Here’s the Beef

2 minute read

The bull is at the end of his tether — literally. Dragging a clutch of noisy young men on the end of a long rope and harried through the streets of Gaucín, the reluctant star of the traditional Andalucian bull-running festival singles out a man in the crowd, lowers his head and charges.

His target evades the attack with insouciant grace. Excited onlookers identify the amateur torero as a manager from the Casablanca Hotel, a sombrero’s throw away. The boutique retreat is a haven where attentive staff just as skilfully deflect the challenges of everyday life from blissed-out guests. And the hotel, like the gleaming white village that envelops it, fuses local tradition with a modern and international sensibility. Gaucín is developing into a new Deia or Fornalutx: a magnet, just like those Mallorcan hot spots, for affluent north European bohemians who want to immerse themselves in Spanish culture without the bother of learning Spanish. The Casablanca perfectly serves that constituency, but also appeals to a wider clientele.

Once a palatial private home built around a series of two-story courtyards, the hotel boasts magnificent views across the mountains, down to the Málaga coast and, on clear days, as far as Gibraltar and even Morocco (hence the name). Each of the nine bedrooms is different and all are romantic, though not luxurious. There’s a pool and a hot tub. And a cool restaurant with a shaded terrace.

In its busy, bubbling kitchen, the young Scottish chef-patron Dan Hall brews up the magic that lifts the Casablanca well beyond a haunt for expats with creative pretensions to a place of pilgrimage for true foodies. A dish like slow-roasted fillet of Wagyu beef with roasted veal sweetbreads, caramelized carrot purée and a sherry vinegar gastrique may be a mouthful to order, but every bite confirms the brilliance of its conception. Plainer fare such as wild mushroom arancini with leek purée, white asparagus emulsion and cep vinaigrette showcase the intense flavors of locally grown vegetables. Hall says: “I let the ingredients speak for themselves.” Luckily it’s in a language even linguistically challenged bohemians will understand. The results: pure poetry, and worth braving the odd bull for.

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