Sunday 19 August 2012

Calima, Marbella

Located at the Hotel Gran Melía Don Pepe in the Costa del Sol’s ‘play ground to the rich and famous’ Marbella, Restaurante Calima is the two-Michelin-starred flagship of Chef Dani García.

A local lad, born in Marbella in 1975, he went on to train under superstar Martín Berasategui after graduating from the acclaimed Escuela de Hostelería de Málaga “La Consula.” Just two tears after this apprenticeship began he went on to open the Tragabuches de Ronda Restaurant, where he achieved his first Michelin star in 2000.

In 2005 (the same year that he was crowned the ‘Chef l'Avenir’ as Best Young Chef in Europe) Dani opened Calima - it received its first Michelin star in 2007 and the second in 2010. He has recently designed the menus served to passengers flying business class with Iberia and had a collection of ‘El Naturalista’ footwear designed in his honour!

With views looking out across Marbella’s sandy, palm tree lined beaches to the Mediterranean Sea, the location is stunning. The restaurant itself is modern and luxurious. Tables are huge and well spaced and the showpiece state of the art open kitchen is breath taking – the twenty plus chefs and army of waiters working in perfect harmony.  

Inspired in the main by traditional Andalusian dishes and ingredients, Dani García’s cuisine is created and presented with playful, modern and progressive techniques. Nowhere, not even in The Fat Duck, have I ever experienced food prepared with the wit, creativity, surprise and intensity of flavour of that at Calima.

Dani’s food philosophy (and book) is called ‘Cocina Contradición’ - this is evident in a number of dishes, where things are not always what they first may seem: the signature ‘Egg with no Egg’; melt in the mouth ‘Chickpeas’ made from a tahini butter and the ‘Cherries with Cream’ dish, where using a technique made famous by Heston’s Meat Fruit, ‘Cherries’ are created from foie gras with a port reduction ‘skin’.

Menu Oxímoron 2012

Rosquilla Ibérica: an Ibérico ham bagel made with a ring donut from dehydrated tomato foam - quirky and delicious… a taste of things to come!

Bread and Oil

“Empanadilla” de mi Madre: a wonderfully light empanada pastry/ wafer with a tuna tartare filling.

Egg with no Egg (Huevo sin Huevo): a quirky version of the Andalusian speciality ‘ajoblanco’ (a cold garlic and almond soup) with peppers and the exotic touch of lychee.

Nugget of foie (Turrón de foie): a tart crowned with peaks of foie and droplets of yuzu gelée - a serious contender for my favourite of the twenty-odd courses.

Tomato Nitro:  a shiny metallic ‘tomate’ made with a fancy-pants nitro technique, set atop a cod brandade (salt cod and olive oil emulsion) with a tomato infused ‘snow’ - visually impressive and full of tomato flavour.

Rocky Seabed (Fondo Rocoso): presented on a bespoke wooden seabed box, this dish had real wow factor! A mini ocean floor had been created with a nori-studded sheet of obulato (a melt in the mouth potato starch sheet created by Ferran Adrià at elBulli) set with dinky dried shrimp, seaweed, the much prized percebes (goose barnacles) and a spherification of salty ‘sea water’.

Smoked Eel with Almond Cream: the surprise element of this dish included a carrot stuffed with smoked eel and, of course, splendid Riofrío caviar.  

Cherries with Cream (Cerezas con Nata): perfectly formed foie gras and port ‘cherries’ with a foamed Parmesan ‘cream’.

Soaked Chickpeas (Garbanzos): black and white sesame ‘chickpeas’ floating in a crystal clear mint infused pork broth.

Boquerones’ Stall: another fun presentation, featuring fresh anchovies encased in a soft vinegared ‘meringue’ - think ‘fish in a lemon meringue pie’

Citric “Gazpachuelo”: despite a name that sounds similar to the traditional cold Spanish gazpacho soup, ‘Gazpachuelo’ is traditional fisherman’s speciality of Málaga that is served hot; this one contained sea snails and cauliflower.

Riofrío Caviar: an optional extra to the standard menu, Rio Frío Caviar is a high quality, sustainable source of caviar from the Naccarii sturgeon. Served in bespoke Dani García tins with a date and smoky bacom foam – well worth the supplement.

“Gacha-miga” of Crab: an exceptional crab broth with crab meat and ‘migas’ (fried bread crumbs).

Emulsified Béarnaise, Encebollado and Coconut: the ‘encebollado’ aspect of the dish was made with pigeon livers and onions, with a sharp béarnaise emulsion, the component that I was not so sure about was the ‘nest’ complete with coconut ice-cream ‘egg’.

Devilfish with Aubergine: perfectly cooked ray with aubergine and an umami rich dashi – a simple dish with no trickery, executed exquisitely!

Steak-capers-tartare: steak tartare enriched with marrow and a glossy rich Bordelaise sauce, topped with a crisp potato pillow.

Cheese board: the supplementary cheese trolley featured a fantastic collection of somewhere in the region of thirty high quality European cheeses. I selected the, Spanish goat’s cheese, Queso Payoyo de Grazalema; a wonderfully aged Stilton with Port Wine and two of my favourite French cheeses, Ardi Gasna and Beaufort.

I also had two sheep’s cheeses that were new to me, an oozing Serra da Estrela from Portugal and a phenomenal saffron and black peppercorn studded Piacentinu di Enna, from Italy.

Passion’s Water Lilies and Tea: a vibrant, stunning, sweet and smooth palate cleanser.

Silkworm: Dani García’s creative genius came into play again as the waiter brought a bespoke box and revealed a bed of leaves with what appeared to be the cocoon of a silkworm - the ‘silk’ had been created with ‘compressed ‘cotton candy with a cream cheese and raspberry centre.

“The Butterfly” (La Mariposa): the silkworms then metamorphosised into beautiful chocolate butterflies with sugared mango wings – pretty and delicious.

Choco-Laguvulin-coffee: a well executed chocolate cake with Laguvulin caramel and coffee ice-cream – a great mix of textures, technique and flavour.

Checkmate: peach sorbet filled pawns in white and milk chocolate – playful and fit for a king (or queen, or bishop or even a knight).

Coffee, Tea or Tisane: I selected a fresh mint infusion.

The Wedding Cake: Dum, dum, de-dum! Dum, dum, de-dum… here comes the bride! What better way to present a delicious selection of petit fours than in a three foot, ten tiered ‘wedding cake’?

After the meal: a relax on the terrace… Calima is without doubt a magical place and certainly ranks as one of the most impressive restaurants I have been to in terms of staff, service, style, setting and most importantly, food – without a doubt, one of the best two-star restaurants I’ve dined in.

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