If you’re looking for beautifully prepared and presented food that is also healthy, organic and will leave you feeling great, Gioia is the place

Gioia is indeed a jewel, and it’s the kind of place that, once found, you keep coming back to. The reason for this is that while there are many good eateries across Marbella, Gioia is pretty unique.

Restaurants serving vegetarian options and basing their kitchen upon organic produce are not that rare anymore, yet owners Carlo and Trisha Zanasi and his team really do take the Slow Movement to the next level with food that is not only made from organic ingredients, and not just vegetarian, but entirely plant-based.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that such a purist philosophy will produce healthy dishes, but ones so limited by self-imposed challenges that they couldn’t possibly compete with conventional fine cuisine in terms of taste, texture and presentation. Fortunately, the opposite is true.

The chef from Modena in Italy cooked the conventional way for most of his career, attaining a very high level of expertise before discovering natural cuisine at a course in Sweden. “I was already a vegetarian at the time,” says Carlo, “but the harmony of this method fitted so well with my life philosophy that I have been working this way ever since.”

The philosophy in question relates to nurturing one’s health, a sense of ethics and looking after the planet, and plant-based, natural cooking accomplishes all three in one.

“We show that you can replace meat and even other animal products such as cheese with organically grown plant alternatives without having to compromise on taste, presentation or indeed the fine dining experience in general.”

The chef who has worked in Italy, Sweden and Ibiza has now brought this delicious philosophy of cooking – and being – to Marbella.

Charming Retro-Chic Bistro

Opened on the Golden Mile last year, Gioia has the look and feel of a charming bistro café with an easygoing touch of chic.

You can drop in for a range of exotic, energy-boosting fruit drinks, eco-friendly coffees and herbal teas, delicious homemade cakes made from healthy ingredients, or opt for some savoury snacks accompanied by a glass of Spanish, Italian or French organic wine.

The latter are biodynamic, with no filtering, clarifying or additives, which means that the likelihood of adverse effects is greatly reduced. Most of the time, you won’t even notice it, but all the dishes available here are made from natural plant ingredients and are either ‘raw’ or heated.

Keen to try both, we sampled the mock sushi, with wasabi, homemade pickled ginger and tamari. As attractively presented as in any fine restaurant, it is almost indistinguishable from the original fish version and adds a fresh, creative twist to a once exotic dish that we have come to know so well.

I chose a glass of organic red wine – a Tempranillo by Bodegas Paráma Arroyo – and have to say it measures up to conventional wines with ease. I hope organic wines are a growing trend and I think the fresh feeling the morning afterwards is a great bonus.

The menu, which also includes daily specials, is made up of Italian classics such as pasta, risotto and also bean burgers or stuffed aubergines.

The growing number of people who suffer from dietary incompatibilities should take note that restaurants of this kind exist, as it is the concentration of preservatives in everyday food that is the main cause of the reactions that make it impossible for many to enjoy what used to be regular staples.

Gioia offers natural food that is delicious and does so in a welcoming ambience.

You can have a full meal or share tapas, as we did, and in this way we sampled excellent creations such as (lactose-free) baked black rice risotto with portobello mushrooms and asparagus sauce, baked aubergine rolls with a (vegan) Mediterranean paté and arugula pesto, and raw ravioli with Brazil nut and cashew ricotta, with a black garlic sauce.

Flavoursome, light and healthy, it allows you to indulge in one of the wonderful desserts, which include homemade, gluten-free Brownies, pecan pie, a gorgeous chocolate coconut ‘Bounty’ truffle and almond butter sea salt caramel truffle.

Topped off with an eco-friendly Macchiato with a choice of lactose-free milks, in my case almond milk, it’s a great way to enjoy fine food and be healthy and ethical at the same time.

Words Michel Cruz / Photography Kevin Horn

Calle Valazquez 1, Marbella (next to Hotel Guadalpin) Tel: 630 441 834