A good note
Gong, Asian cuisine, carrer Bigai 19
I’ll start by telling you that if you book three days in advance it’s possible to get a tasting menu at Gong for €30. I didn’t know this at the time of my visit so we had to go á la carte. Having done so, and eaten what must surely be some of the best Asian food in town, I can say with total confidence: make that call and head uptown to the no-man’s-land that exists behind Plaça Bonanova. It’s worth it.
Gong might best be described as a laid-back, unpretentious, pan-Asian bistro. It has a genuine warmth and buzz to it, and an infectious kind of animation that makes you want to lean into the neighbouring table and eavesdrop on what they are gossiping about. You don’t, because the tables at Gong have been sensibly placed just far enough apart to prevent nosy parkers like me from doing this.
After five minutes or so, we ask if we can move and ogle the chefs instead, who are up there behind the stout, blonde wood bar, grinning and knife wielding and having fun. In the dining room, globe lanterns in fire shades create an atmosphere thrillingly dark and romantic—a great place for a date—while real flames lick an open grill, and one lone and incredibly upbeat waitress works the floor, the smile never leaving her face. The place is packed and this extraordinarily efficient staff of three are not only thriving, they are happy and their happiness infuses everything around them.
I am particularly impressed when, about to tuck into our third bottle of sake (the bottles only contain about 50 centilitres before you go thinking I’m a total lush) the waitress warns that they are €10 apiece, and we switch to beer. Clearly their aim, while providing imaginative and devilishly good tucker, is to keep it affordable and therefore keep the likes of you and me coming back for more.
So we peruse the menu while snacking on a complimentary dish of steamed edamame. Crisp Vietnamese nem (fried spring rolls) explode with aromatic juices of pork, prawn, soy, coriander and white pepper, and are a fine way to fire up the taste buds before the rest starts arriving. Meanwhile, our jolly chefs hand sushi over the bar. They only do one type—a maki roll the size of my arm—and it changes every day. In this case, it comprised two long, thick loins of tuna (I know, I know, sustainable suicide) wedged in against creamy avocado. Just to slam my sustainability credentials a little bit more, we also had the ventresca de atun, grilled and served with a sour-sweet yuzu, which was good but probably the least exciting dish of the evening. Or maybe it is just that tuna in any cooked form seems to pale once you’ve had a hulking great slab of it raw. But enough of me and my dastardly tuna habit…
Duck magret came in a bright miso marinade with slivers of scallion lending crunch against duck breast that was served rare and tender, the skin nicely crisp and salty. The trump dish though, the one that I will remember to the day I die, was king prawns grilled whole over roaring flames in a thick crunchy red chilli and chive paste. We sat there mesmerised for a while as the flames danced around the prawns to the snap and crackle of sizzling langoustine heads before diving into the richly spiced flesh that mellowed into something quite extraordinary.
My companion urged me to sit up and pay attention: see how they cook from the head—the brain—first, he said, so the flesh stays tender and not rubbery. I made a mental note to look up the technique in Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, and then promptly forgot as one of our benevolent chefs handed over a tiny dish of beautifully seasoned black rice topped with buttery squid. Just a little something from the tasting menu, he said proudly, for next time.
So, here’s an insider’s tip: eat at the bar, where, if you’re very lucky, you might get tossed a morsel or two of something good. If you’re on a budget there’s a good value lunch menu for €15.
Gong: Bigai 19
Tel. 93 211 9869.
Open daily 1pm-4pm, 8pm-midnight.
€45-€50 for several dishes to share and a lot of sake.