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Review: Sa Caleta brings a warm glow to winter

Ibizan traditions upheld on plate and palate.

With rare overcast skies and raindrops, we entered the restaurant Sa Caleta - the scene for many a balmy summer evening on its famous terrace. Today restaurant-goers have moved indoors, and gas fires are lit to make the classic fisherman's shack feel extra cosy. Windows all around, ensure full access to those magical views of the distinctive golden cliffs of the beach of Playa es Bol Nou and the calm, silvery sea beyond.

As we sat down, more and more people continued to arrive, filling it up nicely. It appears we're not the only ones who've discovered one of Ibiza's best-kept winter secrets: Sa Caleta is open all year. In the winter months, island residents flock to the jewel on the south of the island, close to Ibiza's earliest settlement, to enjoy the very best delights that the Balearic Sea produces, captured in traditional recipes that have been passed down through the ages.

The Sa Caleta menu is stuffed full of Mediterranean cuisine, based largely around freshly caught fish and seafood, grilled meats, and rice dishes. It is a true window into Ibiza's gastronomic culture. On this occasion, the chef insisted on treating us to a hearty winter selection.

To kick-off proceedings, our starters arrived, and both were staples of the quintessential Spanish kitchen: Calamares al Andaluz, and Iberico Ham, with toasted bread and tomato. The juicy, locally caught squid, sautéed in garlic and served with lemon juice and a sprig of parsley, was deliciously fresh and the flavour contrasted perfectly with the mature, nuttiness of the cured ham which was meltingly tender.

Next up, the classic Mussels a la Marinera. As you would expect, the plump fresh mussels were perfectly poached in wine, garlic and onion with more than a hint of citrus in the sauce. Absolutely divine and a treat to share with the whole table.

The main attraction was a dish to warm the cockles of even the coldest heart - Arroz a la Marinera (Sailor's Rice) Described as “Meloso”, meaning that the dish has more of a soupy consistency than traditional paella, this steaming, deep bowl of rice stew was chock full of chunky bits of lobster and other seafood swimming in its rich broth (caldo). 

The secret to all good Spanish rice dishes is the stock that it is cooked in and the caldo at Sa Caleta is deeply rich and flavoursome - wonderfully warming for one of these winter afternoons and undoubtedly one of the best to be found on the island. 

How to top off such a feast? None other than the restaurant's famous Cafe Caleta - coffee, freshly brewed at your table with brandy, cinnamon, and other secret ingredients. Wow! The provocative aroma from the alcohol and the warm glow as it radiating through us brought contented smiles to our faces.

The Cafe Caleta was accompanied by two island classic desserts, Graixonera, a traditional bread pudding made from old ensaimadas (a popular pastry originating in the Balearic Islands), and the restaurant's own special Biscuit de Almendras (almond biscuit) served with homemade ice cream and hot chocolate. Both were to die for. 

By mid-afternoon, the restaurant was buzzing. It was warm, and there was a welcoming sound of animated conversation from every table. A live flamenco band provided the perfect cultural accompaniment to our long lazy lunch in this legendary Ibicencan beach restaurant. Raising the temperature and the volume of the chatter even higher.

It's hard to believe that we must go home and work now! We'd much rather order another bottle of wine and carry on. It is sincerely hoped that you, the reader, will not suffer from this problem. 

A visit to Sa Caleta is a must-do on a winter break in Ibiza. Needless to say, the restaurant was full, make sure you book in advance and take the time to enjoy what is a glimpse into the true nature and history of the island's cuisine.

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