Ibiza restaurants: Boutique Hostal Salinas – All fired up
Restaurant Boutique Hostal Salinas is one of the island’s best kept gastronomic secrets. For years, it’s been forging relationships with visiting foodies and in-the-know islanders, based around the ethos of serving up great quality food (in particular Galician-inspired seafood), with warm and welcoming service in a fun, social ambience. Forget bells and whistles – the ingredients on your plate do all the talking, while good old fashioned word of mouth continues to grow their reputation.
In 2017, the culinary offerings within the Las Salinas hotel, lounge bar and restaurant have been taken to the next level with the introduction of the all-new OFYR outdoor grill. The cutting-edge piece of equipment was created by Dutch entrepreneurs, inspired by a discovery made by Swiss archaeologists, who recently uncovered evidence of the methods ancient cavemen used to prepare their food. The grill itself is a beautiful centrepiece on the Boutique Hostal Salinas open-air terrace – almost like a metal-based prehistoric sculpture – and turns the art of cooking into a nightly show at the hands of head chef Miguel Casals.
While the OFYR certainly looks impressive and creates a fun talking point among guests as it’s fired up for the evening of cooking ahead, it’s the quality and flavours of the produce that come off it that are the real stars of the show at Boutique Hostal Salinas. “What you get for your money is a good plate of food,” declares co-owner Duesi Wolfmeir – and he’s not wrong. Diners can custom order a combination of the very freshest seafood, shellfish, meat and veggies to be cooked on the OFYR – accessibly priced according to daily market prices – or indulge in a degustation style feast of the chef’s recommendations, then kick back and enjoy the multi-sensorial experience as it unfolds in front of their eyes.
It starts as Casals meticulously prepares the circular metal surface of the grill – glossing it with locally-made olive oil and piling generous mounds of sea salt from the nature reserves just next door onto its smooth surface – as thick chunks of wood burn bright in its centre. Behind him is a prep table chock-full of colour and texture – brightly coloured Mediterranean fresh-cut veggies sit alongside thick bunches of freshly picked herbs, while an array of mussels, clams, sardines and deep purple octopus await their moment in the spotlight. Wine and whiskey are also an integral part of the process… but not sipped from a glass, the way one may expect.
The rich, smoky scent of the wood evokes a sense of nostalgia, like childhood summer barbecues or bonfires on the beach at night. The circular-shaped fire pit is filled with different types of blazing wood to directly influence the smoky flavours of the meat and fish cooked atop its surface. As the heat radiates from the centre to the edge of the grill, the heat ranges from 200 to 300 degrees allowing the chef different levels of control in his cooking. In addition to smoking and simultaneously grilling the food on the OFYR, the food can also be vaporised or flambéed by pouring liquids over the top. But more on that, later…
As the chef begins to layer his produce onto the grills, the aromas that waft across the hotel are truly mouthwatering and the sizzling sounds create a sense of anticipation amongst those gathered around the tall tables surrounding the grill. Sprinkling one pile of sea salt with orange and lemon peel, and another with fresh sprigs of rosemary, he creates perfectly symmetrical piles of mussels and clams on one side (atop the salt) while the sliced veggies are slow-cooked on the other. Sardines come next, elegantly placed side by side, the flames adding further iridescence to their skin. Plump octopus tentacles lie in between the veggies and the fish – and it’s worth noting that one of the special design elements of the OFYR is that it is built at j-u-s-t the right angle, tipping downwards into the fire, so that the juices from each section never run into one another on the grill’s surface, ideal for groups incorporating vegetarians, meat and fish lovers alike.
Duesi credits Miguel’s Galician heritage for his ability to source seafood so near perfect it needs little to no accompaniment. “The simplicity of Galician cuisine is what’s so amazing,” he explains. “They know all the secrets of the sea – what area to look in to find a certain size sardine or what water temperature creates a better quality of fish. Growing up and knowing really good food is just normal to them.” Sharing his skills and knowledge with the clientele at Boutique Hostal Salinas brings Casals even more joy, and as he adds rosemary to the flames, and covers some mussels with fresh basil leaves and ripe, juicy cherry tomatoes, you can see the enjoyment in his eyes.
At this point, some of the clams are covered in a tray, allowing them to vaporise within. As he lifts it up – like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his hat – they’ve magically popped open, the little chunks of juicy flesh within ready to be savoured immediately. White wine is poured over the mussels, easing the shells open and creating a succulent texture of meat that means no sauce is required on top, as is usually custom. The combination of olive oil, fresh tomato and basil add that Mediterranean magic to the mussels – and as they’re scooped off the grill and delivered directly to your table, it becomes apparent that there really is no fresher or faster way to dine on the island.
As diners tuck into their tasty morsels, the sardines are oh-so-carefully flipped to the other side, revealing their ultra-cripsy, salty grilled skin. Now it’s the octopus’s turn to shine, and Miguel expertly slices the tentacle while it’s still on the grill’s surface, placing each little round slice on a toothpick, Galician style, ready to be taken over to the tables. The contrasting textures and flavours within these small morsels are amazing – super crunchy and salty on the outside, while sweet and soft in the centre. It’s quite possible to believe that once you’ve tried this dish, you’ll never want to eat octopus prepared another way.
As the veggies are transferred to a platter and each fat sardine has been slow-cooked to perfection, guests can be heard ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the sweet, smoky and savoury flavour combinations. Washed down with an icy cold crisp white wine, or a light, chilled organic red (there’s no right or wrong, according to Duesi, when it comes to selecting a colour of wine to go with your grill), the overall experience is like nothing else on the island. With the fun sharing aspect of tapas and the action-style entertainment of live cooking, plus your own choice of meat, fish and vegetables cooked in uniquely Mediterranean flavours, it’s a great option for group celebrations, staff dinners (end of season is nigh!), birthday parties or apres-beach get togethers.
While the food – hand selected at market by Casals and then prepared with love and attention on the OFYR – is indeed incredible, it’s just one piece of the Boutique Hostal Salinas package. As the sun goes down over the hills of the nature reserve behind the hotel and a silence settles over Salinas for the night, DJs spin Balearic beats within the hotel courtyard and a buzz starts to build amongst those who know it’s the place to be after dark. Combined with the warm and personal service delivered by the owners, the hearty belly laughs that come when you spend quality time with good friends, it’s easy to see why people return year after year to this gastronomic and social hotspot.
Reservations for the OFYR grill experience should be made at least three hours in advance, to allow time to source the right produce, plus get the grill fired up to its full potential (a process that takes around two hours). The open fire pit of the OFYR also creates an intimate ambience, and is perfect for those late summer nights when the breeze picks up over the area. Like moths to a flame, guests are immediately drawn to the grill – the experience could almost be considered contagious!