I drive along the San Juan road regularly, and so I’d been waiting with great curiosity to see what born and bred Ibiza resident Melchior Arnold, plus partners manager, Eleonora Carapellotti and chef, Reina Nagai would do with the old Ocho building once he took the reins. A gorgeous, Japanese fusion restaurant was what greeted me tonight, Nagai, a bonsai-esque garden with such a welcoming, comforting feeling that it felt like it had been perched at the start of Ibizas ‘restaurant mile’ forever!
Never one to say no to a cocktail, I started with fresh fruit-laden concoction that was the deepest of red… almost like art in a glass, yet with just one slurp I got distinct feeling we were going to be in for a treat! Paired with an (almost) impolitely large portion of wasabi peas, curried almonds and hazelnuts, I quite literally had to force my taste buds to stop and save room for the main event…
My dining companions were star snapper Ana Lui and my four-year old (‘Almost five!’ she interjects) daughter, who the staff accommodated with absolute aplomb, customising menu items to her little person’s appetite and tastes and with quite a few magic tricks to boot! This set the tone for the evening and earned a nod of respect and appreciation from me as a mum, and as a diner, because the staff paid plenty of attention to not only our adult desires but to those of mini-me, whose meal was topped off with an ice cream platter fit for a king. Or princess in this case…
For the grown-ups at our table, the two separate menus (sushi and Japanese fusion) were enticing and varied at the same time. Immediately regretting my wasabi pea snack-athon, we took our time perusing the menu while tucking into another appetiser which magically appeared on our table – rice and potato balls with a tempura-inspired, crunchy light batter and a not-too-hot wasabi sauce. Delicious and light, I rather pleased there was just one each because I had the feeling I could spoil my appetite before even ordering! The unusual combination of potatoes, beef and seaweed was a delightful surprise. I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted such succulent buttery beef, which the obliging staff explained it was the finest Argentinian variety – no surprises there then!
Finally, we decided on a mixed sushi and sashimi plate, served with an extremely generous amount of pickled ginger and wasabi (nothing annoys me more than tiny ration of ginger and having to ask for a refill – HUGE props to Nagai for pre-empting what must surely happen to most diners!). Melt in the mouth fish. Tick. Light fluffy rice. Tick. Enough ginger and wasabi for a football team. Tick. Winner!
I’m not sure for how long we entirely ignored the deluxe salmon tartare sitting on our table. Don’t get me wrong, I like salmon tartare, it’s just that I was so busy with the amazing sushi, it got a little neglected. Well, until the sushi was finished that is – beautifully presented on a row of raw zucchini shavings, which later proved a lovely fresh and light accompaniment and palate cleanser to what can often be a typically intense dish. What was it about Nagai’s tartare that made it stand out form the many I’d eaten before? The unbelievable lemon, olive oil and dill dressing, tasted like the salmon had been marinated for days. Perfection.
And then there was dessert. But that’s another story entirely… let’s just say you should save room for the sesame ice cream!