Phu Quoc, Vietnam. A beautiful, serene paradise which year on year is attracting more intrepid travellers and sunshine/seafood hungry Viets alike. It’s only natural that a collection of new, internationally focused places have popped up all over the island. Itaca though, one of the most visited restaurants on the island, offers real-deal, Spanish cuisine, making others appear cheap imitations in comparison.
Catalan chic and hospitality is at the heart of Itaca. Strut into a candlelit front garden, smooth grooves soundtracking your entrance, and you’re immediately welcomed with a warm, gracious greeting.
To say we were transported straight to Spain would do a disservice to the wonder of the island of Phu Quoc, but Itaca manages to stay both true to the traditions of Spain and celebrate flourishes of southern Vietnamese décor and ingredients. What you’ll certainly feel on arrival, wherever you’re from, is very much at home.
Itaca is nestled slightly back from the busy, focal point of Phu Quoc, Tran Hung Dao street, which is home to many of the island’s resorts and restaurants. The low-lighting and attention to creating escapist vibes render it unassuming from the road, so look out for the black and white sign.
The focus of the restaurant, as much as the fantastic food, is the vibe – chilled out, calming and extremely sociable with stylish decor to match. There is the opportunity both for intimacy – cosy candlelit corners to enjoy wine and the whispering of sweet nothings, and for larger groups – big, spacious tables, lounging sofas and plates made for sharing. It’s obvious why Itaca is a popular nightlife spot.
Tapas are the focus and we were flown straight to the bouqerias of Barcelona with our first bite of pan con tomate and tortilla. Everything was clean and fresh, yet hearty, and super authentic. A round of seafood plates brought home the similarities between the country of Itaca’s residence and of its influence. Spanish and Vietnamese shellfish dishes both pay respect to the ingredient, with little needed in the way of adornment when the product is so fresh.
Chili, garlic and a liberal use of butter lifted the prawn offering. The crispy noodle ribbons that topped this dish gave a polite nod to Vietnam and were perfect for soaking up the garlicky sauce the prawns were swimming in – an inspired touch. Fresh as-you-like, the Andulasian style deep fried squid is a dish not to be missed.
Desserts paid homage to the regional, iconic crème Catuluna, and was a fine rendition. A chocolate lava cake satisfied the craving for dark, rich indulgence that one often finds themselves suffering from when in South-East Asia.
As we’ve already waxed lyrical about the fresh, gorgeous fish options, the goat’s cheese, filo pastry and honey dressing deserves a shout out. So often in this part of the world, cheese is impossible to distinguish from plastic, but this dish used a strong, assertive, bloody delicious goat’s to glorious effect. The sweetness of honey and light, crisp crunch of filo pastry complemented it beautifully.
It would be rude not to opt for Sangria in a place like this, and the famous Spanish drink was refreshing and pleasingly boozy. Cocktails, beers and a short but carefully curated wine list completed the package.
Itaca’s ambience lends itself to a few beverages, and we stuck around after the meal to enjoy them in the tranquility of their plush garden sofas.
In an ambience of cool, cosy calm, you will find Itaca. Whether your desire is for a romantic meal with your loved one or a sociable gathering with friends and family, this place will cater for you with grace and charm. If you thought it difficult to find authentic tapas on a Vietnamese paradise island, think again, we’ve found it.
Address: 119 Tran Hung Dao Street, Duong Dong, Phu Quoc, Kieng Giang, Vietnam
Disclosure: IDEAL Magazine stayed as a guest of the hotel