The town of Caldes de Malavella is probably not familiar to most British people. Set in rural Catalonia it will usually be sped past by tourists driving to Tossa de Mar, Llloret de Mar, Llafranc and the other beaches of the Costa Brava. In France we would just visit nearest towns on the map and potter around and so we did the same to get a break from the seaside.
The clue is in the name. The Romans established a baths here based around the thermal Spring which is still visitable in the grounds of the Balneari Prats spa hotel. It’s full of minerals and the Spring shows them in all their glorious colours. It’s hot too – you couldn’t make a cup of tea but it’s certainly warm.
On our visit we ate at Restaurant Ca La Manela. At the coast we had eaten in busy restaurants – here we were the first visitors of the evening. We realised that in Tamariu the diners were tourists from Spain, France, the U.K. and Germany. The Spanish are late diners.
The menu here is Catalan and we started with some of the toast we had sampled in Tamariu and quickly realised we were eating a different dish. The roasted vegetable toast here was loaded with onion, anchovy, and green pepper. The ham version glad lots of iberico ham. Both were slightly more expensive but much, much nicer – showing off the ingredients well. A good start.
I then had pork cheek in ratafia sauce. Ratafia is a fortified wine with fruits and herbs. It makes a deep plummy sauce which is robust enough to complement the pork cheek. This is nature red in tooth and claw because, although the texture is similar to pulled pork I would have at home, this is on the bone. A cheek bone comes away cleanly from the beautifully cooked meat. The combination of ratafia and pork is a bit like barbecue sure on pulled pork. It was served with some tomato roasted with herbs and some potato. A delicious dish.
My wife had monkfish. This was served on the bone which I have never seen before. Monkfish is no oil painting and this appeared in all its toothy glory and was promptly returned to be beheaded. It was roasted and served with just butter – absolutely delicious.
With Ca La Manela I felt we were getting to the heart of Catalan cooking. The menu was full of pork, lamb and veal and was mainly grilled and served with a sauce. Sure the paella and fideua are present but they are not the main attraction. With wine, desserts and sangria the bill came to €93 for the four of us – pretty average for what we have been paying but we left very satisfied.
A special note to the staff. This is in a very Catalan area but the staff were very welcoming and spoke English where we needed it. The restaurant looks very Spanish and not necessarily for the casual visitor from the outside but appearances are clearly deceiving.