In Ibiza’s old town, Zoë Perrett discovers Anne Sijmonsbergen’s El Portalon – a restaurant gem that’s far too good to be hidden
As we navigate Dalt Vila’s steep cobbled streets, a lone busker’s voice provides an almost-Gregorian soundtrack. The ancient sound offers a fitting welcome to Ibiza’s old hill town, where Ibiza Town’s tourist-alluring cafe bars and modern chain shops are exchanged for charming restaurants and boutiques that thrill the magpie-eyed.
It’s a fitting setting for El Portalon – the first restaurant from chef, organic farmer and author Anne Sijmonsbergen, whose Eivissa cookbook is one of the few to showcase modern Ibicencan cuisine. In line with the ethos expressed in that book, her menus are built upon local in-season produce; as much as possible of it sourced from Can Riero, her own farm in the San Llorenc valley.
The evenings are still chilly, but the street-side terrace is furnished with blankets, and the twinkly fairylights, greenery and general atmosphere of bonhomie mean there’s no way on God’s green earth we’re dining inside.
Already aware that this is a meal we’ll want to spin out, we decide a small snack is a very good idea indeed. Having been tempted – but so far resisted – many a tapas menu listing ‘croquettas (six units)’, we decide that tonight is the night. El Portalon’s are textbook examples: crunchy-shelled, creamy-interiored, worth incurring the wrath of your partner in order to nab more than your fair share.
Since we landed on the island, we’ve fallen hard for the bread, olives and allioli triumvirate that seemingly precedes every meal. Here, all three components are several cuts above the norm, causing us to tuck in rather too heartily and severely jeopardise our appetites. But we bravely soldier on.
El Portalon’s menu occupies just a single blackboard – and we’re glad. It’s all so appealing that having to make any kind of decision is already torturous, and further options would only add to the pain.
The arrival of our starters proves that we’ve chosen both wisely and well. The deep cherry hue of thinly sliced Leon Cecina – smoked, dried beef – is echoed by those very fruits; a surprising yet happy coupling that’s only enhanced by the almonds and parsley also present on the plate.
Local burrata was never going to need much to make it absolutely delectable. It’s cream-filled cheese; what more could you want? Well, fingernail-sized broad beans, asparagus, and a whiff of toasted cumin it seems – because those additional ingredients certainly guild this particular lily in splendid style.
Having witnessed a fair few diners gorging on gorgeous-looking sliced beef fillet, we really, really want one of our own. But that would mean trying only a single main, and that’s a compromise we’re not willing to make. Our squid and lamb selection gets the nod from our brilliant, garrulous waitress, and that’s good enough for us.
That squid comes stuffed with soft, spicy sobrassada sausage and spinach; the seafood tubes so thin and silken that the cephalopod is almost masquerading as pasta sheets. Romesco pepper puree brings sweet earthiness; nutty artichoke crisps lend a contrasting crunch; a frothy film of ‘sea air’ adds an alchemical final flourish.
LB eats far more than he should of the beautifully-crunchy crackling layer atop our slow-cooked lamb shoulder, and were it not our seven-month anniversary I’d have far more to say about the matter. No matter – the meat is sweet, the chard that accompanies it is cooked to melting softness, and both the dish and a side order of shatteringly-crisp potatoes are demolished.
Pre-dessert, we check out the restaurant and the tiny, heavingly popular bar. Designed by Angie Vestey, the interiors meld the rusticity of classic Ibizan style with contemporary elements. Describe it how you will; above all, it’s just a thoroughly lovely space.
We return to our table for a top-notch lemon tart – a dessert which always reminds LB of his dear departed mum, and a laden cheeseboard which reminds him just how much he detests the stuff. I, on the other hand, fall upon it with joy; working my way through five Balearic examples plus a knockout fig relish from Anne’s farm.
The host with the most is present throughout the evening; chatting to customers, keeping a close eye on service, recommending dishes and local gems. It’s clear just how much pride she has in this project and, as she scribbles us an itinerary for a day trip to Formentera, how much love she has for Ibiza. Her adopted island should return that love, because El Portalon is a triumph.
Make it happen
Where: Plaça dels Desemparats, 1, Dalt Vila, 07800 Ibiza, Balearic Islands, Spain
Find out more: To visit the website, click here