Photo by: Patricia Esteve
It was a long time coming, or more accurately, I was a long time going to Koy Shunka. Oh boy, was it worth the wait.
Koy Shunka is the slicker, sexier and more daring little sister to long-time favourite Shunka. Shunka itself has long been considered one of the more serious Japanese restaurants in Barcelona, so it was a hard act to follow, but chefs Hideki Matsuhisa (Japanese) and Xu Zhangchao (Chinese) have pulled it off by merging the bright clean flavours of Japan with more typically Mediterranean ingredients. Mediterrasian is all the rage right now, in case you didn’t know.
We booked on a whim at 9pm on a Tuesday night when, by sheer chance, we got the last table. “It’s right at the back of the comedor,” warned the voice at the end of the line. “Fine, I’ll take it,” said I.
But sweeping through the slate and teak reception, past a frenetic, cube-shaped, open-plan kitchen and bar, through another blonde wood dining room and into a dark brooding place at the back, it was clearly not the greatest seat in the house. And the acoustics back there made it all but impossible to hear what anyone said. Still, all was forgiven for the extraordinary food that followed. If you’re treating yourself to such culinary heights, however, book well in advance, and if you’re only two, sit at the bar—that’s where it all happens.
Increasingly, I have mixed feelings about tasting menus, but this one changes every day and is based on seasonal availability and evidently an abundance of the best ingredients. We were keen on adding two extra dishes: tempura de ortigas del mar (sea anemones), which unfortunately they didn’t have, and an intriguing sounding dish of secreto Ibérico Japanese-style, which we were persuaded against. “The menu is very big,” said our waitress by way of explanation.
Two tiny pills in individual dishes topped off with warm water grew and blossomed into hand towels, and with a cursory rub-down we were off.
In a Perspex shell are two perfectly ripe, baby-pear tomatoes suspended in a gingery dashi (a clear, flavourful broth) and topped with a three-headed bamboo pin speared with edamame (bright green soy beans). It recalled a comment Ferran Adrià once made about a perfectly ripe tomato being superior to any lobster or caviar dish. Not for many a moon has that seemed more true.
It was followed in rapid succession by the following: four fat sea snails boiled in a soy broth to reveal tender, savoury meat; raw sea bream smeared with a dark and mysterious algae cream and sprinkled with Szechuan pepper dust; Ebro Delta unagi (eel) richly succulent with a sweet, but nicely acidic glaze to cut through the fatty flesh.
Silky smooth toro tartar (sorry, I failed miserably to ask about the creature’s provenance) stood alone in a shitake and straw mushroom broth, scattered with shavings of raw porcini like so many rose petals.
More robust dishes followed. A rope of noodles laid diagonally across the middle of an oblong plate with just a smear of miso broth separated neat triangular filets of raw mackerel on one side, from the delicate pinky-white flesh of fresh, boiled king crab on the other.
A rack of sashimi: salmon, tuna, toro, slivers of anchovy coiled around freshly-grated wasabi and miniscule rings of chive, plus chunks of navaja (razor clam) as butter-soft as a scallop were contrasted by four slices of seared toro topped with espardenyes (sea cucumbers) and scallions. And then five generous portions of nigiri sushi: salmon and its beautiful eggs, more toro, the body of a Palamós prawn with the head on the side for sucking, mackerel and a frilly, flash-seared slice of squid.
It finished with a dark grey, black sesame panna cotta with black sesame ice cream and sticky blobs of black sesame fried in butter and honey. It looked appalling, but was completely delicious.
If you’re wondering what to drink with this little lot we went for a crisp albariño, a reasonable deal for €24. But a quality cava brut nature would do just as well.
Koy Shunka: Open Tue-Sun 1pm-3pm, 8.30pm-11pm. Tasting menu €60, not including wine.