Once a renowned party island, Ibiza is enjoying a reputation overhaul. Nobu’s latest hotel opening is leading the charge. By Adam Hay-Nicholls.
Ibiza is the Benjamin Button of sunny escapes; its evolution is backwards. Most Mediterranean islands were playgrounds of the privileged before becoming gap-year Gomorrahs. Ibiza has gone the other way, and the changing scene is evidenced by a wave of chic new resort openings. Yet there is still debauchery to be found, of a kind: I consumed no less than 40 meals during my two-night stay at gastronomic haven Nobu Hotel Ibiza Bay.
In my defence the plates were quite small, but it was a marathon of eating nonetheless. The growth of Nobu as a global boutique chain is a recent development, but it has been leading the way in Japanese and Peruvian-influenced cuisine for a generation. While it’s the other way around for every other developer, here we have a hotel built around its restaurants. Food is the focus, and the tranquil infinity pool and Talamanca Bay view witnessed as soon as you enter the lobby merely enhances it.
Sea air gives me a reliable appetite, so I climbed aboard a Princess V58 motor yacht before lunch and set course for nearby Formentera. The hotel’s cleanly-designed four storeys are a handsome vista as I sail away for the southern island. Balearic relaxation is best achieved with a chill-out EDM playlist, an Esky full of rosé and, if you have the means, a flybridge vessel.
The hotel’s highly Instagramable light-filled atrium instantly puts guests in holiday mode, and after a morning on the boat London seems a galaxy away. Nobu Ibiza Bay’s 152 airy rooms and suites, mainly white with nautical hints of aqua and gold, provide a stylish refuge from the sea and sand, and each boasts a glass-fronted balcony, many with private Jacuzzis, from which you can survey the sun-loungers. There’s also a Six Senses Spa designed to maximize serenity, repair scorched skin, or restore limbs following last night’s superclub.
Primarily, it was my jaw muscles I’d come to give a workout. Chambao is Ibiza Bay’s laidback feet-in-the-sand chiringuito beach restaurant, custom-made for those hopping off a yacht. Let the feasting begin: Corvina ceviche, mussels in Albariño, lobster with papaya and mango, creamy paella, beetroot and ricotta salad, and seabass that arrived minutes ago from the harbour, all washed down with a bottomless jug of sangria.
There are two swimming pools, one of which is considered more child-friendly, and there is a kids’ club which does a terrific trade; indicative of Ibiza’s burgeoning clientele of moneyed young families. At night, the pools are illuminated purple and onto the grown-up side spills the hotel’s bar and Peyote, an earthy dining spot offering modern Mexican cuisine designed to be shared. Run independently from Nobu, it has sister properties in Mayfair and Dubai.
My party delves into a never-ending stream from Peyote’s kitchen, which features aguachile de camarón, braised short rib and grilled sea bass tacos, and thinly-sliced ginger-cured yellowtail served with huitlacoche (a Mexican truffle grown on organic corn). Peyote also boasts the largest line-up of tequilas and mezcals on the island, so it would be rude not to try the margaritas. The ones with tamarind on the rim add extra punch.
It’s the herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables which impress here just as much as the meat and fish. The restaurants also use edible flowers, and I accompanied a couple of Nobu’s chefs to the north of the island to its floral delicatessen, a pioneering initiative called Ibiza Punica. The plantation is colourfully-packed with geraniums, carnations, marigolds and aromatics. The chefs pluck lavender to add sweet and spiciness to salads, and calendula petals to serve with rice, providing a naturally perfumed tang.
While its other restaurants have a Latin beach vibe, the hotel’s fine dining room eschews any décor that might distract from the food. With moonlight providing little clue as to the paradise outside the windows, we could be back at Nobu Park Lane. I’ve always considered Nobu as a bit like McDonald’s for rich people; a worldwide chain found in almost every jet-set city, with speedy service, seating so close you can hear everyone else’s conversation, same décor, same menu. It’s a reassuring constant for those that lack time and imagination. But this is unfair on Ibiza Bay. The space isn’t big on visual atmosphere, but it has heart in the form of its open kitchen and the skilled team therein, who are transferred from country to country to train and work across Nobu’s 39 properties. And though many of the Ibiza Bay’s dishes are mirrored by those other 38 menus, others are unique and brilliant, making full use of the local area’s bountiful seafood and produce. Padrón peppers, red tuna, and garlic prawns from Formentera are among the cameos. Fish might be the main thing on the menu across the whole island, but the standout dish for me was Rubia Gallega rib-eye with yuzu truffles and crispy onions. As for cocktails, is there a better martini than Matsuhisa’s? Ketel One with Hokusetsu sake and ginger.
In just 12 months Nobu has put itself top of the island’s hot list as a food destination. Ibiza’s ascendance continues with a W and a Six Senses resort, both opening in the next two years, though they’ll struggle to match the verve of Ibiza Bay’s cooking, as well as the way it balances immaculate luxury with barefoot nonchalance. The island might be going upmarket, but on Talamanca Beach a natural carefree spirit remains.