Welcome to Marbella
Travel blogs were never part of my original plan when I started my blog but I have posted reviews of vegetarian eating at home in Glasgow so I don’t see why I can’t take my restaurant reviews over to the Mediterranean. Throughout my final few days in Calahonda, Marbella I will be reviewing the vegetarian options in a couple of beautiful Costa Del Sol restaurants.
I’ve been visiting Calahonda, a small town between Malaga and Marbella, for twelve years now and I admit that the sunny Spanish coast is not famous for its vegetarian dining in the same way that a city like Berlin is. You can visit Iceland in Fuengirola to stock up on your frozen mince and chicken pieces and cook some of my vegetarian recipes if you are self-catering. However, if you look hard enough you will find some gems and the stunning beach resort, El Oceano, is one of those hidden treasures.
When I discovered my family had booked a table at El Oceano hotel, I was slightly disheartened by the menu. There were no set vegetarian options but it did say that the kitchen prepared vegetarian options on a day-to-day basis for any vegetarian guests. I sighed. This usually means the chef will stir fry some vegetables and try to pass it off as an acceptable meal while my fellow diners scoffed on confit of suckling pig and crispy Thai fish cakes.
Setting the Scene
El Oceano is a stunning beach-side hotel with luxury accommodation, a beauty salon, a restaurant and poolside bar. The decor is subtle: neutral and light colours reflecting the permanent sunshine that pours in from the conservatory restaurant. While it is definitely luxurious, there is something rustic and vintage that really appeals to me in a world of polished and excessive glamour that you associate with Marbella.
Dining in the restaurant, you are immediately met with wall to wall views of the breathtaking, unspoilt blue ocean. Paired with relaxing live music from slow jazz piano to funky soul singer, Frankie B, it is the perfect setting for eating with family and friends.
The first thing I did when I was seated was ask a server what the vegetarian option was. There were three vegetarians dining in our group so we were anxious to find out. My fears quickly dissipated as the friendly Spanish waitress informed us that there was a vegetable lasagne, penne arrabbiata, a vegetable curry, mushroom risotto and a goats cheese dish to choose from. It is so rare to get such a great selection and all three veggies were delighted to be able to order three different dishes.
To start with I ordered a cheese and leek parcel with a subtle cheese sauce and tomato chutney. My only fault with this dish is that there wasn’t enough of it! The filo pastry was crisp and I couldn’t get enough of that cheese sauce; I was scraping every last morsel off the plate.
For my main course, I chose the mushroom risotto. I’ll admit it is a safe vegetarian option in any restaurant but El Oceano put a different spin on a timeless classic. The creamy and indulgent risotto was topped with chunky grilled courgette and cherry tomato which gave texture and flavour to what can otherwise be a same-y dish. Again, I could not fault this meal. It was tasty, light and satisfying. My other veggie diners opted for the vegetable lasagne and penne arrabbiata. While these are also safe dishes, El Oceano delivered on flavour and Jonathan remarked that it was the best vegetable lasagne he had ever eaten.
I had spotted this dessert being served to other tables while we ate and had marvelled at the little drop of fuchsia candy floss on top. Sadly, my candy floss had deflated somewhat by the time it had arrived but otherwise this puff pastry dish was a culinary delight. With fresh strawberries and cream, it was a refreshing and light way to finish off my meal.
There are no settings quite like El Oceano on the coast. The ocean views are simply stunning. The live music and friendly staff create a vivacious atmosphere without overwhelming you. For someone who isn’t particularly impressed by the excess and VIP lifestyle of Marbella, El Oceano exudes luxury and elegance without compromising those rustic beachy vibes.
As for vegetarians, El Oceano is probably the most impressive destination for veggie and gluten-free options that I’ve visited in my twelve years visiting the coast. Catering to your dietary requirements is not an issue here and you will not be made to feel like a less valid diner because of your lifestyle choices.
Have you visited El Oceano? Let me know about your experience and send me your photographs.
The view from Eleanor Mullally-Staunton’s table on her latest trip to El Oceano. Eleanor is vegetarian and recommends the vegetable curry!