Of course there are the inevitable chips and eggs-style cafés catering for the Brits Abroad brigade (and indeed anyone with a hangover), but the Costa del Sol has a rich gastronomic heritage and the vast restaurant scene offers a kaleidoscope of choice.
Are sleek Michelin-starred eateries serving towers of gourmet delights on huge, white plates for you? Or are Iberian cheeses, hams and wines in raucous, barrel-lined, wood-panelled tapas bars more to your taste? Whether it's salty sardines barbecued on a restaurant’s beach terrace, meat stews made from centuries-old recipes, which are given a modern twist in lively country inns, or any number of Japanese, Chinese, Indian or Italian restaurants, you’ll be spoilt for choice, especially in the main towns such as Marbella and Malaga.
With a benign climate, fertile lands, and its privileged position on the sea, I believe the Costa del Sol produces some of the best food in Europe (olive oil, grapes, almonds, avocadoes, mangoes, oranges, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, hams, cheeses, speciality anchovies, mussels, lobsters…) and much of it is exported. I love the local, traditional dishes such as gazpacho or paella that combine the flavours and textures of the famous Mediterranean diet.
- Most Spanish people eat late, especially in the summer, and the most popular time to eat out at night is between 9.30-10pm. ‘Lunch time’ is any time between 1.30-4.30pm, when people historically had a siesta (and many still do).
- Café culture is big here and people tend to have a favourite for a mid-morning coffee and another for their mid-afternoon break (about 5.30-6.30pm)…remember businesses, offices and shops stay open until 8pm.
- The majority of restaurants will have a menu translated into English.
- When it’s hot, do as the locals do and choose to eat inside rather than on the terrace - you’ll get better service.
- When ‘doing tapas’ don’t order too much in any one place. Have one or two then move onto a different bar and do the same.
- The locals (both Spanish and foreign residents) are justifiably proud of the restaurants and cafés, so head to where they are (you’ll probably hear them before you see them) and avoid the over-priced, and inferior, tourist-laden restaurants.
- Generally, service charge is not included on the bill. Tip about 10 per cent if the service has been good.