You're in the Barri Gòtic and you fancy some Japanese food. What do you do if you're not wonderful enough to get a table on the spot at either Shunka or Koy Shunka without booking a week in advance? Where else is there to go? Nearly all the other Japanese restaurants in the Ciutat Vella are either soulless noodle chains or—how to put this?—not very good. The chewy sashimi, the empty mochi, the collapsing makisushi, the gyoza dumplings exploding with hot fat, the background music of plinkety-plunkety shamisen cover versions of Barry Manilow hits....I've even seen a buffet kaitensushi restaurant that cunningly recycles uneaten sushi by covering it in batter, deep-frying it and bringing it out again for a second crack at the punters. It's all too depressing for words and you'd generally be far better off getting a plate of butifarra i mongetes.
Thank goodness then, for Kynoto (Carrer Correu Vell 8, Barri Gòtic, tel. 93 268 2540, www.kynoto.com. Open Mon-Sat 2100-0200), a hobbit-sized haven for high-quality and inventive Japanese food in a tiny back street by the main post office. The bar and kitchen are downstairs and the small seating area upstairs, which means that owner, Xavi, gets a lot of leg exercise over the course of an average evening's service. It's a cosy, orange-painted space that avoids most of the usual ersatz Japanese touches with only a single pink orchid plant and a paper screen by way of décor. The only slightly out-there touch was the bamboo steamer baskets used for lampshades over each table. Oh, and in a subtle little cultural detail, the menu booklet reads from right to left, Manga comic style.
For openers we had a Sunomomo salad of wakame seaweed, cucumber, shrimp and shredded crab meat with a tangy tosazu dressing and a second salad of mixed lettuce leaves, onion, mustard and cress, tender shrimp and cuttlefish cut into tiny little slash-covered spindles all in a creamy white shiromiso dressing that was maybe just a tad too heavy on the rice vinegar. It was nice to see a selection of other starters that went beyond the usual miso soup such as dobin mushi broth, served in a teapot, that rarely gets an outing in Barcelona.
Second courses again had some off-piste items to enjoy such as caramelised eels or spicy hosomaki among the usual sushi favourites. We went for a large Dragon roll, named after the lovely green ripples of thinly sliced avocado carefully laid across its back, and a meltingly tender salmon tataki.
Desserts were hard to face after all that and we probably should have had something light like the jasmine sorbet but instead we went for the mochi—a fat little golf ball of oozy mochi dough wrapped around a ball of rather icky strawberry ice cream.
Kynoto doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of Koy Shunka, and that would be asking too much of a small hole-in-the-wall like this, but it's definitely the next best thing and somewhere to go back to. And you can't argue with the prices either: three courses plus a constant stream of Kirin beers came to €28 a head.
Tara Stevens is currently away—in her absence, our Thursday food blog is being written by Nadia Feddo