I really love Catavino – it’s such an informative and innovative source of information on Spanish & Portuguese wines. The food of the region is key, but it’s just as vital to know about the great wines available too. This is the place to find out!
Jose Pizzaro http://www.josepizarro.com

Vejer de la Frontera – The Dining Mecca of Costa de la Luz, Spain

Vejar de la Frontera, SpainOne of the most unexpected thrills of Vejer de la Frontera for a first time visitor is the huge number of eateries hidden away in the beautiful Pueblo Blanco. A further surprise is the impossibility of eating badly in this gastronomic paradise. Vejer doesn’t rely just on summer tourists – there are the regular visitors as well; hence, if the food isn’t good, the restaurant will close.

One would be forgiven for comparing Vejer in Cádiz, Spain to Ludlow in Shropshire, UK. Both are out of the way places, off the gourmet map. But interestingly, both have a plethora of spectacularly good eating places which makes Vejer a fab weekend getaway for the food minded.

What’s made Vejer an enchanting foodie Meca? The ingredients! Which are fresh, local and full of flavor! But let’s not forget that beyond the fantastic gastronomy, Vejar is known for its bewitching charm and proximity to some of the best beaches in the world. In 2013, Vejer officially became one of Los Pueblos Mas Bonitos d’España (one of the most beautiful villages in Spain).

Dining in Vejer can be one long tapas crawl. It really is possible to have dinner by popping into your favourite place for your favourite dish. And then onto the next, for another.  There are too many great places in town to suggest a route. So here are my personal suggestions but you’ll need a few days to complete the course.

2013 saw some new places open and only one close. The highlight of the openings has to be the transformation of the simple Mercado de Abastos into a gourmet market – Mercado San Francisco. Lots of little stalls selling fabulous tapas – we even have a sushi stall! You may think this slightly strange considering LA  CRISIS (economic crisis), but amazingly, few have folded. Starting on Plaza d’España, you’ll find Garimba Sur (Plaza d’-España 32). The decor is striking – stunning  wooden fixtures and brightly painted old Andaluz tiles. Blissful sitting on the plaza, eating their top notch risotto de semola de trigo, or arroz negro, whilst people watching and sipping on Vermouth, life doesn’t get much better.

Vejar de la Frontera, SpainStumble next door into Trafalgar ( Plaza d’España, 31), one of the first restaurants in Vejer. Again sitting in the plaza, you’ll enjoy excellent escabeche de Atun rojo and some of the best Rabo de Toro (oxtail) I’ve ever tasted. You might find Acinipo here as well, a great red wine from Ronda.

On the other side of the plaza, El Jardin del Califa (Plaza d’España 12) remains one of the most popular and consistently fabulous dining spots in town. From June onwards,  if you don’t have a reservation, you just need to will someone to cancel. Their Moroccan inspired kitchen and BBQ consistently produces wonderful delights. The Meze platter is delicious and hasn’t changed for years and if it did – I’d be complaining for sure. On their wine list you will find Barbazul, Gaurum & Cortijo de Jara – all noteworthy local reds.

Close to the church is Ramon’s Viña y Mar (Ntra. Sra de la Oliva. 8), the place for various styles of Sherry. It’s the town’s only Sherry bar and a hub for local Sherry aficionados. Scrummy tapas (the tiny jars of anchoas from Cantabria are a must with your first Fino) and a good selection of interesting wines by the glass. Ramon offers more than 40 Sherries by the glass from Manzanilla €2 to a VORS €6. He also carries the entire Tradiçion VORS range. Excellent tapas with an ever-changing menu, it’s a great place to play with food and sherry matching.

A little bit uphill, turn left, and in front of the church you’ll find Casa Varo (Calle Nuestra Señora de la Oliva, 9). Juan Varo and his family have made their mark on all of us. His Carpaccio de Atún de Almadraba (available all year round from his supplier in Barbate where the Almadraba tuna is frozen at -60 deg) may be one of the most delicious things you will taste in Vejer. Great Albondigas de Choco and divine fingers of bread topped with a single Anchoa (salted anchovy) and a wedge of local Payoyo Goat’s cheese. There is very little here that I don’t love to eat.  All the best cuts of Iberian pork and local Retinto beef. A great selection of wines including, Pintia and Mauro. His fruity after dinner chupitos are totally addictive

Back along the Corredaera to The Taperia (Corredera 33). It’s small but with a great outdoor terrace. As it’s part of El Califa, it offers all of El Califa’s meze range but in a more casual dining scenario. You’ll find a good selection of different wines by the glass and various tapas, such as Gambas with Chili & Ginger.

La Officina (Calle Paseo de las Cobijadas, 1), at the far end of Juan Bueno, this bar exclusively offers local wines and Sherry by the bottle and glass. Really fabulous freshly cooked tapas, keep an eye out for the retinto burgers and champi chocos (mushrooms & cuttlefish). The local red wine production is also worth noting – it just gets better and better.

Vejar de la Frontera, SpainWalking along Juan Bueno towards La Officina, on the right, with wooden tables and chairs, you’ll see Bar Navarro (Juan Bueno,8). This is the best place for pescados fritos (fried fish). A platter of pescados fritos for 2 with a yummy bottle of vino blanco, while sitting at a table in the narrow street, filled with playful children, makes for a great casual evening. They have everything fishy – including calamar a la plancha (grilled calamari). Not only Barbadillo white wine on offer here, but you’ll also find Enate Chardonnay from Somontano – definitely worth trying.

Tucked away on the right hand side opposite The English Bookshop as you walk towards the new town on Juan Relinque is El Conejito (Calle Juan Relinque)– Pedro’s Bar. Pedro’s Jamón is amongst the best in town. Washed down with ultra chilled Manzanilla and his yummy olives – it’s mouthwateringly good! He makes his own tapas right there, including great albondigas (meatballs). Heading back towards the church, stop off at Pepe Julian (Calle de Juan Relinque, 7)  opposite Plaza San Francisco. Perfectly fabulous Jamón, Boquerones en Vinagre (anchovies in vinegar), Puntillitas ( tiny deep-fried squid) and ensaladilla (salad). Look on the right when you walk in – Pepe Julian keeps his special red wines there that won’t reach the list. Ask nicely and he might just pull out some real gems. Great cheese omelette and roasted pulpo too.

Look  opposite and you will find El Aljibe (San Francisco 1) fantastic croquetas of Mojama (air dried tuna) and Erizos (sea urchins). The best Paella in town can be found at Meson el Palenque (San Francisco 2), next to the market, opposite the new theatre in Plaza San Francisco. But you have to order it in advance as it is made to order. Great simple salad here too – tomato, lettuce & onion  – totally simple & delicious. Also a good lunch spot if you are a big group and want simple fried fish and salads to be paired with a delicious rosé wine.

Then onto El Central (Calle Teniente Castrillón, 5,) – again a huge family affair – if you can get over the scary Rod Stewart music, you can indulge in what must be my favourite things to eat in the whole of Vejer. Tostas con anchoas y boquerones, a marriage of the salted and pickled anchovies with alioli and tomato salsa. With a glass of Manzanilla – this is my desert island dish. Here you will eat the BEST entrecote de Retinto. Salvador cooks it to perfection, al punto for me please. Sprinkled with sea salt and then sliced (if you ask) so you can all dip in. Perfect homemade chips. Indulge in a bottle or two of Barbazul. A wonderful velvety well made red wine from Taberner in Arcos.

You might just head up to the Flamenco Peña and see what’s happening. Gustav runs the Peña and Caso Leanor (Calle Rosario, 25). He whips up the best Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Bacalao and always great music.  In the Peña he offers great tapas of Almuerzo Campero – the farmers lunch – somewhat similar to haggis but made from pigs!

Vejar de la Frontera, SpainLa Pousada (Calle los Remedios, 21) is worth noting because it’s one of the oldest establishments in town. I have had the very best squid and fish here, while staring at the old black and white photos of Vejer.

The 3 really fabulous new places in 2013 were Valvitida, Morenga and Las Delicias.

Valvetida (Juan Relinque 3) – Jesus is an incredible chef with a constantly changing menu of mini plates to share. Tamara, his other half, keeps front of house in check. Little parcels of black pudding and apple. Crinkly potatoes with dipping sauces. Retinto burgers. Fabulous desserts too.

Las Delicias (Corredera, 31) has to be the most impressive restaurant to have opened in Vejer. Designed by the Gasper Sobrino who also designed Garimba and the Gourmet Market, it is a stunning restored theatre with a great outside terrace. Live music and again, great food. Crispy tuna burgers and Carpaccio de presa ibérica (carpaccio of pork!) are amongst my favorites.

Marengo (Calle Santísimo, 1) boasts of fabulous prawns, wrapped in basil leaves, then in brik pastry and deep fried. Served with a peanut sauce – it’s sensational. Here you’re able to enjoy tapas of different cuts of meat, which is great for tasting. You will also find Botani here – a fragrant dry Moscatel from Malaga.

If you’re keen to find someone to take you to the hidden gems in Vejar, are keen to learn how to make incredible Andalusian food, or are in need of a fantastic sherry course, contact Catavino!! Additionally, check out our gourmet guide, as well as our Andalusian gourmet walking tour!

Anne  Manson