Ronda - A Foodie's Paradise
A thriving food scene on Málaga’s coast has crept inland to work its magic on the city of Ronda, transforming the local scene and providing the city with some exceptional dining experiences. The quality of the local produce is superb and if you are in the know you can dine like royalty. Foodies, epicureans, gourmets and gourmands alike will revel in the delights on offer from fine dining to artisanal specialities. Andalucian cuisine in and around Ronda now rivals that of its northern counterparts and it just keeps getting better.
Moreish Moorish cuisine
Andalucian cuisine has been shaped by almost 800 years of Al-Andalus, the Islamic rule of the Iberian Peninsula. The Moors introduced all the Asian foods that feature heavily on Spanish and Andalucian menus including artichokes, aubergines, apricots, saffron, rice and almonds. Aubergines are baked in honey, saffron and rice combine to make the Valencian creation paella, apricots are sliced and served on cheeseboards and deliciously fresh almonds are toasted and scattered over grilled goat’s cheese (queso de cabra con frutos seccos) or made into sweet pastries and tarts.
Contemporary vs traditional Andalucian favourites
Before the introduction of tomatoes and peppers from the New World, a beautifully creamy, chilled white soup made use of the abundant almonds, ajo blanco then, predates the ubiquitous gazpacho. Look out for salmorejo, a thicker version of gazpacho and you can find blackberry or beetroot gazpachos at some of the more inventive restaurants like De Locos Tapas, Tragata or El Muelle de Arriate. Delicious, hearty stews made from tender ox cheek or wild rabbit and garlic can be found in many of the traditional establishments, tapas and the more generously proportioned raciones abound but if you are looking for lighter, more contemporary dishes head to one of the eateries where fusion food makes its mark on the menu. Globally inspired tapas or traditional Andalucian fare can be enjoyed according to your mood.
Inventive tapas with a global twist
Just off the Plaza del Socorro in Ronda's New Town, sister establishment to the famed Michelin starred Tragabuches, Tragata creates an interesting array of tapas from vegetable tempura with nettles and soy to burrata with sundried tomatoes, squid ink bread with calamares and pork cheek with creamy parmesan on toast. The clientele are a mix of tourists and hip locals. De Locos Tapas down in the Barrio San Francisco serves mouthwatering tapas with a big nod to world cuisine; tuna tataki with wasabi ice cream, chocolate chicken mole, truffled boiled egg with soldiers, gin and tonic sorbet and orange salt truffles. Dining is a theatrical and entertaining experience, blow torches are brought to the table and glass cloches filled with wood smoke. Guests dine outside in the summer alongside the city wall and inside in the cooler months, there are only six tables and this, owner Guillermo insists, is the secret of De Locos Tapas' success. Many would-be diners are turned away for having failed to reserve a table at this excellent, laid back restaurant.
Fine dining in and around Ronda
Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera, in the lush valley just outside Ronda and only a kilometer or so from El Olivar, offers relaxed fine dining in a beautiful setting. With a daily changing menu, you need to pre-order before 4 pm. Expect perfectly cooked red snapper with saffron vegetables, prawn ceviche with cherry tomatoes, coriander and lime, shoulder of lamb with payoyo risotto, muscavado cream with anise jelly and 30 second soft almond sponge. Service is excellent and the relaxed atmosphere delightful.
Hotel Molino del Santo in Benaoján was chosen by Jamie Oliver when filming in the area and no wonder when the food coming from the kitchen is incredible. Dine on a beautiful terrace in summer or an art filled dining room when the weather cools. The service and hospitality is unsurpassed and the food is imaginative and gloriously executed. Dining feels intimate despite the popularity of this establishment. Choose from an 8 course tasting menu with wine pairings, wild boar ragout with potato purée and truffle oil, Benaoján chorizo sautéed in Modena vinegar and locally gathered honey, warm date and Málaga raisin pudding with crème anglaise and a shot of Pedro Ximenez dessert wine from Montilla-Moriles, Cordoba.
Watch the sunset from a beautiful terrace overlooking the hills
Perhaps the most surprising location to find fine dining is Arriate’s train station where Frank cooks up some fabulous dishes at El Muelle. You can savour the best goat’s cheese salad with plump raisins and toasted nuts, tender cuts of pork in a leek and brandy sauce, a mille-feuille of local vegetables, a rich chocolate mousse with orange cream or a bread and white chocolate desert with a caramel sauce. The fabulous food and wine, excellent service and owner Frank's relaxed manner and wonderful hospitality will make a regular of you in no time.
All these restaurants offer superb vegetarian options and excellent service, because of their well deserved popularity you would be wise to make a reservation.
Incredibly fresh produce and low food miles
Rondeños are justly proud of their local produce; from incredibly fresh vegetables to artisanal goat’s cheese and the world famous jamón iberico de bellota. The past 15 years have seen a widespread revival of Ronda’s ancient winemaking tradition with some fabulous entries to the DO ‘Sierras de Málaga’. Food miles tend to be very low as suppliers abound in the fertile valleys of the Serranía and chefs are keen to cook with ingredients straight out of their backyards.
Seafood fresh from the coast
Despite Ronda's inland location, encircled by mountains, fresh fish and seafood are brought inland daily. You will need to be an early bird for the best of the catch because the smaller fishmongers have often sold out and shut up shop by midday. The squid or ‘pulpo’ is often chargrilled and meltingly soft, as are the ‘gambas al pil-pil’ – prawns cooked in olive oil with a tiny hint of chili (Spanish food goes easy on the chili). Sardines and anchovies feature heavily and the ‘sardines three ways’ at De Locos Tapas down in Barrio San Francisco would be pretty hard to beat.
Iberian pigs and the humble acorn
Cerdo, or pork is on the menu just about everywhere and the further into the ‘campo’ you venture, the more likely you will find an excellent, home-reared cut. If you are looking for jamón, the jamón iberico de bellota is the real deal. Made from the meat of Ibérico pigs fed exclusively on acorns in the dehesa, the small farms of holm and cork oak forests, that dot the hills of Huelva province, jamón ibérico de bellota is aged for over two years. Demand for this local delicacy means that woodland is protected from development and so the eco-system remains intact. Compared to a good quality serrano ham, you can expect to pay twice as much for this delicacy, sweet, nutty and complex, with meltingly soft fat, often a professional cortador will perform the cutting or at the very least, an aged Grandmother with decades of experience.
Ronda is brimming with delicatessens selling the best of local produce
Spain takes its ham so seriously that ham cutting is an art form with huge competitions taking place annually. Head up to Calle Jerez, 28 to Casa del Jamón, featured on ‘Jamie does Spain’ for the best jamón in town, sold in little paper cones, pre-packed packets or as whole legs. Casa del Jamón also sells an excellent selection of local wines including some of those that are more difficult to find. Many an award winning cortador hails from this fab little deli.
The intense and complex flavour and cost of jamón ibérico de belotta means it will be served on its own so that it can be savoured. You will also find jamón ibérico scattered atop many dishes to add extra flavour and vegetarians need to watch out for this!
Fabulous cheese and fine wines
Ronda Gourmet, just over the bridge, promises to price match any wine you find cheaper elsewhere and the selection on offer ranges from wallet friendly local favourites to fine wines from Priorat, Rioja and Ribera del Duero, the famed Vega Sicilia Unico 2000 will set you back €295. If you have something momentous to celebrate, Casa Ortega on a corner of Plaza del Socorro has a Pingus at €1,2000 that you can savour on their rooftop terrace.
Payoyo is a world class artisan cheese produced in Grazalema, in the Cadiz province, from the milk of the indigenous payoya goat. The cheese is rind washed with paprika, rosemary or lard and cured for up to 105 days. Similar to the well-known manchego but softer and creamier and superb with the sweet, slightly grainy quince paste ‘membrillo’. Queso y Jamón on Plaza España has a wide selection of local cheeses, hams, wines and single estate olive oils. The arbequina olive produces an especially sweet oil with fruity notes. You will also find black salt here - sal negra – which is amazing on tomatoes with a good olive oil and easy to take home.
Every town or village seems to have its own alcoholic speciality. In Arriate this is called mustela, a floral, honey-sweet, almost medicinal tasting liqueur, a bottle of which is in our honesty bar should you wish to try it. Or you can sample the stuff in Arriate’s delicatessen, when I did this at 11am my expression elicited a hearty laugh from the shop’s welcoming owner. Forget the ubiquitous sangria, try instead tinto de verano, a refreshing red wine/ lemonade combo that hits the spot when you are too dehydrated for a glass of tinto. Try a chilled sherry from Jerez or one of the fabulous wines from one of the 21 bodegas of the Serranía.
Artisanal beers and hand crafted chocolates
The past few years have seen a sudden growth in the craft beer industry, which hitherto had been almost non-existent in Andalucia. Ronda has its own micro brewery; Cerveza Artesanal Rondeña at Calle Pozo, 5 which sells a variety of craft beers including a lovely, chocolatey negra and a very good pale ale. Also on Calle Pozo, at number 13 you will find a selection of craft beers on sale at Malastrana. If you are more partial to beer than wine you might like to try Cafe de Agata on Calle Sevilla, 16 which has over 100 world beers to sample.
Spain is not known for its chocolate but chocolates and patisserie can be found in a beautiful shop just off Plaza del Socorro; Confiteria Daver or at La Choclaterie on Carrera Espinel (or 'La Bola' as it is known locally) which sells some fabulous brandy truffles. Look for the milk chocolates shaped somewhat like a buckminster fullerine. This is a great place to stop for a quick lunch and the crushed tomatoes on organic bread is incredibly simple but absolutely delicious.
Epicurean delights put Ronda firmly on the gastro tourism map
Not only does the Serranía de Ronda have a superb wine trail but its gastronomic delights; the fine dining and local specialities, makes Ronda an excellent base for foodies. Forget the bling of Marbella and head inland to sample the honest delights of the Serranía where bountiful local produce and a flair for treating these ingredients with respect and imagination has led to a gastronomic renaissance.