Visit: 14 October 2023
Award: 1 Michelin Star
Kaleja is the Sephardic word for “alley”, which is apt given the restaurant’s location in Málaga’s Jewish quarter, close to the Picasso Museum. Chef Dani Carnero produces his modern interpretation of traditional dishes – long and slow, directly on the fire or its embers, a technique that Dani calls “candela cooking”.
Dani began his career working in some of Spain’s greatest kitchens, including Ferran Adrià at El Bulli. Kaleja was awarded its star in 2022 after opening in December 2019, just before the pandemic hit. Kaleja is one of three restaurants Dani owns in Málaga.
When we visited, there was one tasting menu available named “We cook the memory”, and no a la carte option. This included 16 courses and cost 120 Euros per person. There was also an optional matched wine pairing at 65 Euros per person that included 6 glasses of wine.
The menu started with three “Blue Fish” courses. There was an anchovy pâté with lemon, served on toasted bread; an “ensopao” (a traditional soup from Malaga made with a gazpachuelo base, which is another famous soup originating in Málaga consisting of mayonnaise, garlic, egg yolk and olive oil, served warm, and with toasted bread and mayonnaise) served with horse mackerel; and roasted sardine and toasted gazpacho, orange, and pepper, served in an oyster shell. All three were very good, packed with taste.
Next were three “Gazpacho” courses that were accompanied by an excellent sourdough bread for mopping-up the soup. This sequence started with a soup of curd cheese, cucumber, and local white prawns. Next was a gazpacho of white onion, almond, and Vermouth. Finally, a soup of zucchini (courgette) flower, in a partridge broth, served with a razor clam, partridge, and partridge marinade in a separate dish.
A “Soup” course of Maimones was inspired by a garlic and bread soup from Malaga. The broth is cooked very slowly over embers in the restaurant for at least 24 hours. It is made using vegetable stock, beef shin, half a chicken, carrots, turnip, white leeks, and eel skin. Stale bread is soaked in some of the strained, seasoned broth. Then the bread is placed on a plate with diced courgette, and the remaining broth poured over. All the soup courses were very good, with great taste.
Next, a course named “Crop” featured marinated leeks served with a sauce made from chicken wing fat and goat labneh cheese (a soft Middle Eastern cheese made from strained yogurt).
A “Legumes” course featured butter beans, codfish, and Padron peppers, served in a broth made from cabbage and sweet paprika.
A course named “Raw” was raw squid and cured anchovy, in a beurre noisette. The squid was extremely fresh and tender.
The next two courses were named “Tradition”. The sequence started with roasted hake, served in a lettuce gazpachuelo. The hake was accurately cooked and the lettuce gazpachuelo was a perfect accompaniment. This was followed by a “pulard cake”, which is another local traditional recipe. First the whole cake was presented at the table in a casserole dish. It looked like a giant burger covered in a cabbage leaf. A slice of the cake was served. It tasted like a very moist, chicken faggot and had great flavour. This was very enjoyable, and I could have eaten another few slices.
The final savoury course was named “Maillard”. This featured a red pepper roasted in charcoal, and “moistened” with egg yolk. This was unusual, innovative, and delicious.
Three “Sweet” courses completed the meal. First, there was an almond ice cream, with a kiwi sauce, in a syrup of peach and Muscatel. Next, a parsley ice cream, with frozen cheese snow, and figs from Malaga. Finally, a sweet bread, like a small doughnut, filled with cream.
This was a very memorable dinner. The food at Kaleja was superb and reflected the tradition and many tastes of Malaga. It was a master class in Malagueños cooking. The wine pairing was excellent. The service was top-drawer.
Chef Patron Dani Carnero is a Málaga native. He has been working in professional kitchens since the late eighties, starting in Mar de Alborán, then moving on to work in some of the best kitchens in Spain including with Martín Berasategui, and then later going on to spend a year at El Bulli in Catalonia under Ferran Adrià.
Outside the restaurant:
Inside the restaurant: