It’s been Carnival week here in South America, which means that we have had two whole days off this week, so I decided to take a trip to Uruguay to soak up some beach action before summer really disappears. We wanted to avoid the crowds so we went a little further a field than most and decided to stay in Jose Ignacio, a delightful little village just outside Punta del Este, about 15 minutes from La Barra. It was a bit of an added expense and you have to rent a car ($190 for a complete piece of sh*t ) but just driving through the Barra we knew we had made the right decision. The strip in La Barra is flooded with Visa and Citi bank signs and hundreds of gaudy shops, not somewhere to get away from it all. But the moment you’ve left it behind you, you feel like you’ve entered another country; long deserted beaches and not a Mastercard sign in sight. Jose Ignacio, itself was billed as a sleepy little fishing village, and I think that is probably a fair description, although I would say it ‘s a particularly chic one.
We were staying at a lovely little hotel called Posada Azul Marino just outside Jose Ignacio (about a 5 min drive), which was perfectly nice. Again a little pricey (let’s just say from now on everything in Uruguay is a “little” pricey shall we) but we had a really nice room with a view of the village and the sea from the balcony and decent size bed. The shower wasn’t great but on the whole we were very happy. Breakfast was included and came in the form of some fruit, eggs and bread, nothing particularly amazing but it was available till 12 and you could have it in your room. It kept us filled up till lunch anyway.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and the first restaurant on our list was Isla de Flores which is just down the beach from the iconic La Huella (more on that later). When we first drove into Jose Ignacio it was pitch black and seemed a little spooky; there were no lights on the roads and not many people. We found Isla de Flores but it only had one couple eating in it. A little put off we wandered down the road to see what La Huella was like; apparently this is where the whole of Jose Ignacio was, the place was full to the brim. We were tempted to stay but we were told by a friendly local that Isla de Flores was very good so we just had a quick drink at the bar and so we went back to Isla for a late supper.
It was quite late by this point so we just went for one course and a couple of glasses of wine. I had the chicken ravioli which was very good, although perhaps a little rich with a slightly over powering stock flavour to it but not bad at all. My girlfriend went for the fish of the day, which was mullet and came with spinach and potatoes. Not the most exciting dish but we’d come all the way to the seaside and fish is something that BA sorely lacks. It was perfectly cooked and seasoned and reminded me how much I had missed fresh fish. We’d forgotten the camera but the food was presented very nicely and the restaurant itself was lovely and had a view of the sea. A good start to the holiday.
On Saturday we spent our first day on the beach, and had our only mediocre meal of the holiday at a place called Popeye. I didn’t have the camera but I had a forgettable chicken and chips and my girlfriend had a pretty horrible salad. What was weird was that the Popeye wasn’t that much cheaper than the far superior Isla de Flores.
That evening we went to Marismo which, along with La Huella, is probably the most well know in Jose Ignacio and was luckily only about 50 metres from our hotel. You walk through a little gap in the side of the road underneath a wooden sign and into a little camp with a fire burning in the middle. It is an unbelievable spot and you immediately feel that you have found something very special, it has an amazing atmosphere and the people who run it are lovely. The menu isn’t particularly big but reads really well: all sorts of fish dishes and a good selection of meat.
To start I went for some baby squid served with a mint salad and my girlfriend had some prawns with roasted potatoes. The shrimp was some of the best I have ever had; tender and full of flavour without even a hint of the chewiness that you can sometimes get, it came with a deliciously fresh salad with tiny bits of red onion, chilli, and cucumber. I savoured every bite. My girlfriend’s prawns were of similar standard, massive fresh grilled prawns with little rosemary potatoes, awesome.
For mains I had read that the slow roast lamb was the signature dish so I went for that, while my girlfriend went for the fish of the day (again). The only problem was that while both our starters were sublime they were also very generous in terms of size and I was already feeling quite full which is not how you want to feel when presented with an even more generous helping of roasted lamb. I soldiered on though as this lamb was every bit as good as I hoped it would be; falling off the bone and covered in a deliciously rich meaty sauce. I just about managed to finish it off but felt like I was going to burst by the end. I didn’t have any room to try my girlfriend’s fish but she was very happy with her choice.
And so ended a delightful evening at Marismo. It was our most expensive meal of the holiday but we did get through two bottles of wine and next time I wouldn’t order as much food. It was also one of my favourite meals ever, the food, the place and the atmosphere were all very special, and I hope I get to go again some day.
So we rolled in to Sunday very happy so far, the food had been superb, the weather was still great and we still had a few more days left of the holiday. Next up was La Huella which was always the first name on everyone’s lips when you mention Jose Ignacio. It is right on the beach and sort of the focal point of the town. Despite it’s obvious popularity they manage the crowds very well and you are never kept waiting too long and once seated they don’t rush you at all.
So after a few minutes we were sat down in the middle of the restaurant which was humming nicely and full of happy people devouring a range of fish dishes. We ordered a decent bottle of Torrontes and perused the menu. It had a good mixture of the standard sort of fare you’d imagine from a decent beach restaurant along with a sushi menu.
For starters I went for the prawns with salsa rosa. Unbelievably simple dish of 8 or so prawns with a ketchupy sort of sauce but my God the prawns were so so so good; meaty, thick and so fresh, I couldn’t get enough of them. My girlfriend went for the calamari and was equally enthralled. I tasted a few and they were indeed very good, lightly battered with deliciously fresh squid inside, another big win, but I preferred my prawns!
For mains I went for fish of the day as I felt I probably hadn’t eaten enough on the trip so far. La Huella continued to impress with this dish, again unbelievably fresh, cooked to perfection with soft, buttery fish falling off the bone, I am getting hungry just thinking about it. My girlfriend went for the steak and it was a very good one indeed; nothing too incredible; just cooked well and seasoned nicely.
So another amazing meal came to an end and we decided we would come back for one more the following night and finish with some drink at Marismo but first we had one more restaurant to try: Lucy’s.
We had tried to avoid having too many big lunches but thought it would be fun to do one on our last day and Lucy’s was another one that had come highly recommended. It’s located in the main square in Jose Ignacio about 5 mins from the beach and it was actually quite nice to get away from the crowds down by La Huella and have a look around the village.
It was at Lucy’s that we had our best bottle of wine of the trip, an insanely tasty rose wine which was a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, it had a really interesting fruity flavour and the bottle didn’t last long.
The food was also brilliant. I had the fish curry which didn’t come out as I expected but was nevertheless extremely good, again the fish was as fresh as you get but the curry sauce was out of this world. I would be a bit hesitant about ordering curry in South America but this was as good as any I’ve had. My girlfriend had another fish dish with a nice cous cous and spinach side that she loved.
I am not much a pudding man but the bottle of wine and curry had really got my taste buds going so I decided to indulge in one. I went for a delicious coffee cake which was very good indeed, my gf went for the fig tart with lavender ice cream which was so tasty.
I really can’t recommend Lucy’s enough, it may not be as cool as La Huella or Marismo but the food was outstanding and it’s a great place for lunch or supper.
For the final night of the holiday we combined the two heavy weights of Jose Ignacio. We had another delightful supper in La Huella, this time I had the mussels to start, they were good but not as good as the prawns the previous night. My gf played it safe and went for the calamari again, and again they were very good.
For mains, I went for squid which were not quite as good as those at Marismo but still a worthy adversary, while my gf went for the seafood paella which was extremely tasty, I couldn’t stop picking at it, great rice in a delicious sauce. We finished the night with some drinks at Marismo, sitting by the fire and enjoying our last night in Jose Ignacio.
I had a great time in Jose Ignacio and driving back to Punta again reminded us what a great decision it was to go a bit further a field. I am not sure when I will get the chance to go back to Uruguay but I know I’ll be back to Jose Ignacio one day!