Ibiza restaurants: Cala Bonita – Sharing modern traditions
The ancient Greeks used to say we should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink. Modern Ibiza dwellers would add look for somewhere beautiful too and in 2017, that perfect place has been found: Cala Bonita’s new tapas bar, featuring a menu specially designed for sharing.
When it came time to find someone to head up the kitchen, the brains behind Cala Bonita knew chef Dani Ramirez was undoubtedly the best man for the job. He grew up in a small city near Barcelona, in the Sant Fruitos de Bages region, where as a child he was surrounded by an abundance of cousins, aunts and uncles spanning generations. He knows a lot about sharing good food and good company. “In my house we always sit down together to eat,” says Dani. “That’s what we are recreating here.”
Dani credits his truck-driving father as his inspiration in work and life. “He would cook for us every weekend,” he says. “He always loved to investigate new things. I cooked with him from the age of seven. He was my motivation.” Unable to afford culinary school, Dani learnt from books and as many small courses as he could get to. Then, like all passionate artists, he got to work and learned on the job.
Cala Bonita’s new tapas bar sits adjacent to the main dining terrace and opens towards the sparking sea and golden sands of the beach. It’s a small yet egalitarian space with a long communal table in the centre and a high bar around the sides. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from,” Dani continues. “The most important thing for us is that you come and share food, laugh and enjoy each other’s company.”
The menu reflects Dani’s insatiable curiosity for cuisine. He loves traditional food and often finds himself craving his mother’s lentils. “I look for flavours from back in time. From our grandmothers and mothers,” he says. “But I always give it a spin. My cooking is about discovering new ways to do old things.” The Cala Bonita tortilla is a prime example of Dani’s experimentation – a fluffy pillow that when cut into seeps a creamy potato and truffle purée.
“The produce here in Ibiza is so fresh, it’s easy to love everything,” enthuses Dani. The tomato salad is a case in point. It comes cut into a perfect cube, topped with radish, marinated onion, flower petals and home cured tuna. It’s juicy and refreshing. “It’s just a tomato!” he says. “But it has the most incredible taste. It’s amazing. We use everything fresh and treat it with respect. That way it always comes out pleasing to the palate.”
Cala Bonita’s main restaurant has a wide selection of fresh fish and seafood and the tapas bar is not going to forgo that – rather, it complements it. A firm favourite are the scallops that sit tantalisingly on the plate surrounded by a surprising mango and ginger purée with a smear of parsley sauce. Crowned with a sprinkle of roe and delicate flower petals they are as pretty as it is delicious.
Octopus is a feature item on menus all across the island but you’re unlikely to have tried it like this before. Chargrilled to perfection, tender and light it sits on a hearty smear of purple potato purée. Playing with colour and texture comes naturally to Dani. “When I make a plate I have this spectrum of colours and tastes,” he explains. “It’s fun to make something look beautiful and taste good as well.”
The traditional is never far away. Boquerones (vinegared anchovies) at Cala Bonita are like boquerones anywhere except they come out of the kitchen looking like a work of art. Cross stitched onto the plate with tiny dollops of parsley sauce and spoonful’s of the freshest chopped tomatoes you’ll ever taste. Scoop up these tasty gifts of the sea with hunks of chunky bread and don’t forget to wipe the fragrant olive oil off the plate when you’re done.
True to his mission, Dani has recreated well-loved tapas into a modern-day art form. Patatas Bravas are thinly sliced crispy skewers served with a chunky Romesco sauce and traditional ‘broken eggs’ are topped with salty caviar. Carnivores will get right into the mini Angus burgers with truffle mayo and the grilled Iberico pork fillet with a foie cream. And for purity, you just can’t go past fresh oysters.
Innovation leads towards tasty variance in the shape of a faro salad with baby vegetables and a baby spinach and strawberry salad topped with miso vinaigrette. While tapas rarely includes dessert options, there are times when a mini sugar hit is just what ‘s needed. Creamy rice pudding with cinnamon foam is not quite how grandma made it but even she would be a convert, especially if she also has a spoonful of the Spanish bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream.
Sipping on a glass of wine or a cocktail, sharing good food and laughter with friends and family is quite possibly the reason for living. Doing it here, at Cala Bonita on the shores of the Mediterranean in the warm and capable hands of Dani Ramirez is most definitely heaven on earth.