Gastronomic Heaven: A weekend onshore at the Finca Cortesin
by Elizabeth Finney
Tucked away amid identical white houses in a sunny corner of Casares, the Finca Cortesin offers foodies a retreat of culinary brilliance. Elizabeth Finney finds out whether epicurean excellence can be found at the heart Málaga.
Spicy horse mackerel udon appears in thimble-like bowls, though the monumental hit of flavour has not been bound by this size constraint. A rich sea bass with ponzu sauce follows before soft leafs of salmon sashimi and show-stopping strips of beef that have been slow cooked for 16 hours. They all melt in my mouth, one by one, with subtle wine pairings acting as intervals to these bite-sized masterpieces – within an extensive wine list, the crisp Louro do Bolo-Godello is a clear favourite. After a finale of a white chocolate cream dessert with Yuzu jelly, Michelin-star sushi chef Luis Olarra appears and shyly explains that he just wants to create a little magic and surprise for guests with his dishes.
The edible artistry at the Kabuki Raw restaurant in Casares, Spain, is framed by traditional Japanese earthenware – delicate plates in hues of emerald and sapphire that quake when vast iron skillets and mini grills are carefully eased into what little clear space is left on the table. It’s an experience rather than a meal, a notion that Olarra (who can be clearly seen creating in the open kitchen) has honed down to a tee. The restaurant sits within the Finca Cortesin hotel, a foodie gem hidden away from the surprisingly nearby Puerto Banús.
The Finca Cortesin is located on the outskirts of Casares, an enchanting village filled with milk carton houses that cluster up into the hills, just a few miles from the sea. Its cobbled streets have been well trodden for centuries, as they sprung up like wildflowers around a well-preserved 12th century castle. It is a fine example of a typical Andalucian village, and its charm is perfectly reflected in the hotel.
Home to restaurants Kabuki Raw, Don Giovanni, which has a summer season Italian offering, El Jardin de Lutz, a traditional Spanish cuisine haven and the Beach Club, which is just a short drive away, the Finca Cortesin’s food and drink offering is far from typical. Carefully curated and riddled with awards, guests at the hotel are able to send their taste buds on a circumnavigation of the globe without straying far from the resort’s luxurious amenities. It’s a far-flung haven from the hustle and bustle of Puerto Banús, the saving grace of which is that it can host superyachts up to 50 metres. Alternatively, superyachts up to 80 metres can moor at Puerto Sotogrande, just 20 minutes away.
Those keen to maintain their waistlines amid the flurry of food can work it off in the gym, which boasts vast windows to the cool blue pool outside, masses of equipment to play with and, on this particularly sunny morning, a quiet atmosphere. Take an indirect route from the gym to the El Jardin de Lutz courtyard for breakfast through perfectly manicured gardens, where large aromatic flowers bow over the pathways.
Breakfast is set in the shade of ancient olive trees – there’s no buffet, the menu is à la carté and customisable. As a starter, a cloud of yoghurt foam and granola is brought to the table alongside a perfectly balanced espresso, which slaps away any lingering dregs of last night’s extravagances. I tuck into a large plate of eggs royale with additional avocado and an impressively large bowl of kaleidoscopic fruit. By the time the sun has set, this space is transformed into a mellow oasis in order to host those dining at El Jardin de Lutz – one of the best restaurants in the Mediterranean. When I return for supper, it feels more sophisticated and atmospheric. Inside, I’m surrounded by tasteful traditional Spanish décor in low lighting, with tea lights twinkling from outside through the large terrace windows.
Perhaps the most formal of the Finca Cortesin’s gastronomical offerings, celebrated head chef Lutz Bösing presents guests with a blend of European dishes that leaves them spoilt for choice. German-born Bösing is a friendly individual, who found his passion for cooking as a child when he made supper for his brother whenever their parents went to the theatre. I opt for a velvety avocado cream gazpacho before tucking into steak tartar, which is possibly the best I’ve had, its rich and juicy flavor paying credit to the locally sourced meat and perfectly balanced seasoning. Monkfish with new potatoes and beans follows. It’s light yet wonderfully meaty, grilled to perfection and the touch of lemon adds a delicate punch. Dessert consists of dairy-free coconut and cacao sorbet, a delicious alternative that will leave any sweet tooth well sated.
Allowing time for my food to digest before falling into bed, I head for a nightcap at one of the best bars in the Mediterranean, The Blue Bar. Perfect for either a pre-supper tipple or a midnight snack, the cocktail lounge is a gilded sanctuary of imaginative concoctions and unnecessary nibbles. Hand painted birds in blue and gold foil covers the walls, and floor-to-ceiling terrace doors open out into a courtyard, where candles light small Moroccan tables. Silver trays emerge with glasses of Champagne and I settle down sleepily in a velvet armchair. It’s a soothing spot – while ludicrously elegant, it’s welcoming and allows even the most discerning guests a sense of being at home.
Days at the Finca Cortesin should be spent playing and or relaxing – this is a destination resort for a reason. You could head to the immaculate golf course for the day, but I opt for a trip to the spa, one of the best in the Mediterranean, in the hope that a good steam will rid me of any delicious toxins quaffed at the Blue Bar. A towering atrium stretches up over a salt-water pool, which is surrounded by loungers that are bathed in sunlight, each with a side table and an extensive tea menu. Mirrored doors lead off to a cool stone maze of thermal offerings, which includes Spain’s first snow cave. Rotate between impenetrable steam, the dry sauna, a chilly plunge pool and the snow cave – endless amusement can easily be found in treading the soft white snow between your toes and melting icy stalactites with your palms.
This particular corner of Spain welcomes more than 300 days of sunshine a year, and guests can make the most of it stretched out by one of the two pools or hidden away on their private terrace. Each of the 69 suites (the hotel’s main offering, alongside six villas and 25 residences) has been individually designed and the terracotta-clad balconies are the perfect option for sunbathing in private. Add a glass of locally produced Sedella ‘Mountain Wine’ and a view out to the distant peaks and you’ve found heaven.
When in a post-spa daze, a few noncommittal lengths of the Olympic sized pool is enough to warrant a lunch of mixed tapas in the shade of the pool bar, accompanied by glass of refreshingly light red wine, selected by a charming waiter – mine is delivered complete with an additional plate of jamon, a gentle quip and a jovial wink.
Staying by the pool and being plied with wine for the afternoon may sound appealing, but the Beach Club is not to be missed. Shaded within a clean white cabana with open and glass walls so as not to spoil the ocean view, enjoy an expertly balanced Aperol Spritz before indulging in an opulent smorgasbord of Spanish culinary delights. Diced fennel and rosy salmon marinated with a dill sauce appears alongside fried baby squid and sumptuously salty Cantabrico anchovies in black garlic. Brief interludes are provided by an apparently bottomless glass of a fresh 2015 Condesa Eylo Verdejo, which complements both the starters and the colourful lobster paella main perfectly. I round off the extravaganza with an espresso and a delicate arrangement of fruit and sweets while watching yachts soar along the horizon. It’s hard to believe the resort is such a short drive away from the garish sights of Puerto Banús, though I’m informed by the hotel’s general manager, Rene Zimmer, that yachts sometimes anchor off the coast of the Beach Club.
The reality of this hotel is that, for a vacation loaded with culinary delights, spa treatments and activities, you don’t have to leave its walls. You should, of course – Casares is rich with Spanish history, culture and most importantly, tapas and wine, and is therefore well worth exploring. But for a foodie escape with the privacy of a superyacht, the Finca Cortesin has its unique offering fine-tuned. It’s the perfect place to step ashore and give your chef a couple of days off.