As a food writer, I am often asked one simple question: What is Marbella’s best restaurant? Starting from the premise that experiences are subjective, one restaurant that consistently makes it to my small recommendation list, is Zozoï.

There are many reasons why – take the ambience. Zozoï is almost an unexpected treasure in a quaint plaza in the cobblestoned Old Town. There is a romantic terrace filled with delicate lighting in the evening, and a cosy indoor terrace where warm colours and foliage combine to make you feel at home.

The service is definitely worthy of mention. Waiter, Ali, who attended our table upon my last visit – is a gem. Friendly, courteous, and knowledgeable on all dishes and wines we enjoyed.

Of course the primary reason why Zozoï always makes it to the top of my list – is the food. Heading the kitchens is visionary Belgian Chef Maxime Lenoir, who has travelled the world (including the Caribbean) in search of flavour.

Maxime first came to Spain to work as a Professor at prestigious cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu in Madrid. His cuisine is French-based, with Oriental and world touches. It is as respectful of its produce, technique and methodology as it is visionary, catering for savvy clients who are used to dining at establishments that shape the industry.

Maxime cooks ‘from the heart’, but also using the very best (and that often means costly) produce available. Maxime and Manager of Zozoï, Celine Debonnet, look to quality rather than budget when it comes to selecting produce, often opting for smaller, pricier producers if the quality is superior.

Thus, Max’s ribeye steak (obtained from steers) hails from a small producer in Galicia. “The producer told me that nobody else would buy this meat,” says the Chef, “and the deal was sold at that very instant – ‘I want it!’ I told him.”

My recent visit to Zozoï in the company of work colleagues was perfect from start to finish. We sat at a beautiful table in the indoor terrace, which embraced us in its inimitable ambience. As an aperitif, the hummus hit the spot, and we were delighted when Ali brought out a basket of homemade focaccia, topped with colourful herbs and spices (I opted for the scarlet hued tomato and herb variety).

Each and every dish we sampled was moreish, staring off with the homemade chicken liver paté, served within a glass jar, whose open lid was filled with caramelised onion. The jar sat on a wooden chopping board, which contained an array of eye-catching items such as tiny glasses of port wine, warm toasty focaccia and a side salad.

The hamashi carpaccio instantly transported us to Japan with the beauty and perfectionism of its presentation, and the freshness of its flavour. Paper fine slices of this delicate fish were topped with tiny diced beetroot and yuzu-yellow fish roe.

Also inspired on the Orient was the red tuna ceviche, served with crisp sweet potatoes and a sesame oil/soy sauce that dazzled the tastebuds. Presented beneath a slate of toast bearing the appearance of sea coral, it pleased the eyes as much as the stomach.

The mains were equally impressive – a super tender veal chop marinated in maple syrup, served with Kenya beans and a Dauphinoise gratin – bearing a texture and taste that are incomparable. The caramelised pork spare ribs (served with a basket of Belgian fries), meanwhile, fell of the bone – this classic is one that we predict will never go out of style.

Finally, the cod marinated with sweet Miso and served with candied onion and mashed potatoes, was wonderfully tender, breaking naturally into plump slices on the fork. The fish went perfectly with the House White (a fruity Viña Sanzo Rueda) and the meat dishes with a fragrant Arrocal Passión Ribera Del Duero.

Then came the dessert. Maxime feels that dessert “is far more important than many Chefs give it credit for… when a good meal is followed by an exquisite dessert, you have met your aim.” We sinfully tucked into a gooey chocolate-orange ganache; an airy chocolate fondant; and Maxime’s creative invention – a brandy glass filled with pop-corn and praline-flavoured ice-cream, toffee, and slabs of caramelised popcorn on top – the stuff a dreamer’s wildest fantasies are made of.

Finally there was the ‘Anti-Depressant’ (catered to those who wish to be transported to a state of happiness through sugar): it contains “everything you need to lift your mood,” says Max – served in the “typical ice-cream bucket you see stars tuck into in the movies, when they break up with a partner,” it is filled with unexpected earthly delights – chocolate ice-cream, whipped cream, homemade peanut butter, salty chocolate cookies, dazzling pop rocks… and, I stopped analysing this creation.

I just enjoyed it, the way the Zozoï experience is meant to be lived: fully, completely, with passion.

Words Marisa Cutillas Photography Kevin Horn

Open nightly from 7pm ’til late. Plaza Altamirano, Old Town, Marbella. Tel: 952 858 868.