Sitting proudly on Ibiza’s iconic San Juan ‘restaurant’ Road, is Nagai, a taste of Japan nestled amidst the lush, Ibicencan countryside. On the exterior, there’s a peaceful energy to this secluded space, encompassed by wraparound greenery and housed within a traditional finca – a nod to its Ibicencan roots. Inside, a truly sensorial experience awaits; tables stationed around a captivating Japanese garden, modern design touches combined with a traditional Japanese ambience and fusion dishes offering an explosion of colour, flavour and culture. All plates at this award-winning restaurant are made with regional and organic produce, “we like to use local chickens, grass-fed beef, local herbs, micro-greens and veggies that taste and make you feel good. We grow some of our own and source according to what is in season,” Reina says.
In between preparing sushi and setting up music sets, the team – Reina, Eleanora, Luigi and Melchior – speak to us about the origins of Nagai, what they have in store for the winter months and why giving back to the island is so important to them.
How many of you are in your team and what are your different roles?
At Nagai, we have a way of bringing together talents, quirks and cultures – from Ecuadorian to French – to create harmony and longevity. We have a beautiful, close-knit team of 20 in summer and 15 in winter. The main four are Reina Nagai, the magic in the kitchen, Eleonora, the system cog mastermind, Luigi, the sound and space artist as well as Melchior, the linguist, master of energy and synergy on the terrace.
How did you all meet and how did the restaurant come about?
Eleonora and Luigi, who are siblings, met Reina in Bangkok after opening Emotion of Sushi in Koh Phangan. After selling their restaurant, the three moved to Rome. Melchior, who had just returned from visiting orphanages in Africa during the 2010 World Cup, met Eleanora in Blue Marlin. We all joined forces and the rest is history.
What is the most popular dish on the menu and why?
There are many. Over the years, there have been quite consistent dishes like the Dragon Roll or Black Cod, but this year it has been the Seabass Tiradito with nori tempura, Greek olives and ponzu sauce – a conversation-stopping sensorial experience!
You regularly exhibit local artists, boutiques and musicians in your restaurant. What’s it like collaborating with creatives on the island?
We love working with creative people. What often begins as a mutual benefit turns into a lifelong friendship and we are happy to create a family feel. It’s all about that magical Ibiza vibe. The reason we created Nagai was to have a place we can all call home.
At Nagai, you actively contribute to local charities and give back to the island. Why is it important to you to support Ibiza?
We find that it’s logical and important to create harmony and help the place where we live as opposed to just taking from the island. There’s a lot of talk about global warming nowadays, however, the proliferation of plastic and chemicals is another big problem, which affects us directly. To reduce our reliance on plastic and bottled water would be a huge step in preserving the island’s environment.
How does Ibiza differ for you in the autumn and winter in comparison to the summer months?
That’s the question for all Ibiza residents! For us, autumn really begins after Halloween and puts us in a winter mood right away. It’s a good time to get creative, recuperate, experiment with food, events, courses and make new friends. Our advantage is that we have three rooms inside, heated by fireplaces and we are just finishing our warm, enclosed outside terrace, which means we can extend service into the afternoon and begin with tantalizing delicacies sooner. This year we’ve got a few surprises; apero-time with Yaki-tapas, after-tea barter and exchange, Christmas and New Year’s Eve gala dinners and more to come.
What is your favourite thing about living and working in Ibiza and how does it differ to other places you’ve visited?
Having lived in or visited around 60 countries, the best thing about Ibiza is the size, variety and diversity in languages and cultures. It has always been a lifeboat and the centre of the universe – a place where all ideas and projects are possible. A place where you can meet anyone from anywhere at any time, where you can be next to a world-class athlete, musician or celebrity and not even notice.
What are your favourite places to eat, drink and hang out on the island and why?
We are all eclectic foodies and travellers, so we love international food and drink; Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Italian. And funky atmosphere. Some of our favourite places include Le Monde, Can Mimosa, Piccola Cucina, Trattoria del Mar, WOW, The Boat House and Jockey Club.
Finally, can you tell us about any projects or exciting ventures you have in the pipeline for the coming months?
We are full of ideas and always open to crazy new ventures – some happen, others fizzle out. We opened a pop-up in Tulum in 2012, a guesthouse in 2014, Nagai India in 2016, survived COVID with deliveries, wrote a Japanese guidebook to Ibiza, started an import business and went through all kinds of life events: births, deaths, separation and growth.
We really enjoy challenges and creating new things as we are allergic to boredom. We would like to write a book, create a school of quantum transformation, and perhaps open another place.