Thursday, 24 September 2015

An Ibizian Interlude

I have to confess, of all the places I have ever wanted to visit in the big wide world, Beefa was never one of them. For such a tiny isle, it packs a big punch and it seems everyone I know has gone there, many of them multiple times. But for every person that spoke about the 'unspoilt north', or told me 'it's not all about the super clubs', I couldn't fail to get the thoughts of short shorts, fish bowls and Paris Hilton coated in foam (shudder) out of my head.

But then #emilyandnigelaregettingmarried happened, and the venue was on a beach in one of their favourite places, the White Isle. Not wanting to miss one of the parties of the year (and realising, due to impending old age, the idea of an all-nighter at a super club soon wouldn't exist, if i wanted to go or not) I packed my straw hat and shades, downed a few lagers at the airport, and got down on it.

I'd like to say it wasn't all late night dancing and days spent in bed or by the pool, but it mostly was. We did, however manage to rouse ourselves to see some of the delights of Ibiza, and I can confirm it is a very beautiful place. Our villa, high up in the hills in the sleepy town of San Josep, was gorgeous and Ibiza old town (now a UNESCO heritage site), far away from the flashy marina and the frozen pina coladas (which were also very good) is well worth a tour.

While the trip may not have provided haute cuisine, from the serrano ham flavour crisps eaten in bed (surely a culinary highlight of any holiday), to a gorgeous wedding breakfast, we ate plenty of good grub; Here are some of the best bites.

Breakfast most days, alongside some of the best chocolate croissants I have eaten, was sobrassada, a raw, cured sausage made with pork and paprika that's a specialty of the Balearics. Unlike most sausages, the sobrassada remains almost pate-like inside, a result of the curing conditions (high humidity and mild cold) which are typical of the late Balearic climate.

The size of the sausages range from thin winter sobrassada, stuffed into intestines, right up to bisbe (or bishops) that are stuffed into large pig's bladders and made in the warmer months. The one I picked up from the supermarket deli stood somewhere in between the two, and was rather good spread onto crusty bread and served with a handful of sweet Mediterranean tomatoes, especially with the view from our veranda across to Sa Talaiassa.

Another local dish is the ensaimada, a spiral of coiled dough made with saïm, or a type of reduced pork fat. Apparently you can tell a true ensaïmada if it stains a piece of paper with the lard - how you would differentiate between  the mark made by lard compared to another fat, it isn't clear.

I tried the traditional ensaimada, which, if I'm honest, was underwhelming when compared to the rest of the pastries we sampled from the local baker's counter. Apparently you can also get filled versions, stuffed with pastry cream, chocolate or strands of candied pumpkin. Even better, you may also find greixonera, a kind of bread pudding made with yesterday's stale ensaimada, eggs, cream and cinnamon (yeah, if you ever manage to see daylight and or make it outside the villa - TE).

On our cultural day - which, of course, was also the greyest - we made it out to Cala d'Hort (thanks for The Ewing for transporting us) (that's ok - TE) a small, secluded cove on the western coast with great views of the tiny island of Es Vedra.

There's two restaurants at Cala d'Hort, del Carmen down on the beach and Es Boldado, our choice, up on the cliff. As is fitting for a seaside gaff, the menu offers a whole gamut of fish and seafood dishes, with a particular focus on rice dishes including arroz a la marinera (fisherman's rice); Arroz negro (black rice) and Arroz ciego ('blind' or boneless rice) alongside the Ibizian specialty Bullit de peix con arroz a banda, a bright yellow fish stew that was flying out the kitchen on our trip.

Of course, as Brits we couldn't come to Spain and not order the Paella. We chose the mixta, featuring both meat and seafood, and after twenty minutes drinking cold Mahou and eating green olives, bread and obscenely garlicky aioli, our lunch was ready.

Ropy photo aside (hen party 'jinks' had seen both my phone and camera end up at the bottom of the swimming pool, leaving me at the mercy of the Ewing's cracked and battered iPhone) (think yourself lucky you had a phone to borrow - TE) this was exemplary. a mixture of chicken, crab, prawns, langoustine (which always look so beautiful, but taste, oddly, of not much), mussels, and chunks of squid in a saffron and squid ink infused savoury rice with just the right amount of stodginess.

While there are, reportedly, still plenty of hidden 'foodie' gems, Ibiza has won it's party reputation for a reason - with sustenance often coming off second best to giant gin and tonics and beach-side dj sets. That said, who could resist the copious menus offering pizza, pasta and things served with chips. 

Our local haunt in San Josep did a good crab tagliatelle and rigatoni amatriciana and also got extra points for serving the cava in wine glasses and graciously putting up with our raucous pre-hen party. We also ate decent pizza in Ibiza old town, topped with blue cheese sausage and broccoli (my one concession to green vegetables during the week) with raspberry panacotta and a round of limoncello on the house.

We also had a - slightly stressful to organise, with people coming from all across the island - but ultimately lovely - pre-wedding dinner at Pinocchio's, again in Ibiza old town. I had a fabulous classic holiday salad, topped with grated carrot, olives, tuna, ham, sweetcorn and a lone white asparagus spear followed by a decent milanese cutlet with proper chips and a couple of bottles of rioja.

After our exploits over the previous week it was a miracle we made it so fresh faced (or at all) to the wedding; the bride and groom both looked radiant, the location was stunning, the photographer (and a few of the congregation, sitting in the sunshine) was hot, and the 'sand man' was a legend.

It was also the only wedding I have been to with pedalos, or should that be 'wedalos'. Whatever you might call them, they were great fun, as were the classic garage tunes and bad wedding dance moves ala Croydon circa 1999.

Possibly the thing I had been most looking forward to all week was the 'sea bream a la mama' recommended by the bride to be when they made a little recce to the venue and sampled the food earlier in the year. It didn't disappoint - despite drunkenly swallowing several bones - with the bed of roasted tomatoes the fish nestled on being an unexpected delight.

The rest of the food was equally delightful, from the sharing platters - bowls of mussels, veggie stacks and buttery salmon pate with bread sticks - to start and ending with an assiette of deserts, a sorbet, a perfectly judged chocolate and sour cherry fondant and one of the best creme brulees I have eaten. (Fellow guests, please feel free to correct me on the menu recollection; horrible pictures with flash and lots of white sangria can lead to unreliable memories...)

They say you haven't lived until you've drunk coconut liquer out of a ring-shaped, flashing shot glass, or something. And of course, no right thinking bunch of sensible individuals fast approaching their mid-thirties would turn down a luminous thimbles of petrol. Just as well really, as we seemed to be offered quite a few of them. 

So a huge congratulations to Mr and Mrs James-Walsh; it was a ball and a pleasure to be there to celebrate with you (a delight! - TE). And while I thought - at least after I got home, sat at my desk at work, head in hands - that I could never face the White Isle again, now I've had time to recover, I kinda miss the place. Here's to Ibiza 2016.

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