A signature dish of Ibiza is called Bullit de Peix, a seafood and potato stew. The best rendition is famously served in a beachside restaurant called El Bigote on Cala Mantella, a remote beach on the rocky northeast of the island. In fact, this restaurant serves only two things: grilled fish at noon and the iconic Bullit at 2:30.
There is a quirky reservation system: you have to reserve a table in advance, but only in person, and then on the day of the reservation, you have to call to confirm the reservation.
Oh, and there is this famous story about the quirky owner of the restaurant having turned away the king of Spain and his entourage because they turned up without a reservation.
I knew none of this. I just saw a mention of this place in a local guidebook and one day during my sojourn at the Lotus Pad yoga retreat, I decided to check it out. After a morning yoga session and some lazing in the hammock, I drove the twisty, windy roads to this beach tucked away among the rocky shoreline. The beach itself is tiny and was deserted. But around the rocks on one side, sat El Bigote, with a view of the cove.
Most of the tables were occupied and the unoccupied ones had “reserved” signs on them. It was 2 pm and everyone was waiting for the Bullit. In one corner, there was a very large cauldron of something bubbling over a wood fire. I walked in and caught the eye of the woman who was seating people. “Hola!”, I said, hopefully. “Hola”, she replied with a smile. I asked her if I could have a table, in Spanish. She asked me if I had reserved. I shook my head. She raised her eyebrows and gave me the “you are so not getting any Bullit today, amigo” look. I responded with my best “please, pretty please, I will have a nervous breakdown right here if you turn me away” look. She sighed and pointed at a small table in the back, next to the bubbling cauldron and said I could sit there.
I ordered a beer and the bread+olives+aioli thing that is so common everywhere on Ibiza. I walked over to the cauldron and saw lots of potato chunks simmering in a golden-brown liquid and smelling delicious. A guy came over and threw a bunch of pine cones and small branches into the fire.
I needed to know more. I googled. I found out that this dish was very special. It is made in several parts. The potatoes are cooked with onions, peppers and various spices, in a broth infused with saffron and white wine, over a wood fire, until tender. Separately, lots of different fish are cooked in an aromatic broth of its own. Just as bouillabaisse gets its signature flavor from the rascasse, a bony Mediterranean fish, the Bullit gets it from a local Ibithenko rockfish. When the potatoes are cooked, all the fish is mixed in and served on a platter, with a drizzle of a creamy, garlicky sauce. Finally, rice is cooked in the reserved fish broth and served as a second course.
I waited with anticipation, munching on the olives and the bread with the white garlicky aioli. Most of the people in the restaurant were tourists. There were a couple of tables with locals. You could tell because the locals seem to know the owners and were drinking wine from a glass decanter with a long, thin spout, holding the decanter over their mouths and pouring a thin, long stream of wine straight into their mouths. It was quite impressive.
It took a while before the potatoes were done. Soon, the ladies were assembling the platters of golden potatoes and large chunks of fish, with some broth and a drizzle of the garlicky sauce.
It took what seemed like an eternity for them to get the platters out to all the tables. The platter assembly was happening right next to my table, which didn’t help. Finally, I got my one-person platter.
Yumm. The potatoes were tasty, the broth fragrant with saffron and the chunks of various fish very fresh and delicious.
The ladies came around and offered a second helping. Si, por favor! And then, all the Bullit debris was cleared up and out came the rice in the broth with small bits of seafood.
An amazing meal in a wonderful setting. All for just 20 euros, not bad, I thought as I remembered the 65 euro bouillabaisse in the old port of Marseille.
It was a close call. I could have met the same fate as the King of Spain, but Lady Luck was on my side today and that Bullit was destined for my belly!