Elisabetta Occhi, proprietor (alongside her husband José) of Tanino San Pedro, lives and breathes the restaurateur’s life, having owned two iconic establishments (La Habana de Hemingway and The Irish Tavern, both in Puerto Banús) for over a decade.
As the face of Tanino San Pedro, she is a passionate people’s person who finds it impossible to “just do nothing.” She is always on the move, meeting and greeting people and ensuring their order is right, recommending dishes and explaining them to international diners.
Elisabetta is every inch her father’s daughter. “My father had 15 children and I am the youngest,” she laughs. “He was Italian but arrived in Spain as a very young man. He was a businessman through and through. He began importing clothing from Italy and launched a distribution company.
He also had a restaurant in Alicante and even made and sold ice-cream.” Although she has the charm and pleasant ease of a youngest child, Elisabetta is almost like an eldest child in her passion for perfection and work ethic. In addition, being present most of the day at Tanino San Pedro, she also heads for the original Tanino in Benamara at night.
Both Tanino restaurants are uber chic hubs for those into fine dining and beautiful design. Art abounds in the interiors, with numerous furniture and art items having been collected by José at the many fairs and markets he attends. If Tanino is famed for its large-scale fur installations hanging from the roof, Tanino Benamara has long, slender hanging lamps in vivid colours, also accessed personally by José and Elisabetta.
The one thing that differentiates both restaurants is that Tanino (Benamara) is more gourmet, while Tanino San Pedro more centred on fine tapas, sharing platters, ceviche, and the like. Of course, both restaurants are famed for their black burgers, containing either a soft shell crab in tempura or (at Tanino San Pedro) crisp calamari.
Elisabetta wouldn’t trade her life in Marbella for anything. Prior to moving here, she lived in Las Palmas with her ex-husband, a self-made restaurateur who ran a busy establishment on the island. They had three children, and when they grew up and university started becoming a consideration, Elisabetta opted to move to Marbella.
“I had been vacationing here for 30 years and I definitely didn’t want to return to Madrid. Once you get used to living by the sea and the coastal lifestyle, it is hard to go back to big city life.” Thus, she opened La Habana de Hemingway and her sons obtained their education in Madrid, Marbella (Les Roches) and Madrid/Dublin, respectively. Today, her youngest son has taken the reins over the economic side of Elisabetta’s businesses and also manages The Irish Tavern.
Another big milestone in her life would be meeting and marrying José, whom her ex-husband actually introduced her to. “He is filled with initiative and is passionate about the business. When we were married, he slowly began asking me to supervise Tanino.
Tanino San Pedro came about because we were keen on launching something together. It’s a bit like when a couple meets who have kids, but are keen on having a baby together… that is what Tanino San Pedro means to us.”
There are signs of Elisabetta’s style all throughout the restaurant. She spent days searching for the right wallpaper for one area of the restaurant, choosing a wild monkey print that would inspire the rest of the décor. “We wanted to create a jungle-like vibe. Thus, we had an artist paint monkeys on the doors of the restrooms.”
The ‘male’ monkey is elegant indeed, crown on head and smoking a pipe, while the female monkey, wearing a flower headdress Frida Kahlo style (there is an entire wall painted with this artist’s face as well) is to die for – those big eyes and kissable lips. The restaurant has a beautiful terrace as well as a well lit interior that connects with the outer dining area seamlessly.
Tanino is definitely a labour of love for Elisabetta and José, whose individual touches are seen throughout the décor but also in the food. Thus, the Ensalada Tanino (with a peanut sauce comprising the inimitably inviting flavours of tamarind and lime) was devised by Elisabetta herself.
The couple are constantly refining and experimenting with everything from the dishes to the cocktails, alongside their talented Chef, Luis Felipe Ciro (who honed his craft with Diego del Río).
For Elisabetta, the jewel in the crown of Tanino is undoubtedly the service, something she takes charge of with aplomb. Speaking three languages perfectly (English, Spanish and Italian) she is the consumate host at a restaurant that is as avante-garde as it is laidback, elegant as it is casual, romantic as it is warm – similar, in many ways, to Elisabetta herself.
Words Marisa Cutillas / Photography Kevin Horn
Avda. del Mediterráneo, Edif Acqua, Bloque 3, Local 6, San Pedro de Alcántara. Tel: 952 604 848.