It’s no revelation to the world’s clued-up foodies that Ibiza’s well-earned status on the gastronomic map is now cemented — the white isle is home to some of the most innovative restaurants and forward-thinking chefs on the planet. And yet, one area of the island that’s been gastronomically bubbling away without too much fanfare is San Antonio, the pretty seaside town that’s most renowned for spectacular sunsets. Fortunately, restaurants like Villa Mercedes are readdressing the balance by enlisting talented new executive chef Iván Acquistato push the culinary boundaries and prove that there’s more to this west coast enclave than just mesmerising skies.
That’s not to say that Villa Mercedes hasn’t always been a beacon of great food and excellent dining experiences. Beloved by the island’s born and bred, and always adored by visitors, the restaurant has maintained the kind of low-key but still luxurious atmosphere that appeals to one and all. Boasting a beautiful alfresco terrace and garden dining area right next to the harbour, the whitewashed restaurant building is something of a local icon in itself, built in 1901 and converted into a restaurant by the famous Mambo Group in 1999. Dinners here are sound-tracked by live music and local DJs, not to mention the tinkering of yacht sails in the distance.
While the original essence of Villa Mercedes remains unchanged, a new era is dawning at the restaurant, thanks to the creative vision of executive chef, Iván Acquista. Born in Argentina and with a standout career that’s seen him helm the kitchens of Heart Ibiza, W Verbier, Ocean Drive, Belmond, and alongside his much-revered mentor Rafa Zafra at Casa Jondal, this creative and ambitious young talent has now decided to go his own way. This summer, he has reinvigorated the menu at Villa Mercedes through his use of impeccable local products (treated minimally so natural flavours shine), a touch of local tradition and a side of culinary flair. “You’ll see be a big leap in quality,” he says. “People have known Villa Mercedes for a long time, but now we want to elevate its name again and bring people back to San Antonio for great dining experiences.”
Those grand aspirations are backed by both skill and prowess, and after years of honing his craft, Iván is ready to strike out and create a menu that embodies his own interpretation of fantastic food. “Our new menu at Villa Mercedes is based on contemporary Mediterranean food, with a few tributes to Ibiza’s traditional cuisine,” he says. “We want it to have a very local identity.” Much inspiration has been taken from San Antonio harbour, which almost laps the restaurant’s doorstep – for example, almost all of the fresh fish is sourced from local suppliers and guilds – although there are also a few obvious (and delicious) nods to Iván’s homeland across the menu too.
The evening must begin with a bespoke Villa Mercedes cocktail. The Golden Mercedes is a heady blend of Jack Daniels, amaro, honey syrup, lime, ginger and sage while the Tanit Moon celebrates its namesake goddess with G-vine infused butterfly pea tea flower, lime, and orange. Follow up cocktails with a bottle from the thoughtfully curated cellar of Spanish, Balearic and international drops before considering some of Iván’s favourite dishes. “The caviar empanaditais one of the dishes you really have to order,” says Iván, speaking about his culinary homage to Argentina. “It brings together the flavours of the sea with memories from my birthplace. It’s a dish that reminds me of my mother, because there were always empanadas at home.” A richly layered combination of quality caviar with golden-tinted pastry that boasts just the right amount of crisp, it’s the perfect blend of luxury and nostalgia, and a symbol of what’s to come.
Must-try light bites at Villa Mercedes include perfectly plump oysters, and acorn-fed Iberian ham — two classics reimagined and the rest of the starters follow the same tantalising path — all the favourites are there but with a twist. Think creamy mushroom and blue cheese croquettes; juicy Marinara mussels with homemade sauce and parsley; and red prawn carpaccio (made from the famously sweet and delicious prawns from the island) served with caramelised onion purée and toast. There’s also roasted aubergine carpaccio with Ibiza honey, caramelised pine nuts and fresh cream; Gallega clams with green salsa; and in a twist on Ibiza tradition, broken eggs with sobrasada, local honey and mushroom.
Seafood serves as the stimulus behind many of the main dishes at Villa Mercedes. “I always recommend our fresh fish cooked on the Josper grill,” Iván says. “John Dory, sea bass, sole — we make all our stocks with the residual juices and serve the fish with a Bilbao-style sauce.” Other options are equally mouth-watering. There’s Ibizan crayfish accompanied by fried potatoes and peppers; lavish king crab leg and warm Rocoto (a Peruvian red pepper) foam; and in a tribute to Iván’s mentor Rafa Zafra, fried scorpion fish tacos with corn tortillas and other toppings. And for something truly traditional, don’t miss the Villa Mercedes speciality, a hearty red prawn rice to share.
Prime cuts of meat – like the luxe Black Angus tenderloin, a tender Angus Picaña, and the oh-so-flavoursome Japanese Wagyu – are imbied with a subtle smokiness, courtesy of the Villa Mercedes Josper grill. Meanwhile, boneless chicken thighs are marinated in 30 different spices, and luscious lamb chops (“In Ibiza the lamb is so good!” adds Iván) served with frita Ibicenco – fried potatoes, red peppers and local herbs. Choose your favourite main and load up your table with plenty of tasty sides, including sweet potato chips; candied and grilled piquillo peppers with a Bilbaína sauce; and grilled asparagus, which also gets the Josper grill treatment, and is served with Rocoto Hollandaise sauce.
Finish proceedings with a dreamy dessert like fluffy matcha cheesecake; roasted pineapple and coconut carpaccio; indulgent flan with cream and dulce de leche; and the sweetest strawberries with cream and chocolate. Evenings at Villa Mercedes are designed to be lingered over so there’s no rush here – be sure to take time to enjoy the live music, convivial vibe, great company, and incredible sea views, all fundamental pillars in San Antonio’s resurgence as a foodie destination.
Alongside Villa Mercedes manager Jorge – a San Antonio local who is passionate about the culinary revival of the area – and experienced hostess Marta, Iván is confident that his vision for raising the reputation of this renowned island dining destination is in sight. “San Antonio is on an exciting path,” he concludes. “And Villa Mercedes is at the heart of it.”