RONDA is, without a doubt, my favourite place to eat in Andalucia.
The town and nearby region offers an incredible range in both creativity and value and it is no surprise that nearly a dozen of the restaurants listed on the Olive Press’ fast-growing website Dining Secrets of Andalucia are in the Serrania de Ronda.
From the creativity of Tragatapas and Casa Santa Pola to the beautiful rural idylls Molino del Santo and Al Lago, there is so much on offer.
Add in the soulful, unpretentious Almocobar, historic Pedro Romero and the creativity of Pablo Piek at La Fuente and you have a potent mix.
And now, of course, you have supposedly Andalucia’s best restaurant, according to Trip Advisor, in El Muelle, in Arriate.
This charming converted railway storeroom is well worth a journey alone, as many people have been doing over recent months all the way from Estepona and Marbella for a night out.
Run by a talented Dutchman Frank Rottgering, it has truly come of age after just one year, offering a superb mix of local and international dishes.
All home cooked by a team led by the talented Isa from nearby Alcala del Valle, there are not many places in Andalucia where you eat blinis with foie and a gazpacho made out of cherries. Well now you can have both.
Up in the heart of Ronda there is a particularly good range of places to eat.
In particular in Calle Nueva you will find a series of excellent places, cheek by jowl and vying for your custom.
The best are charming Casa Quino, a family-run joint, where its big boss Joaquin does a great job in the kitchen, producing a range of classic local dishes. A keen photographer, he also has the best collection of old photos of Ronda.
Next door, the pair also have a new place Nueva 13 more geared towards tapas and wines and with a very different style.
On a more creative front you must try evocative Tragatapas, run by former Michelin-starred chef Benito Gomez, who trained at El Bulli among other notable spots.
Here, you can eat plenty of created dishes elaborated from seasonal produce, including mushrooms and game. He also purveys a fantastic sushi of tuna, with soya and wasabi.
Most exciting of all, is that one of his former protege’s Pablo Piek, 23, has recently set up next door with a restaurant La Fuente.
In pole position opposite the Parador, Pablo is honing some of the exciting skills he learnt with Gomez, as well as recently voted World Number One restaurant Celler de Can Roca in Catalunya.
I tried one of the best ajo blanco soups imaginable with pineapple, coconut milk and miel de cana, as well as a great tapa of duck breast on toast with red fruits and mint.
Even better was his confit of cod served with red chard leaves and a cherry tomato, red pepper and onion ratatouille. Super refreshing.
If anyone can match the quality of these guys it would be chef Ignacio at Casa Santa Pola, who certainly knows what he is doing and is close to many of Spain’s best chefs.
The Catalan has worked around the country and is always up for a bit of experimenting and he and his wife Felisa’s gorge-side restaurant is probably the most beautiful in Ronda.
For atmosphere it is hard to beat Pedro Romero, opposite the bullring, where Felisa’s brothers have carved a solid formula producing a string of traditional but delicious dishes, in particular the Rabo de Toro.
Then, let’s not forget the charming El Porton – an institution – run by the same two friends Javier and Pepe for the last 40 years.
Steeped in bullfighting history, here you will find my favourite Ronda tapa, the wonderful quails egg with ham on toast.
In terms of charm and consistent quality, you will rarely find anywhere better than Almocobar.
Sitting opposite the old Arabic gate near the old town it is an emblematic and extremely popular local restaurant, with certainly the town’s best wine list.
Run by a tight-knit team, it is the place to dine outdoors in summer and its owner Monolo is the most knowledgeable man around town when it comes to food.
Another excellent place to eat, just outside the town, is at Molino del Puente, where Ian Love has been winning plaudits for his tasty creations for many years now.
Set up with wife Elaine after a number of years on the coast, this is a great place to stay as well.
And yet there is more. In particular with the opening of a new vegetarian restaurant The Spice Route.
The brainchild of urbane Mexican musician Cesar Hernandez, this is not only the Serrania’s only such joint, but one of the best in Andalucia.
Using fresh ingredients and wealth of herbs, he is proving that you can eat good quality food without meat. A sweet gazpacho of red peppers was fantastic, as was his great value chili beans with rice for just six euros. Indeed, there is nothing here for more than nine euros, except a few bottles of original and well-sourced wines.
For international food, Ronda also has a friendly Argentinian Buenos Aires, run by characteristic Omar. It is an excellent spot for tapas, breakfast or just a pint to watch the UK football.
For more information and an excellent guide to Andalucia’s best restaurants visit www.diningsecretsofandalucia.com
Best rural options
ON a journey out of Ronda (or en route), you are spoilt for choice with a trio of emblematic places to eat.
Award-winning Molino del Santo, in Benaojan, is not just highly-rated on Trip Advisor, but in canny Scot Gordon Brown, it has one of the best chefs in Andalucia.
The food is impeccable and the location on a shady riverside terrace is beyond charming.
Equally good – and creative to boot – is American Stefan Crites of Al Lago, overlooking the lake in Zahara.
A massive supporter of local, seasonal ingredients, his restaurant has gone from strength to strength with help from his very capable sidekick Mona. Conveniently you can now also stay the night with some lovely rooms upstairs.
Last, but not least, if it is authenticity you are after, you must head for the converted olive mill that is Molienda in Benalauria. One of Malaga’s pretty small villages, this is a true dining secret!