In a region of Spain where many of the cafes are specifically by and for the British tourists and expats, we’ve made a point to seek out some extraordinary and authentic restaurants in this region of Murcia. Mazarrón, in the southeast corner of Spain, is not known for its cuisine – although it is for its fish and agriculture, particularly oranges, lemons, olives, artichokes, tomatoes, and almonds. But the average restaurant fare is, well, average, and if we wanted a steady diet of English breakfasts, Sunday roasts, or afternoon tea, we’d go to England.
Our criteria? Tasty, fresh food is good, with inventive touches even better. We want a menu in Spanish (or multilingual, at least, including Spanish), and we don’t want to be the best Spanish speakers in the place. What we found were some good restaurants sharing their international and national cuisines using local ingredients.
Chez Zoe, Puerto de Mazarrón
This simple French bistro is a place we never tire of. Two different menus of the day are offered at lunchtime, for 10 and 16 euros. At dinner, only the 16 euro option is served. Each menu includes choice of starters, main course, and dessert, and the dinner menu also includes a bottle of wine for two. The sidewalk chalkboard with the day’s selections is dragged around for viewing, and we enjoy knowing our choices are fresh and available. Starters often include French Onion Soup or a Greek Salad, with specially selected olives, cheese, and produce. Fish in light butter sauce or with aioli, pork with berries, beef bourgoignone, and chicken with apples are all flavorful renditions of main course dishes. House made desserts, too, are tempting and nicely sized. Zoe herself and her staff are casual, friendly, and willing to give recommendations. (Always order the homemade dessert!). Chez Zoe is on the northern end of the Puerto de Mazarrón beach, a.k.a Rihuete beach. It’s peaceful, with a nice view of Mazarrón bay, the lighthouse, and the sea beyond. Paseo del Rihuete; (+34) 676 691 324
Taberna El Nautilus, Puerto de Mazarrón
At the opposite end of the Puerto beach, tucked behind the harbor of sporting boats, is Taverna El Nautilus. Don’t be fooled. It’s not the fish-focused venue you’d expect from the moniker. Owned by Annita from Belgium, with her German husband and chef, the Nautilus will make a meat-eater’s mouth water. The spices recall northern and eastern Europe, with Hungarian zest and gravy laden cuts of pork, beef, or by special order, lamb. On my first visit, I ordered from the 8.50 euro menu of the day (not including dessert or drinks), and was thrilled with a light cauliflower soup with parsley. A pork goulash followed, with tender chunks of meat in a wonderful paprika sauce. Ordering a la carte in the evening will set you back, but Annita has learned what she likes…and what she likes to serve. Her specially purchased prime cuts are cooked to order, unless, that is, you order a great piece of meat well-done. In that case Annita might roll her eyes and suggest you save your money and get a cheaper piece of meat. Well done, hurumpf! Fish and pastas round out the menu, and the dessert page is filled with choices. Closed Thursdays. Plaza del Mar; 629 733 427
La Caverna, Ventorrillos
An off-hand recommendation led us to this cozy cave-like taverna on the secondary road (MU 603) to Murcia. Nary an English speaker in site. The owners hail from Barcelona, vacationed in the area for a time, and eventually moved to Ventorrillos where their home, pool, and courtyard back up to the restaurant. The delicious opening course of bread with olive oil, garlic, and tomato is served in do-it-yourself style. Grilled vegetables and meat a la Catalan are specialties here. Succulent lamb chops and a good selection of wines had us sending messages home to tease our friends. Bus service is available from Camposol. Closed Sunday eves and Mondays. 639 633 779
La Siesta, Bolnuevo
From what I’d read about La Siesta, it sounded like their specialty was meat. Maybe it is, but we both ordered fish for our main course, and found it especially well prepared. Dorada (gilt) and rodaballo (turbot), grilled and served plain or with the chef’s sauce. Garden seating is nicely protected from sun and wind, but is right on the Bolnuevo beach (our favorite in the area) with no road or walkway interference. La Siesta sits between the erosion-sculpted hills of Bolnuevo and the sea, a location that justifies a couple extra euros for a relaxing, long lunch. (+34) 968 150 690
Amapora restaurant isn’t on the way anywhere, but it is tucked under a new hotel in a nice residential neighborhood in the hills above Bolnuevo. My daughter and I, who have a special talent for finding the fanciest, priciest places for a bite to eat, ended up here on a busy night, as a crowd of ninety Brits were showing up for the “2 for 1” Wednesday dinner special. We headed to the opposite dining room and ordered a la carte with the help of our waiter Juan. The highlight was a regional specialty, squid in a flavorful, reduced, tomato sauce. The hotel and restaurant are owned by Kate and Paco (UK and ES respectively), who are residents of the area. They’ve created a lovely oasis with the dining rooms overlooking a pool and garden big enough for lawn games. The bar can be lively, and special dining deals are available Wednesday and Saturday nights. (+34) 968 156 503
Antípodas Tavern, La Azohía
A 20-minute drive from Puerto de Mazarrón, La Azohía is the point at the other end of the Mazarrón bay. Follow the road toward Cartagena, then right out to La Azohía until the road ends. The Antípodas Tavern is here, overlooking the tiny fishing wharf, the catch of the day, and the bay’s rocks and beaches. The view is the thing here, worthy of a Sunday outing. The salads are top notch, reminding me of California, and the fish are supremely fresh. Although we’ve sat outside on our visits, the tavern indoors looks cozy for a winter’s day. (+34) 968 150 053 www.antipodastavern.com
Gateway to India, Camposol
When in England, do as so many of the English do, and eat Indian food! There are many Indian restaurants in the area, but we’ve most often returned to the Gateway to India in Camposol Sector A. Starters include samosas and pakoras (deep fried vegetables and meats) plus papadoms (crisp rice wafers served with three sauces). This classic menu features an array of Indian styles: tandoori, biryani, curry, and masala, with a reasonable children’s menu, too. The hours are hard to beat. Open everyday noon to midnight. (+34) 968 199 226