Dani Garcia is the new star among the many famous chefs of Spain, having served his apprenticeship with Martin Berasategui from 1996, then in 1998, at the age of 24, taking over as Head Chef at Tragabuches in Ronda not far from his hometown Marbella in Andalucia. From 2005 he has had his own Calima Restaurant at the luxurious Hotel Gran Meliá Don Pepe in Marbella, where he has developed and stretched his special style of cooking, having ingredients and old recipes from Andalucia as his main forte and inspiration. His three key words when working in the kitchen are memory, flavours and high technical excellence.
Garcia was appointed Ambassador of Marbella by the mayor and the town council. At the moment he indisputably is the town’s most famous son. His latest journey is a franchise chain of “gastro-bars” under the name La Moraga. The now 36 year old Dani Garcia has had several successes since he graduated from La Consula, Malaga School of Hostelry. In 2009 he was awarded the “Best chef”- award in National Gastronomy by the Royal Academy of Gastronomy in Spain.
Visiting Calima – Dani Garcia’s temple of tapas – either entering by foot from the gardens of Hotel Gran Meliá Don Pepe or by car from a modest dead-end street in the outskirts of Marbella, does not give you the impression of high class you would normally expect from a place like this. But as soon as you are inside, you feel like having entered a completely new world. The long walk from the reception area along the wide wine cellar with more than 300 different wines, and then passing the kitchen, both in some sort of framed glass cubes, raises one’s expectations, so does the final impression you get when you reach the restaurant, with a terrace overlooking the Marbella beach paseo.
There is only a “Menu Experience”, based on what Dani Garcia himself terms as “Cocina contradiction”, best summed up in his “Motril Shrimps niguiri”, two small raw shrimps served on a meringue. Not everyone would have the guts to come up with a dish like that! In all, Dani Garcia’s cuisine is provocative, clever, innovative and original. The ingredients are fresh, locally based and served after impeccable preparation. But sometimes you feel that the meal is more interesting than tasteful.
The problem with being served 19 different and quite small mouthfuls is also that it is impossible to have a wine menu to go along with the tasting menu. Therefore you have to decide whether you would like to explore the wine list without thinking of the food, or you could do as Calima’s sommelier rightly points out, choose to drink sparkling throughout the whole meal, with maybe a glass or two reds at the end. We recommend following the sommelier’s suggestion, and indeed, our choice of Juvé y Camps Milesieme cava was an excellent companion to most of the flavours in the tapas that dumped onto our table.
The start is usually amazing, with a cream bugle being followed by a stewed barbate (tuna) meat cornet and then a nugget, foie gras and yuzu tart. What Garcia had chosen to name “An egg without an egg” is his version of the traditional Andalucian cold almond and grape soup called Ajo Blanco. “My first yoghurt” was again based on foie gras, and you can also have chicken liver parmentier in a dry sherry wine sauce.
A lot is excellent at Calima, but we have reports of sometimes occurred technical problems like being served an empty (!) croquette which should have contained broken pota squid, and some tasting experiences can be disappointing like barbate tuna kebab (tasting like sardines) and the traditional espetos box (a wooden box containing small, smoked sardines) – nice to look at and quite funny to have the smoke flowing out when opening the box, but nothing more, to be honest. The pipirrana salad with cod seems to come straight from the fridge and the ceviche of conchas finas (shells) just tastes like, yes – sea and coriander.
The waiters, all dressed up in black “uniforms”, who are swarming like flies around the tables all work fast and efficient, but you will hardly see a smile on their busy faces, and when they serve the next tapa, they barely have time to introduce it. “Now we continue with ….”, they say, and away they run. You can end up feeling that the whole meal was a sort of “how fast can we serve the food and then have the table ready for the next dish”-race. With 19 different plates coming along (20 with the cheeses if you choose that as well…), we wish for a little bit more time to enjoy the looks, the smells and the flavours of each creation.
Dani Garcia’s temple of tapas is not perfect, yet, but the overall experience you will have after a dinner at Calima will still make you come back for more and the general quality offered is impeccable. Maybe señor Dani Garcia should offer a 40 plates dinner for the most fanatic tapas lovers as well to not make us miss his cuisine too much?
Written by Andy