Located in the heart of Santa Catalina, a stone’s throw away from the market, is local institution Bunker’s. Brainchild of Italian Luigi Valdambrini, Bunker’s has undergone some major changes since it opened up 8 years ago. The original concept was a surf shack serving only sandwiches and hotdogs, but very quickly Luigi realised that was not the way he saw the business’ future.
Sitting on one of what I have always considered the ‘love tables’ outside the open window into the restaurant, Luigi tells me of his humble beginnings helping his grandma in the kitchen. He talks with love of how he started prepping and cooking alongside her at family gatherings on a Sunday. He was only six. He says he realised one day that it was much more fun to be inside with her, learning the secrets to her recipes, than playing outside with his friends on their bikes. It was from that moment that his passion for cooking came alive and he knew the direction his life would take.
Luigi’s vision for Bunker’s soon evolved into small menus serving global dishes such as Thai, Indian and an interesting sounding French burger, that is still requested to this day. Eventually though it took the road that led it to the present incarnation: Italian with a twist. He says it was a natural evolution for him to move in that direction, as that is where his passion and love lies, and you can see it in his enthusiasm and taste it in his food. It is clearly a winning formula as on the night we visited the restaurant was full for both sittings.
Whilst the surf boards have hung up their wetsuits and the decor has taken on a much more rustic design, it is still clear to see that Luigi is passionate about the ocean. Beautiful seascapes from talented photographer and friend of Luigi, Emilio Lopez, adorn the walls, evoking feelings of tranquillity, peace and freedom. This is a restaurant of fun and love, passion and friendship. The quote that sums the restaurant up perfectly is written above the bustling open kitchen and comes from W.B. Yeats: ‘There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met yet’. This statement is further supported by the high tables around the room that seat mixed groups of people who really have never met before. The night we visited there was a large group of seven German friends and a couple of English yacht colleagues. By the time we left it was as if they were old friends or those very friends they hadn’t met before. All of this was heartening and uplifting, and not a morsel had even passed our lips by that stage. The smells coming out of the kitchen were enough to have us eating the napkins, so we dived straight into the concise but fascinating menu.
We could choose from starters such as Lobster salad, Catalana style, orange geleé, potatoes, “fuente de ebro” with sweet white onions and pear tomatoes or Beef tartar, egg and truffle sauce, “cirighin”, gorgonzola & fruit mustard. Being unable to resist steak tartare if it’s on the menu, it was an obvious choice for me. And I wasn’t disappointed. The beef was freshly hand chopped and the spice was just at the right level so as not to overwhelm the taste of the meat, which was simply divine and clearly of a high quality. Anouska, the fabulous photographer of this duo, went for something a little different. She chose the Cold fennel cream, orange, asparagus, olives and apple croquette with scallop. It was beautifully presented and adorned with delicate blue and yellow flowers, surrounding a sumptuous and tasty scallop. Luigi then finished the creation by pouring the cold fennel cream over the dish. It was the perfect combination of flavours, tastes and vision. For the mains there was a fantastic choice ranging from homemade gnocchi and ravioli to black cod and Iberian pork, all served with Luigi’s customary modern Italian twist.
I couldn’t resist choosing the Rack of Lamb with raspberry vinegar, garlic, rosemary, artichokes and mushrooms and I was so happy that I did. The lamb was deliciously pink and tender, and the raspberry, rosemary and garlic really complimented the sweetness of the meat. It has been a while since I have had artichoke and I was reminded how tasty and interesting a vegetable it is. Anouska was torn between ordering the spaghetti carbonara special, on the menu that day as it was the official day of carbonara in Italy, or trying the Old grain spaghetti “senator cappelli”, butter echiré, cantabrico anchovies, zucchini flower and nut crumble. She finally went for the anchovy option and was ecstatic with her choice. To be honest pretty much everything that came out of the kitchen in the two hours we were there would have made our mouths water and our stomachs happy, and from the appreciative sounds happening all around us, the feeling from the other guests was mutual. Bunker’s is an absolute gem in Santa Catalina and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Luigi is a superstar, seamlessly conducting what could be chaotic in less capable hands, whilst maintaining a wonderful sense of humour. There is a constant twinkle in his eye and a love of food in his true Italian heart. Reservations are essential.
Restaurant Review By Victoria Pearce
Photos Credit: Anouska Foss