Hotel restaurants really have to pull out the stops for today’s discerning diners; Nick Harman heads to a new 5* property in Marbella where they’re offering three-in-one…
“We have Italian, Pan-Asian, Spanish and a Greek restaurant,” says the hotel head of marketing while gesturing to a patch of bare earth, “…well, that’s where the Greek restaurant will be by spring 2024,” she adds with a smile.
A Greek restaurant? In Spain? Well, why not? Today’s hotel guests are very different from the paella and chips crowd of the early days of Spanish tourism. Days that I dimly remember being ten-years’ old and shuddering with sunburn in a darkened room with just the sound of bad flamenco rising up from downstairs.
I am still dressed for London in winter as I take this hotel tour, so I cut a slightly incongruous figure as we weave around the enormous pool in blasting sunshine amid bronzed, dashing guests in swimming costumes, toting colourful cocktails.
We head out the far gate onto the wide sandy beach, past a security guard dressed even more warmly than I am, but at least he’s under an umbrella and shaded. In the distance the Rock of Gibraltar looms large in the haze; we are almost at the very bottom of Spain here, with North Africa just over the horizon, and this is reflected in the hotel’s Moorish/Andalusian design.
It’s all very cool and stylish – and all very white, so the sun dazzles off the surfaces, but is toned down by sustainable and often locally-sourced, multi-coloured fabrics, cushions and rattan screens. It’s a very smart hotel.
In fact, it clearly displays its 5 stars, sister to METT Hotel & Beach Resort Bodrum, and it opened in August last year, after a great deal of money had been poured into it. Clearly, it was money well spent; from the massive cool atrium with its 26-foot tall olive tree that greets you when you arrive, to the plethora of pine and olive trees spread around the 170-foot infinity pool.
I’m shown the very best rooms, with their own pools facing the beach, rooms on the ground floor, which have the pool as their balcony with their own sunbeds, a superb suite for the very well-heeled – even my own mid-range room I can say is charming.
A wooden ceiling fan turns lazily, gently stirring the A/C air as I open the sliding door to the balcony to look down at the pool. The sound of the ambient chill music’s ‘tik tik tik tik’ drifts up from the speakers concealed in the shrubbery.
Time to dress appropriately and try the first restaurant, the Azure Lounge beach cabana, whose menu is also available around the infinity pool. In dappled shade and low slung armchairs, I check out pan-Asian classics and a whole heap of cocktails and mocktails.
I go a bit large on the food, admittedly – it’s been a long time since breakfast at Gatwick at 4am – so I order Nobu quality dragon rolls, spicy tuna rolls, prawn tacos and a sushi platter, accompanied by two excellent cocktails. Soon after, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I find myself flagging, so I head back to my room to catch some much-needed Zs.
By the evening, suitably refreshed by my smart circular shower, I head down this time to the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Isola. Set half in, half out, ambiently lit, it’s all rather romantic. It also has an Italian wine list with prices that make my hair stand on end – does anyone ever order the €1800 bottle?
A classic burrata and mixed tomatoes is done well, if a little over salted, and I sample a fresh made pasta al vongole, a taste of one of their ‘pizzas’ made with focaccia bread, and excellent cured ham, for a lighter bite. The warm air and the pleasant buzz of happy diners makes for a calm evening, and I take a little turn out on the beach, enjoying the relaxing slapping of the waves out in the darkness.
Next morning, breakfast. And what a spread it is, my eyes are on stalks. Laid out in Isola is the most remarkable selection of breads, compotes, fruits, Iberian meats, Payoyo cheese, honeycombs and much more than I can note. One thing I immediately spot, however, is that they are carving jamon straight from the bone; I get a good plateful and it’s superb.
If that wasn’t enough, there is also an a la carte cooked option, with some refreshing variety, including a very good tortilla with aioli and salad. And if you must have a Full English, I see it comes with a proper sausage, not one of those mini frankfurters that some hotels think will pass muster. You know who you are, and it won’t.
I spend the morning sunbathing, carefully, so as not to relive my adolescent pain, enjoying drinks and snacks by the pool. It’s the archteypal resort raison d’etre, and this is a fine spot to do it. And when my lethargy gets the better of me, I take an electric bike out for a spin down the sea path alongside the aromatic flowerbeds, passing the occasional mahogany-coloured expat out for a jog with his dog.
This is, after all, down the road from Marbella, which still attracts a certain kind of wealthy Brit, though you won’t spot Don Logan anymore; the hotel is flanked by very desirable low slung apartment blocks with fine gardens showing an increasing degree of sophistication to the area. Some restaurants and bars are now of reasonable quality, too, but not up to the hotel’s standard, as I discover with a dismal plate of greasy chipirones cooked in stale oil. Sigh. Still, the local Victoria beer is good.
Back at the hotel, I saddle up for the last of the three restaurants. Lola is a circular bar under a palm tree near the pool. Nicely set up with its own tables, I prefer the bar itself where I can watch the cheerful staff make my cocktails while I try the tapas.
There’s nothing too fancy, rather they’re solid classics, especially the anchovies, which are buttery and vinegary; a mixed tomato salad is fresh and crunchy, and a plate of cheeses is especially welcome. The bar is open until 1 am, with food served until 10:45, and the crowd is relaxed and classy. I’d happily stay and soak up the atmosphere but I have to leave early in the morning so it’s bed for me.
And, after another brilliant breakfast – that jamon will never lose its touch – it’s off to the airport, having swerved attempts to make me try the well-equipped gym. Three days doesn’t constitute a holiday, but METT Social is refreshing, surprising, classy addition to the Costa del Sol scene. I’d certainly come back for a longer break; the hotel is outstanding, the weather very reliable, and the hotel food hasn’t got a single paella in sight.