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Photos by Roger Cisa.
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"What makes a great ramen?” repeated Giles Brown, Barcelona restaurateur and Asian food guru. “Oh, what a question! It’s about balance and getting that perfect umami character to the broth. You need the right size noodles and they need to be well made. The braised Chashu pork belly needs to melt in your mouth, and you need a nice variety of fresh toppings. “Also,” he continued, “the time, place and surroundings—the zen of your dining environment—plays an important role.” Listening to Brown’s ramen monologue, I’m already sold before the first spoonful of soup touches my tongue at his latest venture in Barcelona’s Born neighbourhood, Grasshopper—a ramen and craft beer bar.
Their ramen noodles, created in-house from organic flour and kansui (an alkaline solution that is an essential ingredient in ramen noodle dough, imported directly from Japan) are served in the ‘clear soup’ style of broth known as ching tang, with three flavour profiles—shio (salt), shoyu (soy), and miso (miso paste, also available with a vegetarian option). The menu is intentionally limited, with the addition of just a handful of typical Japanese starters, sides and dumplings allowing the ramen soup to remain the star.
Grasshopper’s creator Giles Brown grew up in the UK, but at the age of 18 he began studying Chinese and a year later embarked on a year-long sojourn in China. “Since then, I’ve been travelling a lot,” explained Giles. “China, Taiwan, and then back to Europe to be close to the family.” His pre-restaurant career in sales had him travelling extensively throughout the USA and Asia and, after eight years, he craved a change. Putting down roots in Barcelona, he jumped into the world of hospitality with very little prior experience. “My family always loved cooking,” Giles told me. “My aunt has a catering business, but I never had worked professionally in restaurants.”
Twelve years ago, in 2003, Giles and a British-Indian friend opened Mosquito, a ‘pan-Asian’ eatery that has gone through many phases—from Indian, to Japanese, and now Chinese dim sum—and they very quickly learned the ropes of the restaurant business. Next came the Ale & Hop craft beer bar (which Giles sold a couple of years ago), followed by the Red Ant restaurant and noodle shop, and Mosquito Take Away, offering dishes from both Mosquito and Red Ant, without the wait. All of these ventures, including Grasshopper, are found more or less along the same parallel—the streets of Carders and Corders—cutting through the middle of the Born.
Other than a tantalising mix of Asian treats, these three restaurants all share something else in common: beer. “I opened Mosquito with a typical wine list of five reds and five whites. I had learned a lot about wine, but once the craft beer movement really began to take off in Barcelona, I felt like I identified more with the beer-making crowd than the winemakers,” recalled Giles. “I knew the flavours of the beer better too.” These days, you’d be lucky to find more than a couple of wines offered at his restaurants, while the list of bottled and draft beers is staggering. This makes sense, since in many cases, the strong, spicy flavours of Asian cuisine pair much more easily with beer.
In addition to helping satisfy Barcelona’s desire for a more interesting variety of Asian food, Giles hopes to begin offering late-night dining. Starting in November, the Grasshopper crew plans on offering a simplified menu of ramen, Japanese barbecue, and beer until 1am. As with the other restaurants of the Mosquito group, seating at the narrow ramen bar is limited and in high demand. Grasshopper doesn’t accept reservations, but the big bowls of steaming, fragrant soup and hefty pints of premium ale are definitely worth the wait.
Grasshopper. Plaça de la Llana 9.
Tel. 93 500 5081. Open from Tuesday until Sunday, 1pm-11.30pm. The kitchen is open all day (except between 6pm-7pm). Closed on Monday.