doing something highly original.
His Thai-style langoustines come on a bamboo leaf and have a superb tang, while his salmon flower with citric mayonnaise, passion fruit and wakama algas not only looks stunning but is delicious.
The highlight was easily his slow-cooked pork belly with a mussel wrapped in a lettuce leaf, with ‘a green mustard mayonnaise’. Surf and turf at its very best.
Nearby and well known for its food for well over a decade is El Postillon.
Here you eat inside a charming candle-lit dining room, on a fantastic terrace overlooking a leafy garden and with views into the nearby Sierra de Mijas.
You will be spoiled by the cooking from Xavier Sierra, who after working in his parents’ restaurant in France and studying at the best cooking school in Bordeaux, Ecole Hoteliere de Talence, packed up his kitchen utensils and opened in Spain nearly 30 years ago.
In the heart of Alhaurin el Grande itself you must look out for La Higuera, a well established spot that has an excellent good value menu del dia, with a great range of dishes.
Very popular with expats from around the valley, the wine list is also good, while I ate some of the freshest fish of the year and an amazing homemade fig pudding.
Another great dining spot is Finca La Mota on the outskirts of Alhaurin, which sits in its own secret valley.
You dine on a candle-lit terrace at night surrounded by mature pine, orange and avocado trees.
A classic rural idyll, the diners are spoiled with a great mix of international dishes, with a slant on the oriental, Moroccan and Thai.
Meanwhile you must try herring on brown bread, the chicken satay and a splendid ‘zarzuela’, which has a top mix of shellfish, rosada and langoustines.
The Thai prawn and chicken curry came in red, green or yellow depending on your preference for spice and was delicious. The apple strudel was a sure fire winner to end the meal.
In Coin, look out for charming Bohemia restaurant, run by creative owner Pedro Trillo.
It is full of antique furniture and Pedro’s amazing knitted tapestries on the wall, while it is known for its classic soul food with a heavy emphasis on vegetables.
Also in Coin check out Casa Paco which has an amazing range of fresh fish and seafood and has been running since 1985.
Finally, another true star of the valley is Jaap Schaafsma at Castillo de Monda, who I first singled out over a decade ago, for my book Dining Secrets of Andalucia, while working at the then-amazing Santa Fe restaurant in Coin.