Toc al Mar is the kind of place that makes you feel sorry for everywhere else. Situated in one of the Costa Brava’s prettiest calas, I first went on a foul day at the start of June when nobody in their right minds would be out and about, but it was rammed where all around everyone else was empty. The fact is, when somewhere is that good why would you go anywhere else, unless it’s 15 paces across the beach to Javier des Muelas cocktail bar at Mar i Vent for a G&T?
Part of the Costa-Brava new-wave, this surf-style chiringuito is all mismatched furniture and oil cloths on the tables, with pretty little lanterns swinging in the breeze and specials chalked up on the board. Upended vegetable crates serve as side tables to take on the excess and a wood decking wraps around the place facing straight out to sea (the table for two on the corner is just magical). Staff in red shorts and spotless white tees flit between tables, the day’s catch held aloft on gleaming stainless steel platters and chilled bottles of Empordà wine kept cold in ice-bags. It is all effortlessly cool and yet completely unpretentious—save for the odd inevitable hipster—but largely it’s peopled by gregarious gatherings of friends and family, half tourists, half locals, easy-going and deliciously relaxed.
Well, barbecue is, isn’t it? Nearly everything here is cooked on a wood grill, whether it’s plump blue mussels or sweetly succulent razor clams, an arroz seco with langostines or a slab of turbot hauled from the Bay of Begur 10 minutes ago. I go for a tomato salad and impeccably grilled sardines that are insanely fresh: buttery, smoky and kind of meaty. Then we have fideuá which I never ever have, because the good ones are so few and far between, but they are the most sonorous, dark, fish-heady, fabulous fideuá l’ve ever had. Al dente and standing to attention in the way that they should, they are generously filled with sepia and Palamós prawns so tender and delicious that after snapping off the head and sucking out the brains, I devour the rest, shell and all, because it would be criminal to discard that darkly delicious crust encasing the sweetest of flesh. Finally, a revelation in the dessert stakes. Café gourmet—a café solo with a couple of hard almond cookies, a macaroon and two dark, chocolate truffles—not quite pudding, not quite petit fours, just perfect. In case anyone’s wondering—I’m in heaven. Happy summer one and all.
Carrer de Platja d’Aiguablava 6, Begur. Tel. 97 211 3232 www.tocalmar.cat Open until October 15th. Lunch and dinner €35-40 for three courses with wine.Group menus €45-80 including wine.