Schilo van Coevorden is a powerful cook. He leads the food scene back in Amsterdam, at the Conservatorium, and, at the same time, he is the name and personality behind Schilo, here at Finca Cortesin Hotel, Spa & Golf in Casares, up inland from Marbella.
He commutes between the Costa del Sol and Amsterdam and his kitchens in both, he assures the gal, run just as well when he is in the other place.
Finca Cortesin is the dream-come-true of Javier Lopez, boss of a residential construction company, SingleHome. He travels widely and loves great hotels – some favourites are the Fasano in São Paulo and, it seems, every Aman resort.
He wanted to build his own hotel to showcase his construction quality. The result is a 600-acre complex that includes a 67-room Preferred hotel, plus residences, plus golf, plus shopping. You never need to leave.
You can eat at the golf club, or in your room, or in the all-day restaurant, El Jardin, which in summer moves to its outdoor terrace. In summer, too, Andreas Tumbarello moves his Madrid restaurant, or rather his staff, here, to operate Don Giovanni.
Year round, every evening except Sunday and Monday, you can eat Asian with a hint of Arabic and more than several whiffs of van Coevorden’s own style, at Schilo. The intimate restaurant is a ‘living room’ leading off the hotel’s main lobby, and it is open to the kitchen where everything, even vegetable preparation, is done.
The hint of Arabic came in the breads, which were three-inch air-filled puffs, like miniature Arab breads blown up. They accompanied rough-cut aubergine purée, a Dutchman’s take on babaghannouj. At this point we were brought shot glasses of ginger beer, hardly Arabic or Asian but was a memorable touch.
Half the diners, I am told, have come from outside, the others are hotel guests. I wonder if they are enjoying their wine as much as we like our Finca Valpiedra Reserva 2006 Rioja DO.
Schilo van Coevorden’s cooking is, frankly, not going to make you fat. His Sashimi of hamachi, wasabi sorbet and rock chives comes on a leaf. Thinnest slices of raw yellowtail, or hamachi, have a soupçon of sorbet, and taste exquisite. His Tomato salad is served with basil oil caviar, sesame, pinenuts, yuzu caviar – a hybrid of sour mandarin and Ichang papeda - and chilli-flavoured tofu bits. Next came a BBQ filet of Wagyu-style beef from Burgos, with Japanese mushrooms and a drizzle of green curry. A separate bowl held mushroom-scented rice.
The kitchen is permanently manned by another Dutchman, two chefs from Japan and a few Spaniards. They are great at flavours, and decoration. I know pavlova from New Zealand, where the family-sized meringue filled with whipped cream and passion fruit seeds is the national pudding (possibly following fish and chips, which the locals claim originated there, in the Bay of Islands area).
Schilo’s version is as artistic as much of the decoration in this beautiful hotel. A snail’s shell of meringue had a drizzle of cream over, and a purée of passion fruit comes in half a passion fruit shell. Brilliant.
It has been quite a day for innovation, here at Finca Cortesin. At the resort’s lovely year- old Beach Club (four minutes’ drive by regular Mercedes shuttle) a Sahara wind was strong enough that all my papers blew around as confetti. No wonder the holder for Finca Cortesin’s own-label olive oil and vinegar is wrought iron.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the Sambonet knife made a good paperweight and I did not need it, anyway, for al dente pasta. Lovely spot, this, with six feet of private-terrace beach above the public beach, and the hotel-only 85-ft infinity pool.
Another lovely spot is Finca Cortesin’s main bar, again, like Shilo, leading off the main lobby, and spilling out on to a terrace. We sat outside, and because of the elevation it was just a a little chilly, so I inaugurated my 100%Capri scarf from J.K. Place Capri.
Barman Alberto knows everyone, he is being hugged by a German golfer, says hello to a group of Japanese, comes over to take our order. How about a special gin and tonic, he suggests. Why not? He brings over supplies, makes it in front of us.
Here is the recipe for a perfect G-and-T. Take a Riedel glass and fill it to the brim with ice cubes. Put in red currants and blackcurrants. Pour in a good measure of already-chilled Tanqueray Tangpur, which has Rangpur lime in it. Insert a stirrer with a long, twisted metal handle. Gently pour Fever-Tree tonic down the stirrer so that it bubbles when it hits the gin. No more stirring required.
Why Fever Tree, Alberto? Well, Schweppes is good for some gins but for Tangpur, only Fever-Tree, he says. I later find out the company was started in 2000 by two Brits, Charles Rolls, who made Plymouth gin, and luxury food marketer Tim Warrillow. They named it for the Cinchona tree, whose quinine has, since the 1820s, been key in the fight against malaria.
The pair get their quinine today from the Rwanda Congo border (and blend it with spring water, marigold extract and Tanzanian bitter orange). The ginger for their ginger beer, for surely it was theirs that we had at Schilo, has travelled from Cochin, the Ivory Coast and Nigeria. The glass has only come from Kufstein.