Over the past few years, Ibiza’s reputation as a gastronomic destination has grown exponentially. From chefs racing each other to see who’ll get the island’s first Michelin stars, secret gems that still serve up mama’s home cooking, traditional Ibicenco style cooking, all the classics from the Mediterranean, exotic and oriental flavours, celebrity chefs, A-list owned eateries – you’ll find it all here on the white isle. And this mammoth culinary scene is another little microcosm of foodie heaven, found within the walls of Ibiza’s UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site, Dalt Vila. Which as you may know if you read this blog regularly, is also my home… I moved into Dalt Vila (yes, sometimes I like to pretend that the giant drawbridge and wooden doors are my own personal front gate) over ten years ago and at the time there were a handful of restaurants turning over a pretty good trade between late May and early September. Many of those restaurants still stand today (and I’ll get to that later) and a whole host of others have popped up, settled in, taken over old haunts or re-established old favourites and yet year after year, I’d find myself heading out of Ibiza town for a destination dinner. Weird right?
Recently however, I’ve been finding myself far too busy to find the time to cook for myself and even when I’ve wanted to, I’ve been somewhat challenged in the kitchen (like both gas bottles being empty on a Sunday when you can’t replace them anywhere in Ibiza, broken pots and pans and, errr, even a mouldy microwave). I very quickly tired of eating the same 7€ takeaway Pad Thai and 10€ sushi box every night, so a few weeks ago I decided to start treating myself to a solo dinner in the square once a week, with my trusty laptop as a date. This way, I didn’t lose ANY time travelling and really, I didn’t need to take any time away from my desk. Plus, I didn’t have to do the washing up (let me be honest – this should read: ‘And I didn’t have to look at the dirty dishes in the sink for the next 10 days’). And this new experience, my dear readers, has changed my life.
I’ve always known my square (yes, it’s mine – my balcony is set right in the very centre, from where I can look up and down the whole plaza) was special and now I feel like I have an even deeper understanding of the whole thing. Watching that magic unfold from a front row seat is pretty amazing and the food! Why have I have bothered cooking at all when I had all these amazing chefs literally on my doorstep? Hindsight is a funny thing. So the whole thing started at Sa Rosada (the restaurant that has my heart forever). It is, quite literally, on my doorstep. I basically feel like I’m at home and the big tiled tables easily accommodate a laptop and they have the most simple menu in the square (and probably the cheapest too) – it’s just lasagne, bruschetta, salads and carpaccios. It’s all good. Also – THE nicest owner too!
So I would sit at Sa Rosada, tap, tap, tapping away at the keys on my laptop… sipping delicious red wine and tucking into tasty lasagne (this new habit is probably going to make me fat and I don’t care). I’d be conscious of the stares of passers by (or paranoid?) and wonder what they were thinking when they’d see a girl sitting all alone in this buzzing square on her laptop? Do they think I’m working? Writing my masterpiece? Addicted to social media? Blogging? Skyping? Making deals? Doing my online banking? Although being called the Carrie Bradshaw of Ibiza has tickled my ego at times, what I quickly realised was…
I really didn’t care at all what people were thinking about me (and in reality, and retrospect, they probably weren’t thinking about me at all). And then it made it easy to make the leap to some of the more high-brow restaurants. Across the street at the gypsy chic El Olivo Mio – who I have worked with on some lovely photo shoots in the past – I felt as if I were being welcomed into owner Rita’s home. And while all the other guests around me were celebrating life, love and being in Ibiza, I just kept on blissfully tap, tap, tapping away at my laptop thinking: This is exactly where I am meant to be. A few glasses of nice wine (are you sensing a theme here?) and some seriously tasty duck croquetas followed by a hearty roast chicken, I was happily fed and watered, my inbox was down to practically zero and I was able to float across the square to go home to bed.
A few nights later, that same hunger started to strike but the thought of leaving my desk was too stressful. But it was early, the restaurants hadn’t yet started filling up… and so I headed a little further up to my long-term favourite, La Oliva. I’ve always loved taking groups of friends to La Oliva for the friendly service, the quaint little wooden white tables and chairs lined up on the cobbled streets, the yummy Iberico pork pluma with ginger and the mega-macaroons for dessert. Not to mention the friendly service from owner Lisa – who basically grew up running around this square, when her parents were running the restaurant. Lisa understands the magic of the plaza – she could have easily left Ibiza and gone to France or Germany to pursue other interests, but the pull of not just her home island, but her home square was too strong, and she stayed in Ibiza to take over the family business.
I love a happy ending – and so it was the perfect place to sit and write a blog! By now, I was feeling very comfortable restaurant-hopping (although I like to think of it as office hopping) my way round the square, but the next time I was ready to take my laptop out on a date, it started raining just as I left the house. Regular readers of my blog also know I love the rain in Ibiza, however, my laptop (as you can imagine) does not. BINGO! I knew exactly where to go – the Alice in Wonderland-esque surrounds of La Dispensa. Most people love this restaurant for its sheepskin-clad chairs (at this time of year anyway) and magical fairylit, European vibes but I find the whimsical interior to be so inspiring. And protected! While giant awnings keep the chairs on the cobbled streets sheltered from the rain, when you’ve got your life’s work in your hands, you need to be under a firm roof. And thus, La Dispensa became my office away from office.
And this leads me to last night. I’d been out on a photo shoot in an out-of-town location and I was walking down the winding cobbled streets from my car to my house, thinking about how I knew there was no food in my fridge (again) and no gas bottles to turn the stove on (again). And as I walked past the lovely vine-covered terrace of El Portalon – j-u-u-s-t outside of the square like a secret hidden gem – the lovely manager Leah poked her head through some trees and tempted me inside for a glass of wine. The vino was indeed tempting but those emails inside my computer weren’t going to answer themselves, so again, I found myself setting up a temporary office (less than 50 metres from my back door!) and tap, tap, tapping away until midnight. The word on the cobbled streets here is that El Portalon is definitely going to be the first restaurant in Ibiza to be awarded a Michelin star – I’m no food critic, but the food is pretty damn special and looks like a work of art, so I hope they do.
That first glass of wine led to a few more, plus some delicious snacks and once again I found myself skipping down the alleyway to my house and going straight to bed, happy and full (and perhaps even a little bit tipsy). I know this chilled out reverie can’t last all season – come August, I’ll need a reservation to eat in any of these places, rather than just walking in when I’m hungry, and the rowdy tourists will ultimately make it a little too hard to concentrate. But I’m going to keep on enjoying it just as long as I can. There are so many more restaurants on my list I am yet to try: Plaza del Sol, La Scala, El Bistro, La Torreta, El Carbonero, La Esquina… so many restaurants, so much amazing food to try, and so little time – at least they open until the end of October these days. If you’re walking through Dalt Vila on a weeknight in the next few months and you see a girl who looks like she’s on a romantic dinner date with her laptop (the glass of red wine is the dead giveaway) – come say hi! I can assure you, it will take a lot to tempt me outside the fortress walls to eat ever again. Like my favourite movie character of all time said when she woke up from her time in Oz: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.”