Article for Living Abroad magazine September 2010

A View to Match the Food!

Restaurant View

View from Restaurant

Some claim, some view. But when we recently met Nicky Scott at her restaurant complex in Periana near Malaga we could see what is behind the boast. It is one of those locations that can only be satisfactorily described by resorting to superlatives. Sitting high above Lake Viñuela with 360 degree views of lake, mountain and the sea beyond, sun shining and eagles soaring lazily in the summer thermals and with a glass of sangría in hand, what could be more perfect?

Not surprisingly we wondered how Nicky came to be here and she obliged with a quick sprint through her cv. She told us: “After leaving Durham university with a degree in economics I went straight into one of the big three accountancy firms to train as a Chartered Accountant, and three years later after finals, I decided I’d had enough of study for the time being, and decided to take a two year sabbatical.”

It really was some sabbatical as she took part in a round-the-world yacht race and all too quickly after 26,000 miles and 26 countries, it was back to high finance.

This went well for a few years and after a couple of interesting jobs in commerce her itchy feet started to be a problem and she decided to travel again. During the planning stage she spent some time at her family holiday home in Periana and it was here that she heard of Restaurante Cantueso being for sale.

Nicky explained: “Even after a cursory investigation the commercial possibilities were apparent and despite the restaurant and 10 self-catering cottages having been neglected for some time, I felt sure a business in such a stunning location could be developed”. Thoughts of travel rapidly disappeared and she eventually bought the business in January 2007.

Restaurante Cantueso
Nicky and her team had to hit the ground running as there was no handover period and almost nothing was left of the suppliers, staff or customers. A new chef, new menu and an advertising campaign was started to ensure people in the wider area knew of the changed ownership. A great deal was made of the intention to serve high class Mediterranean cuisine, no egg and chips and all day breakfasts here! Nicky explains: “While the menu is mainly Spanish we do allow ourselves some French and Italian dishes hence the Mediterranean tag”.

The language also had to be tackled as she has to deal with staff, customers and suppliers most of whom don’t speak English. Fortunately she already had a grounding in languages and a quick trip to Madrid for a refresher course did the trick.

Now after nearly four years Nicky declares herself happy with the progress so far in the restaurant, which she says takes up 80% of her time and yields only 20% of the revenue. She and her head chef Carmen Muñoz make a formidable team with Carmen’s 5 star experience in some of Spain’s leading hotels shining through to her creations, and foodies come from afar to experience their seven course tasting menu. Mind you in deference to the severe economic crisis in Spain they also offer a “credit crunch” menu of 7€ for two courses.

Nicky says the downturn in tourism has had a big effect on the Costas and many similar businesses have closed, but she has been able to grow the business, albeit rather more slowly than intended. The exchange rate not only affects travellers but has created a lot of problems for retired expatriates who rely on pensions being paid from the UK and now have up to 30% less income than a few years ago. One result is that they spend less on meals out, and the more severely affected have gone home.

Self-catering Cottages
The ten self-catering cottages, which form the larger part of the complex have the feel of a very small village and not surprisingly Nicky is keen to promote them hard. She explained: “We have a website in five languages and a live webcam that gets over 5000 hits each week and we have exposure in over fifteen countries”. She went on to say that every year she has improved facilities such as enclosing the pool, adding a mini golf course, and going green. The latter is not as easy as might be imagined and Nicky cites one example saying: “It took three years and a personal letter to the Mayor before we even got a bottle bank”. Many other initiatives have involved a state of the art water treatment plant, low energy lighting and air-conditioning using inverter technology.

Aside from the obvious attractions to families Nicky has built up a useful customer base of walkers, photographers and cyclists and even has one group visiting from Australia next year to try a few Spanish hills!

Fortunately just as Nicky was wondering how to increase their share of the family market, along came Tots to Travel (the UK’s leading toddler friendly holiday company), offering their marketing expertise and support. Cantueso is now able to offer child friendly accommodation highly geared to the needs of families with babies, toddlers or older children, and all carefully vetted by Tots. The Tots’ standards means that not only are the cottages very safe but also have many items that would otherwise mean an extra suitcase. These include buggies, high chairs, sterilisers, baby baths, alarms, toys, books and games etc.

And for the future? “More of the same” Nicky says, and continued, “ It is so rewarding. Families come back year after year because their children like it so much, and just love making friends with different nationalities”.

Which as our sangría was finished was a good point to head for a refill.

Ends 966 words

Nicky

Nicky Scott in front of Lake Viñuela

Nicky and Carmen

Nicky Scott with her Head Chef Carmen Muñoz

Cantueso Terrace

The terrace of Restaurante Cantueso in Periana, Spain

Sentinella Magazine February 2010

Beating the Winter Blues!

It might seem something of a contradiction for a restaurant to be offering a crisis menu and then coming up with a gastronomic tasting menu of five or seven courses. However that is just what Restaurante Cantueso in Periana have done and they say that it has proved just as popular as the 7€ special.

Nicky Scott the owner, says that it is by no means a sign that the economic crisis is behind us but that there are times when people wish to rid themselves of the winter blues and push the boat out for a special occasion. Added to which with the five courses costing 19€ it actually represents extremely good value.

Spanish Cuisine: Nicky and her Spanish chef Carmen Muñoz, are making quite a name for themselves tucked away as they are above Lake Viñuela, and as their advert says, it is “A view to match the food” Some claim when you look at the view, but the proof as they say is in the eating and the tasting menu is designed to show off Carmen’s culinary skills from starters through mains to desserts.
This is now Nicky’s fourth year at Cantueso and she says that at first it was difficult to convince both locals and expats that it really is a Spanish restaurant, however increasing numbers of visitors seems to indicate they have got the message. No all-day English breakfasts here then!

On Camera 24 hours each day: It is interesting to see how much effort the restaurant puts into its Internet website, with full menus and prices shown, together with lots of photos and latest news. There is also a webcam with live pictures from the terrace which overlooks the lake. This gets an amazing number of visits and often exceeds 2000 “hits” each week. More in winter, no doubt because people log on to see what the weather is doing up there. And to make sure no-one is left out they take the trouble to translate everything into five languages

Anyone wanting to look at the menus, wine list, special offers, etc., or to get directions to the restaurant should see: www.cantueso.net or call Nicky to reserve a table on: 699 946 213.

Nicky and Carmen

Nicky Scott and Carmen Muñoz at Restaurante Cantueso

Cantueso Cottage

One of Restaurant Cantueso's self catering Cottages, but where is that bird?

London’s Loss is Spain’s Gain!

We are all used to the notion that nightingales used to sing in Berkley Square, and now can add Periana as another location as Restaurante Cantueso is playing host for the third year running to a couple of songsters.

It would seem that as well as making their amazing music at night they are entertaining guests during the lunchtime too. Nesting in dense bushes alongside the restaurant terrace the male nightingale (ruiseñor in Spanish) protects his patch from intruders occupying the same song post as in other years.

Nicky Scott owner of Cantueso says she and other twitchers are so impressed with the complicated repertoire of the bird that they are hoping to capture the sound on tape and will add it to their website soon. She is also intrigued to know how such a noisy bird can be heard but seldom seen and so as a challenge they will add a special prize to their current photo competition for anyone capturing the bird on camera.

The photo competition was such a success last year that it is being run again, with entries needed to be in by the end of October.

Last years entries can still be seen on:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cantueso/
Any aspiring photographer only needs to take a shot (any subject matter) in or around Restaurante Cantueso this year to enter. There are views to die for over the Viñuela reservoir and gardens full of colourful inspiration. No need to eat or drink just click away. Entries should be e-mailed to: info@cantueso.net

First prize is Dinner or Lunch with wine for four, 2nd prize: Dinner or Lunch with wine for two and 3rd prize a case of wine. And finally a bottle of Cava for a photo of the resident nightingale. And just in case you should think about “borrowing” a shot from the Internet, maybe you shouldn’t. Last years competition saw an entry which showed the space shuttle passing over Cantueso. For some reason the judges disqualified it!

If you are lucky enough to hear the bird it will be obvious why such famous singers as Vera Lynn, Rod Stewart and even Faryl Smith have used the wartime favourite in their albums. As we said before London’s loss is Spain’s gain.

For directions or other information see Cantueso’s website: www.cantueso.net or phone Nicky on 699 946 213

Press article The Grapevine March 2009

Axarquia the Frying Pan of Spain?

This somewhat cruel comment has often been repeated in guide books to the Costa del Sol and no doubt refers to the past when ovens were a rare kitchen appliance, and a style of cooking evolved that didn’t need them. Nowadays the scene is very different and there are restaurants that can hold there own with Europe’s best. There are more and more places in the area providing excellent Mediterranean food in lovely settings and it is heartening to see expat and local “foodies” tucking in together.

A fantastic example of this is Restaurante Cantueso in Periana, which is reached from the Velez Málaga turn at the El Ingenio roundabout and by following signs up to Vinuela and then Alhama de Granada. When you reach the Puente Don Manuel crossroad the Periana turn needs to be taken and once in Periana turn right at the new roundabout and from there Cantueso is clearly signposted.

Cantueso is run by Nicky Scott originally from the East of England and who has tremendous experience in the restaurant business. She moved to Spain at the end of 2006 and took over Cantueso in 2007. However, the way Cantueso is now presented is a far cry from how it was when Nicky took over. She explained it was in much need of tender loving care and upgrading. Although she admitted improvements are indeed ongoing even now into their third year!

Cantueso is now a beautifully presented restaurant, bar and self catering cottage complex with fantastic gardens, a pool and a children’s play area. It has a number of outside terraces which all take in the unbelievable, unrestricted views of the Lake Vinuela . In fact Nicky remarked “people often come by to just take a walk round the garden and admire the view”. In order to achieve this, the area around the restaurant and cottage complex was landscaped and planted with more than 1500 shrubs and trees. The gardens were originally designed by a Spanish firm from Mijas and have constantly evoked praise and countless photos. This in fact led to an idea of a photo competition last year and is once again being run this year. The only condition is that the photo must be taken in or around Cantueso. You only have to visit, there is no obligation to eat or drink. Other improvements Nicky has made is to pave the car parking area, extend terraces and refurbish the restaurant and kitchen areas. The 10 cottages were also upgraded and a safety fence put in around the pool which conforms to the latest European Standards. They see the safety barrier as a good selling point for families who want a secure environment for their family holiday. They have also raised the shallow end of the pool to make it better for small children, and despite the cost they see it as a worthwhile investment in safety.

“A view to match the food” is Cantueso’s rather bold claim in their advertising and to check it out just log onto their website cantueso.net where they have a web cam installed showing the view down the valley, together with current weather data. The web site also has the current mouth watering menus and special offers.

The cuisine at Cantueso is described as Mediterranean, because, despite having a very talented Spanish chef who cooks inspirational Spanish classics, they also like to add from time to time Italian and French dishes. They emphasise that what they are certainly not, is an English restaurant. Carmen Muñoz the Head Chef is in fact from Periana and has been at Cantueso almost three years. She trained in one of Málaga’s top hotel and catering colleges and only returned to Periana after several years working in five star hotels. She is a truly inspirational cook with a passion for quality and presentation. Her Sous Chef is a young Frenchman Joel Falcone and together they make a formidable team.

Nicky will tell you that when it comes to trying to feed so many different nationalities it can be tricky. For example the Spanish never want to see their vegetables on the same plate as the meat and often do not want them at all. To get around this problem Cantueso offer main courses in a way to suit Spanish tastes and then list vegetables as an optional item.
Children are not forgotten and have plenty of distractions too, as Cantueso has an indoor playroom, outdoor swings and a slide all within sight of the terrace. They even give small children a present of a yo-yo. It just happens to have the Cantueso logo and telephone number on it!

Another crusade at Cantueso is to introduce the infrequent visitor to Spain to a wider selection of wine. There is more to Spanish wine than Rioja says Nicky and a small but well researched wine list illustrates this. As with food there is also a marked difference in which wines the Spanish clients prefer. It may seem unbelievable, but Nicky can only remember two occasions when a Spanish customer ordered white wine. Maybe this explains why wine lists in Spain have very few white wines listed. Underlining their desire to get people drinking other regional wines several wines are indeed offered by the glass.

Before they took over the previous owners the customer mix was 20% Spanish and the rest from the expat community and holidaymakers. The Spanish percentage has been slightly increased with many special events here including weddings, communions, and on one occasion the Mayor brought 45 of his staff. For weddings and parties the whole complex can be hired and they even have space for a marquee.

Like most if not all local businesses they are affected by the global crisis but have been fighting back. They have introduced further special offers, wider advertising and marketing (even including Israel!) trying to make sure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to visibility. Locally they are trying to help pensioners who are suffering from the credit crunch with a special lunchtime 7€ menu and with other offers such as “dine free on your birthday or anniversary”.

What more can we say except “Que approveche!”

For more information call Nicky on: 699 946 213

Press Notes re Cantueso used in the Olive Press and others March 2009

Nicky Scott the owner of Cantueso took over a closed business in need of much TLC. And now in her third year finds herself still up-grading and improving the complex. So far they have landscaped the areas around the cottages and restaurant complete with a sophisticated watering system. (Recycling grey water is a current development project). Paved the car parking area. Extended the terrace. Refurbished the inside and kitchen areas. The gardens were originally designed and constructed by a Spanish firm from Mijas (who said the Spanish don’t know about gardening?) and have evoked much praise, so much so that people started to post photos on the Internet. This led to the idea of a photo competition and it was so succesful that it is being run again this year. The only condition is that the photo must be taken in or around Cantueso this year. You only have to visit, there is no obligation to eat or drink.

Upgrading the 10 cottages continues with an emphasis on safety and comfort for families. This has just included a safety fence around the pool. It conforms to the latest European standards and comes from France where they already impose serious fines on people not complying with the EU law. It is no doubt only a matter of time before the same sanctions are imposed in Spain. In France a private pool not fenced attracts a fine of 34,000€ and a communal pool such as ours one of 230,000€!

They see the safety barrier as a good selling point for families who want a secure environment for their family holiday. They have also raised the shallow end of the pool to make it better for small children. In all it will have cost over 10,000€, and is certainly a serious investment in safety.

The Cantueso website attracts about 2500 hits every week and many return daily to look at the valley as seen from the live web cam. Despite the great amount of work that maintaining such a site incurs they are expanding it into a fifth language (French) and will continue to post latest news and most importantly current menus and special offers. The webcam also has current weather data and has caused the odd smile when an American complained that whenever she logged on it she couldn’t get a picture, it was all black. She obviously had never heard of time zones.

Cuisine: “A view to match the food” some claim, some food!

Axarquia has been described as the frying pan of Spain, and this unkind remark no doubt stems from the traditional lack of ovens in many Spanish homes. However there are cooks able to rise above such remarks and prove just how inspirational they can be.

The cuisine at Cantueso is described as mediterranean, because, despite having a very talented Spanish chef who cooks inspirational Spanish classics, they also like to add from time to time Italian and French dishes. They emphasise that what they are certainly not, is an English restaurant. Carmen the Head Chef is in fact from Periana and has been at Cantueso nearly three years. She trained in one of Malaga’s top hotel and catering colleges and only returned to Periana after several years working in five star hotels. She is a truly inspirational cook with a passion for quality and presentation. Her Sous Chef is a young Frenchman Joel Falcone and together they make a formidable team.

Nicky will tell you that when it comes to trying to feed so many different nationalities it can be tricky. For example the Spanish never want to see their vegetables on the same plate as the meat and often do not want them at all. To get around this problem Cantueso offer main courses in a way to suit Spanish tastes and then list vegetables as an optional item. Small point but a good example of how they try to please all. On the same subject they have plenty of distractions for visitors’ children with an indoor playroom and outdoor swings and a slide etc all with sight of the terrace. They even give small children a present of a YO YO. It just happens to have the Cantueso logo and telephone number on it!

Another crusade at Cantueso is to introduce the infrequent visitor to Spain to a wider selection of wine. There is more to Spanish wine that Rioja says Nicky and a small but well researched wine list illustrates this. As with food there is also a marked difference in which wines the Spanish clients prefer. It may seem unbelievable, but Nicky can only remember two occasions when a Spanish customer ordered white wine. Maybe this explains why wine lists in Spain have very few white wines listed. Underlining their desire to get people drinking other regional wines is the offer of several wines by the glass. In the attempt at devising a more thoughtful wine list they tasted over 170 wines. Nice work if you can get it.

Before they took over the previous owners the customer mix was 20% Spanish and the rest from the expat community and holidaymakers. The Spanish percentage has been slightly increased with many special events here including weddings, communions, and on one occasion the Mayor brought 45 of his staff. For weddings and parties the whole complex can be hired and they even have space for a marquee.

Like most if not all local businesses they are affected by the global crisis but have been fighting back. Special offers, wider advertising and marketing (even including Israel!) trying to make sure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to visibility. Locally they are trying to help expats who have suffered terribly with a reduction in their pensions due to currency exchange rates, by including lower priced menus and also with such offers as “dine free on your birthday”. On the basis of every little helps there are also discounts on the cottages which can be spent in the restaurant, or free wine with every meal during a short stay.

Ends