Raising the game: Iván Acquista brings a haute cuisine twist to harbourfront institution Villa Mercedes

Iván Acquista Chef Interview

Amongst the bustling restaurants and bars that line San Antonio’s harbour front, the white and coffee-coloured walls from behind which the iconic silhouette of Villa Mercedes rises has been – quite literally – a standout destination for decades.

Part of the renowned Mambo Group, when you enter the flowering gardens that surround the historic building – with its layered terraces and lush tropical foliage – you will find an oasis of calm, the perfect spot to enjoy a sundowner cocktail and feast on modern Mediterranean cuisine, with some of the finest electronic beats drifting into your ear.

A true Ibiza heritage venue, Villa Mercedes has always kept a high standard where its culinary offering is concerned. But this year, with new executive chef Iván Acquista at the helm, the dining destination is raising the bar to a whole new level.

The Argentinian kitchen maestro’s CV reads like the ‘who is who’ of European haute cuisine. Having studied under the likes of Albert and Ferran Adrià, Sergi Rola and Rafa Zafra, island foodies will recognise the names of illustrious kitchens like HEART Ibiza and Casa Jondal where Iván sharpened his skills.

Now, as the executive chef at Villa Mercedes, he is ready to forge his own path with a new concept that brings a haute cuisine twist to the area while celebrating his Argentinian roots, Ibiza’s famed local produce, and, of course, the historic port that has been home to the iconic property since 1901…

Congratulations on this exciting new role! How has your summer been so far?

So far, so good. We are building the team, and we are showing our concept to the people, to show that we are new and that we are trying something different.

Villa Mercedes is a historic destination here in San Antonio. How much have you changed the menu?

Completely. The truth is that we changed almost everything. Villa Mercedes remains Villa Mercedes, it is a property from 1901 with an iconic facade and lots of history. But it’s a completely new restaurant. I worked closely with the front of house and the bar teams, and practically everything has been changed. 

What is the most special part about Villa Mercedes for you?

For me it is the surrounding area and the ambience. To be able to enjoy a good meal with these views, as well as some live music and good DJs, is very special.

What was the inspiration behind the new menu?

Well, because of the venue’s location, the port of San Antonio and the fish you find along the coast of Ibiza were part of the inspiration – but also the fantastic meats from the island, like the lamb. We want to represent the local produce of Ibiza and, above all, the port of San Antonio.

What are your favourite products to cook with?

I have to say that the red prawn is the Queen of the sea. And I also like to work with Caviar, as you can see in the new empanada we created here, which was inspired by my mother’s empanadas. It combines pancetta bacon and caviar, so the meat is a little homage to my home country and my family, but as we are next to the port, we added something from the sea. 

And your favourite dishes from the menu?

That’s impossible to choose! Well, the grill specialities are what we are well known for, they are our signature. And the empanada with caviar is a very iconic dish for us, we want it to become our new classic. And last, but not least, we have some fantastic seafood here, fresh from the port.

How did you discover your passion for food?

My family has always had strong links to the hospitality industry. My father was a head chef and restaurant owner, and my mother was involved in different restaurants and bars as well. My brother is also very well known on the island, so it really does run in the family.

When did you realise you had the talent to become a professional chef?

Well, I don’t know about discovering my talent but I realised that cooking was my vocation a long time ago. Because one day it dawned on me that I had worked in a kitchen or in hospitality all my life, in one way or another. It is my calling.

You have worked with some very renowned kitchen masters…

Yes, and I learned a lot of everything about everything, and that obviously shaped me. With Ferran Adrià, for example, I have had the luck to work with the biggest and best in the world. And I continue to follow my path with him as a role model. I also worked with Sergi Arola in Switzerland, and with my brother, and each one has taught me a lot. I truly learned from the best.

What do you need to build a good kitchen team?

Above all, you need people who are eager to learn and who are not only passionate about cooking, but who also want to make the commitment of being a chef. These are the non-negotiables for me. They have to have the right attitude to want to improve every day, and the values of a chef – because the compromises that the kitchen demands are not for everyone.

And away from the kitchen, what do you like to do in your free time?

I go home and work a little bit more! But seriously, when I have a free day I like to go to a good Chiringuito and eat well, enjoy a drink and maybe a little party…  a few times a year, why not! But honestly, even outside of work I think about the kitchen a lot. It’s my life.

Villa Mercedes is open every day from 17:00 to 1:00. For more information and to make a reservation visit www.villamercedesibiza.com or call +34 971 348 543.

Portraits and food photography by La Skimal for Tribe Magazine.

Iván Acquista

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