facefoodmag ENibiza

Rafa Zafra - Casa Jondal Welcome to paradise

Rafa Zafra - Casa Jondal Welcome to paradise 

Rafa Zafra © ffmag

There’s no stopping Rafa Zafra. After modernising the seafood restaurant concept at Estimar (the first of his seven restaurants), he decided to “professionalise” the classic beach bar. And that was the idea behind Jondal, which opened in 2020 and is more than just a restaurant for Zafra, it’s a little slice of heaven. Eating the best fish and seafood - among other delights – and pairing them with the finest wines. Your toes in the sand and the sound of waves as the only soundtrack. Zafra and his team have created the perfect beach bar: an authentic hedonistic Eden, a mecca visited each summer by inquisitive foodies who holiday on the island.

How are things going, Rafa? Where are you in your personal and professional life?
I’m in a really great, amazing place. They say that chefs cook better and are more creative when they’re happy. And things are great right now, I’m enjoying all the little projects that we’ve set up over the past few years. We’re leaping around from city to city like crazy, but I love it.

How would you sum up each of your restaurants in a short sentence?
Estimar is my small child, it’s where it all started. It’s bohemian, it’s pure El Born; Estimar Madrid consolidated us, it’s my bigger child who still gives us so much joy; Jondal is a dream come true, it’s my ideal beach bar and paradise; Amar is the perfect restaurant, “the casual expression of luxury” (in terms of food, dining room and service); Mareantes is coming home: a place for enjoying and having fun with my family and friends, for spending more time with them; Mar Mía is an oasis inside the big city, it’s transferring the beach bar concept to a city like Madrid; and Per Feina, the new project in Poble Nou (Barcelona), is my childhood memories, it’s using the menu of the day created for workers and taking it to the next level, at reasonable prices. They’re all very different from each other but share things in common, like seafood. We have the least freedom in terms of the cooking style at Estimar, where we don’t make dishes with more than four or five ingredients to respect the purity of the product. Jondal is heaven: we make what we like there, always using great produce and cooking with far more freedom.

Oysters, Casa Jondal. Ibiza

Oysters © D. Balda

What does Jondal have that other restaurants don’t have?
I don’t think there’s a restaurant where people are happier than at Jondal. That’s what my colleagues and customers say. At Jondal, we were “lucky” in terms of the pandemic; we couldn’t do anything, so we locked ourselves in the office with the whole team and calmly prepared the project. What we did was professionalise the beach bar in a really natural way because we didn’t want something pretentious. It was all really magical.

I don’t think there’s a restaurant where people are happier than at Jondal

 

It’s Jondal’s fourth season... Has the reality exceeded your expectations?
Few restaurants have grown as much as Jondal in such a short space of time. We didn't expect that at all. It’s true that we had lots of time to prepare the project, the restaurant looked fantastic, the place was magical, the kitchen team, the food... But we didn’t have any pretensions, we just wanted to make great, top-quality food. At the beginning we were surprised when we hit 100 covers. Now we do 400 covers a day and have to turn away another 400. We’re not the most creative people, we just wanted to bring back the essence and purity of an authentic beach bar, which didn’t exist in Ibiza.

The views, the beach, the food... If you had to choose, what would you pick at Jondal?
If I had to pick one thing, it would be the team. They’re the key to everything we’ve achieved. The Jondal team is unique. We’ve got sommeliers and kitchen and dining room staff who could work in any three-star restaurant in the world. When I visit, I feel nothing but admiration for them.

What dishes or ingredients are already iconic at Jondal?
At the beginning, we created a really cool menu where the concept was to offer the customer the product and then they decided how they wanted it cooked. But it was so complicated that in the end we changed it to two cooking options. Some of our most typical dishes are red prawn carpaccio, langoustines, barbecued rotja and frita with tacos. The menu is a work of art because the same product cooked in different ways means you have totally different dishes. And we’re lucky to be able to get products that never used to be brought to the island, like spider crab, goose barnacles, and we’ve even served baby eels... Our customers always come back, and they deserve tailor-made suits and to be given a treat.

Rotja frita. Casa Jondal

Rotja © D. Balda

What are the keys to a successful restaurant?
There are three basic elements: knowing how to buy the best produce, knowing how to handle, care for and cook the produce so that the result is the best possible way to eat that ingredient, and the third thing, which is really important, is knowing how to sell it. We do these three things really well at Jondal and at most of my restaurants I try to make that the case. Then there are lots of other factors, there are restaurants where the atmosphere is the most important thing...  We’re based on produce and try to offer customers the best. The simple fact that we don't have music already sets us apart from the rest. Because the only thing I know how to do is make food.

Has Ibiza caught your eye as a place to open more restaurants?
Everything has to come naturally. We want to keep this little gift we’ve been given and enjoy it. The love I’m given each time I come to Ibiza is amazing. And I wasn’t planning to open anything else, but life is very short and very intense. We get calls from all over and you never know. The problem is how to do something that’s better than what we already have... It’s difficult.

Casa Jondal, Ibiza

Casa Jondal © D. Balda

You have so many projects on the go, how do you unwind? What do you do when you’re not cooking?
I think I’ve found a balance. I unwind doing what I do. It’s great, because it looks like I’m working but it’s my way of life and, when I’m not in the restaurants or at the office, that’s when I struggle the most. I also love going out and I’m very friendly, but I don’t have much time for doing normal things like going on holiday. I’m always travelling and what I like best is coming home, being in my house, spending time with my partner... That’s what gives me strength.

Will Rafa Zafra be here for a while or are you sometimes tempted to take a break?
Lots of people are calling us right now which is natural (because I never call anyone). We’ve done unbeatable things this year and, in the most natural way and without being overly ambitious, great things will continue to happen.

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