Tapas heaven, with flights direct from Cardiff! – Love to Dine guide to restaurants and eating out in Malaga, Spain

Those of you who follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram (my latest foray even further into the world of social media) will know that I’ve recently been on holiday to Malaga. I first visited the Andalusian city of Malaga at the end of last year, when Mr W and I stopped off there for a day as one of our ports of call on a cruise. I didn’t have high hopes for the city – I’d known it mainly as the home of the airport that is the gateway to the Costa del Sol, and had it in my mind that it would be a bit like ‘Benidorm’ – but in the short time we were there, I realised I had been totally wrong! The redeveloped Marina sits comfortably alongside the Old Town, and both are home to a multitude of restaurants and tapas bars. Everything about the place couldn’t have been further from the impression I’d formed.

Fast forward six months, and with Vueling offering flights from Cardiff, we decided our appetites had been piqued enough by Malaga to book a week’s holiday there, which has since gone down as one of the best trips, food-wise, we’ve ever had, so I thought I’d write a blog post about eating in Malaga, with a few of my highlights and a few recommendations.

It’s no secret that I love tapas, and Malaga is nothing short of tapas heaven! One day, we did a ‘tapas crawl’ at lunch time (which actually went on into the afternoon!) as we realised that a lot of the bars in and around the Old Town, particularly in the area near the Market Square and Picasso Museum, offered a glass of wine or beer and one small tapas dish for anything from 1 to 3 Euros – a bargain, and we ate and drank very well that day! Highlights were patatas bravas for me, and boquerones (anchovies) for Mr W. In these types of tapas bars, the dishes were simple, but full of flavour and lacking nothing in quality or care.

We ate tapas some evenings as well, but on the nights we fancied a change, there was a plethora of different grilled fish to try. Our hotel (Molina Lario) was perfectly situated opposite the cathedral and right next to a side road that was full of lovely restaurants – we seldom ventured outside of this road, yet managed to eat somewhere different every night. Highlights were La Reserva 12 and La Barra, where we enjoyed some lovely tapas. We also had an excellent swordfish steak and a lovely seabass baked in rock salt in one of the restaurants. On a couple of occasions we treated ourselves to some acorn-fed Jamon Iberico – the best known and best quality brand on offer being Joselito, with restaurants priding themselves on offering this particular one. This really was a treat, though, with a portion of the ham costing anything from 20 to 30 Euros, depending on the location. We much preferred the Old Town area for food to the new ‘Muelle Uno’ area of the Marina. Admittedly, it’s home to Michelin starred chef Jose Carlos Garcia’s newly relocated restaurant, which we were going to try, but when we walked past we didn’t like the look of the ambience and the fact that the windows were screened off with bamboo, so we decided against it, but other than this there weren’t many decent places, with the majority of them being chains that were trying to offer pretty much every foreign cuisine you could imagine. The one good place we tried there was Godoy Masqueriera, where we weren’t able to have oysters as they’d sold out, but tried an unusual alternative – we never did find out exactly what they were, but apparently they were typically Malagan!

Jamon Iberico

Jamon Iberico

An alternative to oysters

An alternative to oysters

There were a few particularly notable highlights in our visit. The first was Manzanilla, which we wouldn’t have stumbled upon by ourselves, but which was suggested to us by Owen, the owner of Bar 44, who knows we appreciate good tapas. Manzanilla is a small gourmet tapas bar, opened by Dani Garcia, who has a Michelin star at his Calima restaurant in nearby Marbella. Manzanilla also has a recently opened sister bar on Park Avenue in New York, and as such, half the menu is ‘AGP to JFK’ tapas and the other half is the return flight – JFK to AGP. Unsurprisingly, the first half is more traditional Spanish-inspired tapas, and the second is tapas-style takes on American dishes such as burgers and barbecue. The menu was all in Spanish, with no English version available, but I managed to translate as much as I needed to with my rudimentary knowledge and we ordered a few dishes, several of which were in the ‘Top 5’ list on the blackboard. We tried a chicken liver ‘yogurt’ served in a jar with parmesan cream, Garcia’s signature tapas dish of ‘Burguer Bull’ – bulltail burger served with a mayonnaise made from the meat juices (we noticed a big trend for these mini-burgers in a number of the places we visited), croquetas flavoured with chocolate and red wine, and a sweet barbecue pork taco which was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten (I won’t tell you how many times I re-ordered this one!) There are only a couple of tables in the place, everyone else sits at the bar or at bar stools facing out through the windows, so it’s more of a venue for a quick meal than to spend your entire evening, but it’s an experience worth a visit if you’re there, and was surprisingly cheap compared with most of the other restaurants we ate in that didn’t have a Michelin starred chef to their name.

Manzanilla

Manzanilla

Manzanilla's Top 5

Manzanilla’s Top 5

Foie yogurt

Foie yogurt

Croquetas and patatas bravas

Croquetas and patatas bravas

Burguer Bull

Burguer Bull

That awesome pork taco

That awesome pork taco

Different, but equally enjoyable, was a beachfront restaurant that we came across when we walked along Malagueta beach, which you reach if you walk to the end of Muelle Uno and carry on. To my eternal shame, I can’t remember the restaurant’s name (you can perhaps blame the excellent wine and cocktails!), other than the fact it had something to do with Tropica or Tropical in its title and its logo was a palm tree with a boat underneath it! The first few restaurants you come across as you leave the Marina and head along the beach are little more than beach bars, with plastic tables and chairs, and whilst I’m sure the food is good, they’re not places you’d want to spend a long lazy lunch, so we were pleased we walked a bit further and came across this place. We ate there one lunch time, right on the beach, under a palm tree, and enjoyed amazing grilled fish, cooked on their boat barbecue – I had turbot and Mr W had some sardines – plus the most divine gazpacho I’ve ever tasted, served with tomato and olive oil ice cream.

The aforementioned palm tree

The aforementioned palm tree

Barbecued turbot

Barbecued turbot

Grilled sardines

Grilled sardines

Heavenly gazpacho

Heavenly gazpacho – and there’s the logo you need to look out for

The final ‘must visit’ recommendation from me is the restaurant in the AC Marriott Hotel, which is on the top floor and affords amazing views of the Marina, Cathedral and old town. We initially went up there to have a drink in the rooftop pool bar, which had been recommended to us, and where we enjoyed some excellent Mojitos, but liked the look of the restaurant so much that we went and put our names down for a table. We sat on the balcony, overlooking the Marina, and enjoyed an excellent meal. That one was as much about the location as it was about the food, but the food couldn’t be faulted!

The view from our table

The view from our table

View of the Cathedral

View of the Cathedral from the roof of the AC Hotel

I absolutely loved Malaga and the food played a big part in that. The Spanish way of doing things with food really suits us, especially on holiday, and as the week went on we found ourselves eating later and later, enjoying pre-dinner drinks until 10.30 or 11 p.m. before finally taking our seats for dinner. As far as night life is concerned, there didn’t seem to be a huge amount of clubs on offer, but there were plenty of relaxed bars where you could enjoy a drink until at least 1 a.m., when things started to wind down. An interesting and quirky thing that we noticed was that in a lot of bars, they’d bring you ‘nibbles’ to have with your drink, which consisted of the usual mix of nuts and savouries, but with sweet jelly tots mixed in!

Interesting snacks

Interesting snacks

I’d highly recommend Malaga to any foodie who fancies a relaxed city break. I will certainly be returning!

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One response to “Tapas heaven, with flights direct from Cardiff! – Love to Dine guide to restaurants and eating out in Malaga, Spain

  1. Pingback: Love to Dine Dish of the Month: August 2013 | Love to Dine·

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