Sa Capella – Worshipping at the altar of gastronomy

On a fateful day in 1978, as two friends in Ibiza were following the local custom of searching for wild asparagus in the hills of San Antonio, they stumbled across an ancient looking, abandoned building, overgrown with wildflowers and weeds. Call it luck, or call it divine intervention but Vicente Roselló Prats turned to Carlos García Sorá and stated with certainty: “You know what Carlos? Let’s make a restaurant here.”

The two friends then set on the path to ownership of the building (after they’d gone home and eaten their asparagus of course), which turned out to be an un-consecrated church that had first been erected in the 16th century. The last known resident was Doña Pepita – an elderly lady who allegedly wasn’t afraid of ghosts and lived there with her menagerie of pets – and who had passed away peacefully in one of the side chapels (where her picture still remains to this day) leaving the property up for grabs.

Hold up – ghosts? Yes, legend has it one of the reasons the local residents of the area hadn’t ever wanted the church to be consecrated was that while it was being constructed, the workers would arrive onsite to find their tools were never in the same place they’d left them the night before, among other noises and general elvish tomfoolery. Today, they say Doña Pepita’s ghost has joined them and likes to hang out in one of the chapels and occasionally delights in breaking a few glasses for no apparent reason.

Hauntings and myths aside, one thing is for certain. Once Vicente and Carlos had established their business in the building, it grew to become one of the island’s most iconic fine dining destinations – definitely the original. The setting itself is undeniably breathtaking, including a gorgeous alfresco setting in addition to the showstopping interior, which respects the heritage and architecture of the building. A single doorway leads diners inside, where a single, remarkable beam of ancient Sabina wood supports high ceilings and walls of hand-hewn stone. Tables bathed in a glimmering, golden light stretch towards what would have originally been the altar, and small chapels have been transformed into dining alcoves, the kitchen and bar areas alike.

Instead of the accoutrements of a parochial church there is a magnificent sculpture by Antonio Hormigo. The piece, entitled Matter and Spirit, is cut from an olive tree trunk and represents the male and female forms. It has been in place at the Sa Capella altar since the first day of business and for the owners, staff and diners alike it forms part of the soul of this amazing restaurant. Many of Sa Capella’s loyal customers have become friends, so much so that several tables are no longer numbered but have taken on the names of devoted diners who return week after week, year after year, celebrating the every-day as well as the special occasions in life.

Part of the charm of Sa Capella comes in the form of its loyal and dedicated staff, many of whom have been on the team for over 20 years. Dressed in the traditional Ibicenco costume of white linen trousers, white shirt, red peasant sash and kerchief at the neck, they are a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the restaurant’s cuisine culture and can often instinctively know what you want even before you’ve ordered it.

For a restaurant to stand the test of time such as Sa Capella however, its virtues must extend beyond the aesthetic, and it is the famous menu of the restaurant that is at the heart of its reputation. Head chef Agostine Royal has been at the helm for almost 20 years, serving up Mediterranean specialties such as roast suckling pig, beef carpaccio, grilled Ibiza prawns and salt-baked whole Dorada. Other acclaimed dishes include a scrumptious foie gras micuit with balsamic reduction, marinated tuna with goat’s cheese and strawberries and blue fin tuna tacos with soy, noodles and shitake mushrooms proving the restaurant is abreast of fine dining trends in addition to respecting the island’s culinary heritage. Not to be missed are the homemade desserts of which the cheesecake and the strawberry soup served with a pepper chocolate cupcake are standout choices.

37 years after that fateful day, each night at Sa Capella ends with tables of satisfied guests sipping on the restaurant’s homemade hierbas and planning their return visit – be it the next week, the next month or the next season. Worshipping at the church of gastronomy is a way of life at Sa Capella, and one that belongs as much in Ibiza’s culinary future as it did in the past.