Ibiza restaurants: An evening with La Dispensa
Now into its third successful summer season in Ibiza, La Dispensa – the gorgeous fine dining destination in the heart of Ibiza’s UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site Dalt Vila – needs no introduction. As the very first project by the Amaribiza Group, it very quickly earned a reputation as a must-visit stop on the island’s gastronomic map and while the food is indeed incredible, there is so much more to the restaurant than initially meets the eye. An evening with La Dispensa is as much a theatrical show as it is a dining experience – however unlike cabaret or performance art restaurants, every aspect is spontaneous and therein lies the beauty. No two evenings at La Dispensa are ever alike.
For the well-dressed staff – their uniforms inspired by Medieval dress – the performance starts late in the afternoon as they meticulously set up rows of tables and chairs in the cobbled streets, carefully laying out beautifully designed placemats (each illustration different from the next) and polished cutlery, precisely laying throws and cushions on the chairs, before lighting hundreds of candles as dusk begins to fall. High fives and smiles abound as each new team member arrives for their shift – a sense of camaraderie is clearly evident. The atmosphere is one of anticipation – the night is young…
Watching the nightly spectacle unfold in Dalt Vila is a quintessential Ibiza holiday experience and reserving a table at La Dispensa guarantees a front row view. Soon after dusk, once the tables are set and the restaurant open, a buzz starts to build in the ‘plaza’ (main square) as foot traffic increases with more and more people seeking the perfect place to dine beneath the stars in an iconic location. La Dispensa is located at the top of the strip of restaurants, an expansive setting that crosses five different façades in the ancient fortress. The décor is reminiscent of an old school Italian deli or pantry, with dried herbs hanging from the roof and glass jars chock full of pickled ingredients lining the shelves within, while the interior dining spaces are like taking a trip down the rabbit hole, but it’s outside on the pavement where all the action really takes place in high summer.
Slowly but surely, passers-by drop-in for a taster of tapas – patatas bravas, pimientos de padron, vitello tonnato, artichokes, fresh mozzarella and more – as the first official seatings take place. Reservations are recommended, due to the restaurant’s popularity – and well worth it. Once darkness has truly fallen, the square truly comes alive with Mediterranean alfresco magic. Street performers flock to the area, one after the other. First, it’s the man with the accordion – you couldn’t get more of a European soundtrack if you tried. Part vaudevillian, part gypsy, part consummate professional, he plays the classics with pride and care as you sip on your first cocktail. La Dispensa’s mixologists shake and stir a range of custom designed drinks and classic cocktails alike, and if you can’t find what you like on the menu, they are only too happy to create something bespoke.
It’s around this time you’ll want to order your starters – a little pica pica to share, or perhaps something more experimental or classic: crispy calamari with citrus mayonnaise, marinara mussels with prickly tomato sauce, hand-cut bellota ham or amazing anchovies in honey vinaigrette. There is something so Ibiza about sharing a meal – the bonding that occurs as you lean over the table (‘scuse fingers!’) or pass plates around between friends. The La Dispensa experience – just like the menu – is designed to be savoured, and the antipasti course is just the beginning. Aubergine parmigiana, goat cheese salad, burrata with smoked aubergine, beef carpaccio and an array of tartars are all perfect to share.
Sitting beneath the beautifully illuminated palm trees, it’s impossible not to be moved. Here, life is beautiful and if you’ve got a hearty appetite you’ll love the classic four-course Italian style options on offer (and if not, at least you have more dishes to choose from). Primi plati includes delectable pasta and rice options, with standouts including the duck lasagne, lobster risotto and mixed seafood linguine. At the same time, you’ll be treated to the art of Capoeira from those buffed, bald or braided Brazilians, topless and toting tambourines as they take turns of cartwheeling, hand-standing, back-flipping, front-flipping and faux-fighting (more like a choreographed dance) as they sing along.
Now the time has come to focus on main dishes and at La Dispensa, there really is something for everyone – which is really what you need on a group family or friend holiday, given the range of dietary requirements, tastes and allergies in this day and age. Some standouts include sea bream baked in paper with black olives, the chef’s signature country chicken, an amazing herb-crusted rack of lamb and veal entrecote. There is also a section of the menu completely dedicated to sushi, with a sushi master slicing, dicing and rolling behind the scenes – a variety of sashimi, rolls, niguiri and even tempura on offer.
By now, the collective sound of hundreds of human voices has risen to a lively crescendo. It’s almost a soundtrack unto itself, with no need for music in any of the restaurants. Kids play together in the centre of the square, with the language of fun outweighing any language barriers between newfound friends. If you have little ones, keep your eyes out for the man selling laser toys – the most fun they’ll ever have for a fiver, though chances are they’ll lose it or break it within 20 minutes (just saying)! The rotating roster of street performers continues, including live music – think horns playing old crooner tracks from the 50s and guitarists doing bossa nova. At the same time, the impromptu local fashion parades are taking place in the square as visiting and local fashionistas dressed in their finest strut their stuff through the plaza on their way to dinner.
Over the course of your main meal, you’ll also be entertained by traditional Flamenco performers – a beautiful long-haired elderly Spanish woman whose voice is so powerful you could be moved to tears, if only you could understand the tragedy she was singing about – and opera singers, a melancholic dancer on stilts, two acrobats in vibrant Lycra hoisting hula hoops, some acoustic Metallica (don’t question it – it just works) and depending on the night, club parades with dancers dressed to the nines trying (usually successfully) to entice you onto another venue later that night. Who can blame one for getting carried along with the excitement? Spontaneity is one of the best things about Ibiza.
But before you dash off chasing dancers and dreams, La Dispensa isn’t done with you yet! Dessert is the final piece of the puzzle. There’s no rush – guests are encouraged to enjoy every last minute and savour every last mouthful. Panacotta with fresh strawberries, decadent chocolate mousses, a legendary tiramisu, a white chocolate brownie – the perfect way to end the perfect dinner. For some, this is a once in a lifetime magical experience. For others, it’s once in a season or once a month – for the very luckiest of locals, it may even be once a week and even on weekends in winter! Finally, after coffees, digestives and anything else that takes your fancy, then – only then – you can stroll back down those cobbled streets and head off into the Ibiza night…