For a small tourist city Marbella, population about 140,000, has an incredible number of good restaurants. Even in the off season when many restaurants are closed, wander the narrow streets of the old town and you’ll find a welcoming and memorable dining experience.
After discovering our first two choices were closed one Sunday evening, we stumbled into the cozy Orange Tree Restaurant located on calle Peral just off the Plaza de los Naranjos. Decorated in dark woods warmed by splashes of soft orange the casual yet elegant dining room serves a mostly expat clientele. On this particular evening there was not a Spaniard in sight.
The English menu offers an eclectic mix of internationally influenced dishes. Starters included baked goat cheese served on a winter salad of greens, beets, squash and pumpkin seeds; fried seafood spring rolls, fresh hot and served with a salad of spring greens; and a guinea fowl, chestnut and cranberry parmesan risotto. While I’m not a fan of cheesy risottos, the acidity of the cranberry adds a nice spark to the other subtle flavors. Mains included a gorgeous inch and a half thick piece of salmon still steaming hot from the oven but not the least bit dry. Marinated in teriyaki sauce the fish is served on a bed of Asian noodles and vegetables.
The dessert menu included key lime pie, a rarity in Europe. Upon inquiring about the style of the key lime, tart or the more cheese-cakey kind, I was given a small slice to taste. A very kind and honest gesture but unfortunately, not the mouth puckering version I prefer. Instead we ordered the apple crumble with red fruit. Now here was the acidity I was looking for the in the key lime, balanced by the richness of the short crumble topping and vanilla ice cream.
Casanis Bistrot, loctated at 8 calle Ancha in the old center is a charming French/Belgian bistro, green with plants and decorated in a fun mix of old world fixtures and modern cartoons painted on white washed walls. Arriving at 8:45 on a Tuesday evening without reservations the dining room was mostly booked leaving the option of the table by the door, which could be drafty, or a more casual table in the bar area with a view into the kitchen though a screen of house plants. Never passing up the opportunity to see first- hand what goes on in the kitchen, we chose the bar.
The limited menu is a mix of mostly French specialties with the odd Spanish dish or Asian influenced appetizers. The rock fish soup is a complex hearty fish stock, reminiscent of a Marseillaise bouillabaisse, served with crispy toast rounds and sides of aioli and grated cheese. Specials of the day included bacalao cazuela (stew) – fresh cod steamed with potatoes and fresh mushrooms in a creamy fish stock.
And a carré of lamb – baby lamb chops served with mixed winter mushrooms, purées of potato and carrot alongside a potato galette with a full bodied jus served on the side.
Service was attentive and eager to please making sure our food was prepared to our liking and asking if we wanted to wait before serving the second course or be served straight away, a very nice touch.
Hotel Villa Marbella, rated number 1 on Trip Advisor, offers a number of charming hotel rooms spread across several buildings in the old center of town. Each room is individually decorated. We stayed in the Saigon room in the Courtyard building, a larger room with lots of storage and a nice size bathroom. Breakfast is served on the ground floor. Instead of the usual buffet you place your order the night before. Choices include any combination of fruit salad, yogurt, cereal, juice, coffee and tea and a second selection of bread, pastry and sandwiches. Service is friendly and parking is conveniently located in a public garage two short blocks from the Courtyard building. Wifi is available in all rooms, but the signal is not consistent with frequent slow connections. This may be a Marbella issue and not a hotel issue.