Steep hills covered in oak trees rise up on either side the single railway track that twists through the scenic Guadiaro valley. Close to the deserted platform stands a welcoming restaurant, housed in a former railway warehouse. Warm light spills out from the doorway, and smoke rises from the chimney.
As we approach, the sweet smell of olive wood smoke fills the air. The sun is falling below the hills and the late summer evening light is casting long shadows. Even before we first step inside this rural restaurant, we know we are in for a magical evening!
Today’s supper, here in the secluded in the valley at El Colmenar , the railway community near Gaucín, is one of the many foodie highlights along the way. Run by Angeles, they serve home cooked food like nothing you have tasted before.
Sitting at the table and starting the meal with simple, yet exquisitely flavoured dishes of roast ‘Piquillo’ peppers from Navarra; homemade ‘Croquetas’; lightly fried aubergines with honey from the Ronda mountains; and organic tomatoes with Cantabrian Anchovies, one starts to believe that maybe Angeles has some profound culinary powers. She has the ability to transform simple, wholesome ingredients into memorable dishes; alchemy indeed.
The main course was suckling pig,’ Cochinillo asado a la leña’, roasted in the wood oven, accompanied with baked slices of orange, together with raisins and honey. As the dish is placed on the long wooden table, Angeles grates over cocoa beans, brought back by her husband from Latin America. The alchemy is complete and we tuck into the feast; a celebration of Spain’s slow-food gastronomy.
Then as if that wasn’t enough, out came more heavy earthenware plates laded with perfectly cooked ‘Chuletón de Buey’, huge beef rib steak roasted on orange and oak wood, served with just a sprinkling of sea salt and cut into slices to share!
The setting is flawless; classic wooden chairs with woven seats (these vintage seats are called ‘eneas’ in Spanish), a long table, wild flowers in vases and the smell of grill, wood oven and food firing our appetite.
In the entrance Angeles’ sister is preparing vegetatables, setting a scene as if in a movie.
I had certainly heard the term ‘natural wine’ before but somehow I had confused it with organic wine. Yet the two are quite different. Natural wines, unlike organic wines, do not allow continued chemical intervention in the wine making process, so natural wines have no sulphites or other preservatives. The same is not true of organic wines, explained our hosts, who claimed organic wines can contain up to 20% sulphites.
Barranco Oscuro, a winery in Granada province, high up in the Alpujarras, offered a sparkling white to taste before being seated, and then a choice of white and red with the meal. As a high altitude winery there reds are alcoholic, but that’s balanced by the acidity of the wine, making for a very quaffable wine!
Vinos Patios also offered a choice of red wines from their winery near Cuenca in central Spain.
The wine makers were truly passionate about natural wines and it was fascinating to be introduced to these Spanish products. What’s more we drank with the confidence that in the morning we wouldn’t have a hangover – supposedly it’s the sulphites that stop one’s liver processing the alcohol efficiently leading to a hangover.
(Since this post was written, Angeles has moved to a new venue, the ‘La Bordalla Hosteria’ Guesthouse near Jimena de la Frontera).