The Eat Andalucia team take our eating very seriously indeed. Very seriously. So, when two of our number decide to tie the knot, the hunt for the perfect honeymoon spot was seen as a challenge by the rest of the team. One hotel that kept being mentioned by people we love and respect was La Bobadilla, in the hills above Málaga. Operated by the Barceló group, it’s classed as a “Royal Hideaway Hotel” and holds five glittering stars.
One of the main draws – apart from its idyllic location in the hills away from everyone and everything – was the array of food offerings, from “fine dining” to more traditional Spanish cooking. With four nights away, the newly-weds wanted to get away from it all, without having to slum it, and without having to go off in search of food in the surrounding villages. We certainly didn’t want to go hungry.
The approach to the resort is magnificent, through olives groves – the hotel’s own grand country estate – past vegetable patches and herb gardens. Designed to look like a small Spanish village, with separate buildings and Disney-like Moorish touches, it’s actually very beautiful to look at, and some of its communal areas are breathtaking.
However, La Bobadilla couldn’t operate more differently from a five-star GL property if it tried. And the key stumbling blocks are the food and the staff. But that food. Oh my. We had one decent and one great dish during our four-night stay. And the gluten-free bread, which they served, fresh from the oven (made by a big Barcelona-based bakery called Europastry) was a bonus. So, two good dishes and some bought-in bread, bearing in mind we ate there for breakfast, lunch and dinner during a four-night stay – apart from one day when we escaped into the hills to the village of Salinas in search of decent food. (We found it, reader. My god, we found it).
Low points were the poorly-cooked, disrespected pieces of local meat slathered in bought-in packet demi-glace – gloopy, syrupy and highly salted, the sauce tasted like the gravy served on a Wetherspoons’ Sunday roast. So we’ve heard. The famous Spanish dish of slow-cooked leg of lamb was tough and sinewy – the fat still visible as the chef had not cooked it for nearly long enough. Another Spanish staple – patatas pobres – arrived cooked to a mush and with no seasoning. The next night a steak arrived under-cooked. Dishes that stated a tarragon or cana de miel sauce saw them replaced with that same old gloopy demi-glace again. Lazy, lazy cooking for a captive audience?
The best dish we tasted was served on our first day, whilst waiting for our room to be made ready: a salad of bresaola (pictured above) with a manchego ice cream and grassy-fresh olive oil, with balsamic reduction and loads of black pepper. Lovely. Alive in the mouth. It got us excited for our stay. Another decent meal – the best of our stay, in terms of service, what we ate and where we ate it – was a paella sat out on the terrace, watching the sun go down over the mountains. Not the greatest paella I’ve ever had, but pretty damn decent (paella is a bit like pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s good… this was far from bad) and the service was lovely. The setting is, truly, dreamy. And that’s what makes it such a damn waste.
We seemed to spend an inordinate amount of our honeymoon looking for staff. Whether that be to sign a bill, get a drink, book a tennis court, waiting for the pool area to be opened on time for our morning swim, order food, or to answer one of our questions. When we did find them, on the whole, they were delightful. With some marked, incredibly rude, exceptions.
The rest of our trip was spent avoiding the Marbella geezers, who seemed to have taken over the hotel for our honeymoon. Even whilst having a massage in the spa area, we had to endure one of the chaps in the flimsy cubicle next door describe his condition loudly and in detail, grunting and groaning with every manipulation and knead, whilst also picking up phone calls, answering texts and sending emails. Ping, ping, ping. ‘You alright, bruv?’
And do you know what the worst thing of all was? The response from the General Manager, Mr Manuel Quintana Torres, to our sending of a measured, calm overview of our stay regarding our disappointment with food and service. We’ve had little reason (thank goodness) to complain in a five-star hotel before, so we have never really had to have dealings with this level of management. I think it was fair to expect his response to be at least thoughtful and kind. Instead, it was aggressive, rude, defensive and dismissive of the points raised. A lesson in how not to respond to a customer complaint. A lesson in how not to manage a five-star GL hotel.
La Bobadilla, Loja, Andalucía, Spain
+34 958 321 861