La Dispensa – Where creativity knows no bounds
The iconic old town of Ibiza, Dalt Vila, stands proudly above the city and port – a walled fortress that once served the purpose of keeping people away, but today welcomes one and all to enjoy its lively atmosphere, having been named a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site in 1999.
The main square is famous for its cobbled streets chock-full of restaurants and street performers, an area that really comes alive as the sun goes down. It boasts a tight-knit restaurant community, with most of the eateries having been in place for many, many years, so when hip new restaurant concept – La Dispensa – took over quite a hefty stretch of the strip last summer, it certainly got locals and visitors talking.
Deservedly so, as the beautiful restaurant is nothing less than a labour of love for owners José Luis and Christian. The partners – who boast international backgrounds in business and property – simply stumbled across the site, formerly a boutique, when it was just an empty shell and were inspired to create something special.
“It wasn’t like we set out to open a restaurant,” explains José Luis, when asked of his inspiration. “It was the place. We looked at each other and knew we could do something very special, very different here. And it was then we proposed the idea of turning it into a restaurant.” Avid foodies, José Luis and Christian have dined in the world’s finest restaurants so when it came to creating their very own, the only limit was their imagination.
“We developed the restaurant in the way you would a house, or any project – piece by piece,” he continues. “We wanted to offer the opposite to the very minimal trend. We wanted to find a sense of authenticity that was true to the Dalt Vila location. This area is really important.” The fusion of vintage and modern décor, contemporary graphics with a centuries-old visual aesthetic, classic and artistic is a successful one, making La Dispensa one of the most cutting edge restaurants on the island.
Completely hands-on through every step of the process, José Luis and Christian have put their personal stamp on every element – from the décor and menu design to the staff uniforms, and of course, the creative a la carte menu. “We are perfectionists,” admits José Luis, when speaking of the original development. “We want to present a first class product in every aspect. The decoration came through shopping. We didn’t really know what we wanted, but then we saw door somewhere, and followed that door. We saw a chair and we wanted that chair. Then in Lisbon we were in a restaurant with a really amazing lamp and it gave is the inspiration to create this,” he says, gesturing towards the stunning light installation at the bar in the Art Deco inspired restaurant interior.
The stylish and unusual staff uniforms were another flash of genius. “We wanted something medieval, in the spirit of Dalt Vila, but with a fashion touch. A friend of ours is a designer, so we told him what we wanted, then set up a fitting.” The result – loose orange cotton pirate shirts teamed with long pants, teamed with an asymmetrical leather apron that is a true style statement, as the staff stand together in the cobbled streets handing out broadsheet style menus as souvenirs to passers-by and customers alike.
“The menu idea came when we were sitting in Balthazar in New York, eating oysters,” says José Luis. “We wanted to make something like a diary, something people could take home with them.” It makes a pretty impressive holiday souvenir, inset with quirky design details such as a lion tamer facing a chicken, an octopus wearing a top hat, a strongman holding a fork and other whimsical illustrations – it’s all very down the rabbit hole! The dessert menu goes one step further, printed on its own sheet backed with vintage style paper doll cut-outs, subtly advertising the soon-to-be-opened haute couture boutique.
Speaking of menus, of course it is the cuisine that is the star of the show at La Dispensa. Five pages of sensational cuisine options, tailored to suit all budgets, appetites and dietary requirements that once again reflect the personal input of Christian and José Luis. It is Christian who works closely with the chef to ensure every last detail is just right – from the fresh, local organic produce sourced daily from the market and highest quality Italian ingredients.
Developing the menu was a matter of personal taste. “We love to eat. We wanted to create something different. Instead of a typical lasagne with ragu or vegetables, we decided to use duck instead – the result is ‘wow’,” says José Luis, who tells us the menu is continuing to evolve, with the addition of a flambé sushi bar to cater to those with a taste for the Orient in 2016.
A selection of tapas is available for those looking for a light bite – perfect for the late afternoons, when La Dispensa is open early from 7pm. All the classic – patatas bravas, pimientos de padron, aubergine parmigiana, pulpo a la Gallega, jamon Iberico… the authentic taste of Spain starts here.
Sharing platters (‘para picar’) include crispy calamari with citrus mayonnaise, Santoña anchovies served in a sweet honey vinaigrette, black olive butter and crostini, foie mi-cuit with delectable homemade jam, clams with sautéed mushrooms and the finest hand-cut Spanish Bellota (acorn fed) jamon with bread and fresh tomato… feeling hungry yet?
Starters come under the typical Italian antipasti header, but the dishes themselves are anything but typical. Of course, there are crowd pleasers like a luxe Burrata from Puglia and a chilled Ibizan tomato soup with mascarpone, beef carpaccio with pine nuts plus red prawns served with local rock salt. But it’s the knife-cut beef tartar served with a drizzle of truffle oil that literally melts in your mouth; the salmon tartar with papaya and mango that is at once tropical and Mediterranean; the squid stuffed with bread, capers, eggs and peas that creates an unforgettable taste sensation in your mouth and the incredible warm octopus salad with potato and Kalamata olives inspired by the traditional pulpo a la gallega, but given the La Dispensa twist by presenting it in a tartar style. It is these dishes, that really start to showcase the kitchen’s creativity.
Over to the next page of the newspaper style menu, the authentic Italian flair of La Dispensa really comes into play in the pasta and rice menu. The aforementioned duck confit lasagne is no doubt the star of the show, followed closely by another house special, Ravioli La Dispensa – stuffed with ricotta, mushroom and caramelised pork with fresh tomato sauce. José Luis swears by the linguine de gragnano with fresh seafood, and vegetarians are also well-catered to with an amazing mushroom risotto among other dishes.
If you still have room for secondi – and trust us, it’s worth saving space for – the main menu is simply to die for. The rack of local lamb in a Provençal crust is at once sweet and savoury; the sea bream baked in a paper sachet with capers, black olives and fresh tomatoes with white wine is softly aromatic; the beef tenderloin with foie and caramelised melon is both hearty and delicate. Playing with flavours and textures is a signature of each dish – and the presentation is (just like the restaurant) art in itself.
No good meal goes unfinished without a dessert or a cocktail and La Dispensa pride themselves on their homemade sweet treats – with a variety of healthy and decadent alike.
Visiting La Dispensa is a truly magical experience. From the moment you start walking up through the square to see the pretty pink illuminated palm tree, to the exceptional service with wait staff who interpret your every need. None of this is by chance. Just as with the restaurant creation, the staff selection process is strict, with each member of staff boasting much experience, many languages and an in-depth knowledge of the story behind La Dispensa.
“It’s very exciting,” finishes José Luis, looking around at his magical kingdom in a ‘castle’. “It’s a new phase in our lives and has been a very strong experience so far. We are always thinking. Everything is a challenge. But we love it. We love the chance to be creative.”
*Watch this space in the following months to discover more in-depth reviews of the creative La Dispensa cuisine concept.