The Diamonds of Dalt Vila A guide to dining in the Old Town
– or how I drank and ate my way through Old Town.
For me there is no place on earth where going out is such an adventure like it is on Ibiza. The White Island is known all over the world for its exuberant night clubs, and in the summer season the world’s best DJs descend on the island, making it the ultimate destination for clubbers. But not only are the big discotheques out of this world, for me its fascination lies in the many little culinary gems you find all over the island: the relaxed beach bars where I can spend hours lying in a hammock sipping Sangria while watching the pretty beach boys and girls coming and going. Or the laid back bohemian vegan and organic restaurants that inspire places all around the world with their healthy and super-stylish concepts. Or the charming Spanish Tapas bars where the locals sit to meet and eat, drink, and simply enjoy life. Not only do I consider myself a foodie, but also as someone who loves spending hours with friends talking over a lovely meal. There are fantastic restaurants on every corner of the island, but what visitors and even locals tend to neglect – is Ibiza’s old town. The difficult parking situation that most historical cities face doesn’t help, especially in high season when all the cruise ship passengers are shoving their way through the tiny cobbled streets, fighting for the best tables. However, visiting Dalt Vila – the ancient “Upper town” – is an absolute must when you visit Ibiza. I’ll tell you why . . .
My adventure started quite harmlessly in the famous Croissant Show. The French bakery does what it says on the tin – it’s breakfast with a bit of a ‘show’. Andres, the owner with his Dali-esque moustache, seems to know everybody who passes by on this sunny April afternoon. It’s not crowded yet at this time of the year and most of the guests sitting at the little bistro tables outside are locals. Here it seems like there is no hard-and-fast rule what constitutes breakfast time, and while I am enjoying my café con leche the tables around me are filled with deliciously looking butter croissants and pain au chocolats. But it’s not only the proper French food that impresses me, it is the unique view of the Portal de Ses Taules. The dramatic main entrance to the old castle is up a slope, crossing a drawbridge through the arch, flanked by mighty statues in Roman stone. I have climbed my way up to the ancient castle before, but the panoramic views from this UNESCO World Heritage site are so magnificent that I decide to leave the bistro to explore the area behind these old walls once again. The colourful gift shops and art galleries on the walk up to the cathedral are treasure troves of unusual and unique works by talented local crafts people. Many residents live in these tiny houses, and the balconies are filled with geraniums and colourfully draped clothes lines. But since my mission is to eat and drink my way through town today, I can’t stop to shop and am heading straight to the next spot right at the top of the stairs: S’Escalinata. Mellow Reggae beats are coming out of the opened wooden doors. The message written on them with big white letters matches the music: ‘Don’t worry be happy’, or ‘Eat, Drink & Love’. Sounds inviting, and there is one seat free on the terrace at the top of the wide steps. People sit on neon pink or green sandbag cushions and colourful canvas benches enjoying a stunning view over the city. The pretty young waitress can’t speak English, but the jugs of Sangria she carries from the kitchen, speak for themselves. Very tempting, but I have a long night ahead of me, and opt for a green detox smoothie and home made guacamole. As the sun goes down, it quickly becomes cold and windy, so I leave this green Hipster home behind me to slowly make my way back down. Plaza del Sol is just around the corner and all set for summer: colourful filled fruit baskets are lined up to the entrance and the potted yukka palms give the “Plaza” a Mexican touch. The smell of the lemons and oranges and the promising handprinted Cocktail and Tapas signs make me want to sit down in the cosy corner with the handmade quirky furniture. But I want something less hippiesc now so I just make a note to myself about this little gem, enthroned here on the hills of Dalt Vila overlooking the entire port and city.
I am heading towards La Oliva for the second round of tapas before meeting a friend for dinner. Usually, a plan like that ends with me not remembering much the next day. But I am a writer, that’s what I get paid for. Not that it would need that much work experience in that field, but I have learned that a solid foundation can work miracles when things are getting serious. La Oliva is considered a classic on the island, and although its been here for almost 30 years,I’ve never managed to visit. But now I understand why locals and tourists keep coming back to this Mediterranean food temple: this is one of the most romantic set-ups I have ever seen. Situated in the main square, surrounded by the legendary walls of Dalt Vila, guests sit on white chairs at simple but nicely decorated tables right on the pavement terrace. Red roses grow all over the old bright white building with its pink arched doors and windows.
While I’m enjoying a glass of white wine and a bowl of light zucchini noodles with Parmesan cheese and roasted almonds, Razvan tells me he’s been a waiter here here for five seasons; the spaghetti Lobster flambéed in whiskey definitely sounds like a winner, but I need to keep my appetite high and the expenses low, so I stick to the starter while listening to Razvan’s story. He moved here from Romania after university to meet people and gain some experience, but like so many others, the island became his summer home. “Now, it is still an easy job” he says but when the season is in full swing from May onwards he wouldn’t have time to sit with me at the table and talk. I know how busy the streets become later in the year, and I have no doubt that the tips he’ll make then will be higher than his hourly rate. He worked his first season in one of the big beach clubs, but prefers the quieter atmosphere here, where the clients are older and also more generous, especially the Americans. Being half American I feel obliged now, and leave him a good tip on my way out.
My friend is waiting for me now at the Rebel Ibiza clothes shop, which is not far away. He designed the logo for the shop and has been invited for an aperitif to celebrate the opening. The two German owners, René and René, welcome us into their old townhouse boutique designed to look like a funky living room – with its little bar corner behind the counter, glimmering disco dresses on the hanging rails, and a huge metallic globe on the accessories table. I want to try a black see-through dress with leather details just to get a glimpse of that shady night creature feeling. But I fear that tiny tight thing won’t fit anyways and René no.1 is already pouring round two. People are popping in from the Michelin Restaurant next door to wish them good luck for the new season, and René no. 2 is telling some anecdotes about the parties in the store last season after hours (which I should not repeat here). Since we don’t want to spoil their first after hours celebration of this year, and feel like it’s overly due to line our stomachs, we make our way to La Bodega.
The Ibicencan tapas restaurant is well known in town, and obdurate smokers sit on the terrace despite the still chilly spring temperatures at night. But the view from the outside tables towards the castle is outstanding. So is the inside of the former storehouse: the ancient walls are beautifully decorated with paintings from local artists, and objets from all five continents are placed in many corners. A colourful painting of an old Ibicenco playing the sitar while riding a tiger into the moonlight covers one of the walls. A mirror gallery hangs on the other side, reflecting the colourful table set ups like kaleidoscopes, and the atmosphere on this Friday night is buzzing. The tables are full, tablets? are flying in and out of the kitchen – one crashing on the floor leaving a lake of alcohol behind. It doesn’t matter, the Spanish waitress has it cleaned up before the applause has stopped . Then she sees us, and thanks to my friend’s Spanish skills we get the tiny table next to a bachelorette party. The night is still young, and the women are just warming up – no pink plastic penises or veils around, just some decent Tapas plates on the table and carafes of wine. The dishes look mouth-watering and with all that rosé rushing through my blood I feel like eating them all. Remembering my Granny’s words not to let my eyes grow bigger than the stomach, we choose to share sweet potato and aubergine hummus with vegetable sticks, the obligatory Spanish olives and burrata – a delicious creamy kind of Mozzarella. With this perfect foundation laid, and some nightspots to cross off my list, we decide that it’s time to move on.
With many bars like the popular Zoo Bar or Paradise Lost still being closed until May, we just drift through the narrow streets close to the sea, trusting the magical energy on this island to lead us to the right place. And guess what? We found a bright diamond among all the other gems: Boodiou. This very stylish rural place run by two French guys, only opened a week ago, and they hadn’t even had time yet to put a sign up, or do any kind of advertising. Looking at it, they won’t need to. They did an impressive job renovating, and doing everything themselves. And when I say everything, I mean from the hanging lamps made of old keyrings to the wooden swinging bench to fermenting the alcohol itself! The French family has their own distillery named Bowls, close to Montpellier, where they produce rum, gin, whiskey and vodka. Tony and Hadrien both worked in gastronomy all their lives – Hadrien as a chef in the south of France, Tony as a bartender all over the world – previously in Hong Kong. With Boodiou – which means the multi-purpose f-word in old French – they made their dream of a shared place on Ibiza come true. It is a dream, indeed. All ingredients come from local farmers, and the menu varies daily. I try the organic pea soup with goat’s cheese, while my friend has clams in a lemongrass-curry vinaigrette with coconut foam, a sauce just blows us away! The cocktails are made with organic products, and we can’t help ourselves but try a few different ones. Hard to say (or remember) my favourite, but the ‘Twisted Sister’ certainly is a palate conqueror. Made from aged gin, two different kind of chantreuse, fresh pomegranate juice and some honey from a local beekeeper – or should I say beedoctor? Tony tells me that he will try the doctor’s beespike-acupuncture himself after the season, when he’ll need a treatment to recover from hard work. Some might find this slightly dubious, but this is Ibiza, and dubious cases are on the daily agenda. If it got dubious in our case later on that night I will keep you guessing: what happens on Ibiza, stays on Ibiza…