Time to go raving in Ibiza, raving over the food that is.
A large poster catches my eye on the way in from the airport, it’s of Fat Boy Slim heavily photoshopped to be both very fat and very slim at the same time. He’s looking his age either way, which is in fact my age. That he can get a massive room full of people to wave their hands in the air is quite remarkable, as is the massive fee he reportedly gets for doing it.
Ibiza is of course well known as clubbers’ island; posters for the various venues are more numerous than posters advertising cars, washing powders or indeed anything else. My plane had boasted plenty of stags and hens already deep in the party spirit, while the despairing cabin staff tried to keep order. Ordering a drunk man dressed as a giant chicken to sit down is never easy.
There is more to Ibiza than drink and dancing though. It’s a beautiful place once you get away from the epicentres of E consumption, with lots of hidden, quiet beaches and small inland villages.
And it attracts the money, glance in any estate agent’s window and you’ll see that nearly all of the bright white houses you glimpse from the road will cost you well over 7 million euros.
My consumption these days is mostly food and I like to keep my shirt on when I’m dad-dancing. I haven’t come here to get down but to attend Ibiza Sabores 17, a day of top chefs demoing their skills, along with local producers showing the bounty of the island. However that’s a few days away and I need to eat in the meantime, and across the island around fifty restaurants are doing special set menus at around 25 € a head.
So after dropping my suitcase at the very nice and refined Hotel Torre Del Mar – bang on the beach and priced to keep out the sun, sea and sangria demographic – I head into Ibiza town on a hot and noisy bus to begin the feasting.
Set in the main square it’s housed in an old building, but chef Gonzalo Aragüez aims to serve food that nods to Ibizan and Spanish traditions with modern twists.
A perfect example is a pre-dish of churro stuffed with sobrasada. Churros of course are the sugary delights you eat in Spain very late at night as an energy boost to get you home.
Sobrasada though is distinctly savoury, it’s a cured sausage from the Balearic Islands made with ground pork, paprika and salt and other spices. The temperature in the islands means the usual Spanish pork products – jamon and chorizo – are not usually made. This dish is delicious, crunchy and spicy.
Chef takes the island’s signature dish, “bullit de peix”, more of this later, and turns it into croquettes with aioli and parsley. A ‘hot dog’ of squid is in fact squid in a sea cucumber, a wonderful mix of taste and texture. I drink Can Rich wines, then drive out to meet the actual makers at Can Rich
Can Rich is a vineyard with an elegant house in the centre where, as the sun starts to descend, I get to sample five wines produced to high ecological standards.
All the wines are to my mind very good indeed but my favourite is Vino Espumoso Blanco Can Rich a sparkling wine which I find more interesting than many a Champagne.
There’s a note of almonds to it, fitting because the island has so many kinds of almond trees whose blossom turns the White Island extra white in Spring.
Taking a wooden hammer I break open five different kinds of these local almonds, the differences in size, texture and flavour are pronounced.
Almonds it seems are not just for Christmas, a selection of these with a bowl of olives and some chilled Can Rich Blanco is perfect pre-dinner food.
Chef Patron Matthieu Savariaud is, as you may have guessed, French but he’s been on the island many years. His restaurant Es Terral in the elegant and upmarket town of Santa Eulalia is nothing much to look at from the outside, but the island’s gastronomes know where to go.
The food is Spanish/French and so one minute you’re eating wonderful black rice with squid and (yes) sobrasada, the next duck breast with caramelised carrots, or a perfect rabbit pate. He sources almost everything from the local area, takes a simple honest approach to cooking it and the result is unfussy.
Typically French he serves my duck still quacking so I go into the kitchen and ask for a bit more cuisson, which he happily arranges. ‘I keep telling him, ‘says the waiter, when I come back out ‘I’m French myself but he likes it too rare even for me!’ A great restaurant, easily overlooked by passers-by but definitely one of the island’s stand outs.
Inside the island, away from the beaches and towns are the restaurants the locals go to and Can Cires in Sant Mateu d’Albarca is deservedly popular. Inside the 200 year old house, the decor has the warm patina of age and much love. It’s also a cool respite from the heat outside, but I choose to go and sit at a table in the flower filled garden anyway.
It’s even hotter when you get too close to the Josper Grill, full of locally made charcoal and blasting out some seriously searing heat. Great for steaks and whole fish. Here I ate olives and bread on which I slathered brilliant home made garlic mayonnaise, followed by squid stuffed with more of that sobrasada.
Probably the best place to see a classic Balearic sunset is from the terrace at Hostal La Torre at Cap Negret. It’s a good ten minutes of an astounding light show that changes by the second and well worth taking in.
Then about ten minutes away is Es Tragon (Tarragon) where Chef Álvarao Sanz Clavijo keeps the spirit of El Bulli going with a tasting menu at €90 that is alive with ideas and gimmicks.
For me, after what must have been the 22nd course, it was too much and I sent the final multiple item dessert back uneaten.
Far too many courses to talk about in any detail then but some outstanding cooking across the board, albeit sometimes confusing. All the menus are for the whole table, by the way, but there are ones at more affordable prices and if you’re interested in cutting edge, this is the place to make a reservation.
My final stop was this beautiful old restaurant in the backstreets of Sant Antoni. The same family has run the restaurant for the past thirty years keeping things traditional yet moving subtly with the times.
I arrived mid morning so that chef José Miguel Boned could show me how he makes bullit de peix (Catalan for boiled fish) using the ancient and massive wood-fired cooking range that is the heart of the simple kitchen and which uniquely flavours the food.
The dish is a classic dish of Ibiza, a stew of fish with potatoes or more properly nowadays, rice. The fish can be basic or can be fancy, such as grouper, “gallo de San Pedro”, monkfish, “rotja” and was originally made by the fishermen while still out at sea.
Jose has a wide variety of rather scary looking fish to use and so we set to staunchly peeling potatoes and chopping furiously. A few hours later we eat the result in the restaurant’s walled garden, an unpretentious dish but quite delicious. Jose can’t resist sending out some of his other star dishes too, and I can’t resist eating them.
Y Viva Ibiza
And Ibiza Sabores? A day of demos and suppliers in the sun blown garden of the luxurious Ibiza Gran Hotel that is a delight. Local cheeses, wines and oils are in profusion each backed by individual producers justifiably proud of their work and keen to promote it.
Back on the plane a few days later I’m comparing notes with other passengers. The majority of those, like me too old for clubs, all agree that the island has needlessly suffered from the focus on the young.
For those looking for glorious untouched beaches, a peaceful interior where time has stood still, and food that delights and surprises in equal measure then the island is a perfect place to unwind.
Roll of Honour