1 of 2
Photo by Richard Owens
2 of 2
Photo by Richard Owens
Taste and texture come together at Ikibana.
Avinguda Paral·lel has been shaking out its feathers for some time now. And while the vision to restore it to Barcelona’s answer to Broadway may not quite have come to fruition, there is a corner of it, the golden ‘T’ if you will, that has become a hub for stars of the restaurant business. Just follow your nose from Plaça Espanya down Paral·lel (the Adrià brothers’ Tickets and 41º are both located here), east along the Carrer Lleida where the fish restaurant Rias de Galicia will soon open a temple to Japanese-Peruvian fusion, and west along Parlament where Federal, Tarannà and Bar Carders boast the most popular brunch and vermut spots in town.
Ikibana, the bigger, more glamorous brother of the restaurant of the same name in El Born, opened on the Paral·lel back in June and remained fairly anonymous for a few weeks. The willowy flower arrangements in the window had me convinced it was a Japanese florist and it was quite easy to miss. Not so now! On a balmy Monday night in September when I visited, the place was packed to the gills. Somebody somewhere had clearly been talking.
It was designed by the Catalan architecture and design firm Arqteria and cuts a dashing figure. Indeed, as restaurant design goes, it’s probably one of the most striking places in the city with billowing beech wood ceiling sculptures—think Frank Gehry’s Marques de Riscal winery in Rioja on a smaller scale—swirling wooden banquets and high tables dotted in between. The lighting is low, the music a bit too clubby, although it made sense once I realised it is owned by the same Dutch company behind Carpe Diem on the beach.
Truthfully, that is not something that would normally make me rush to eat there, but it delivered great atmosphere, bold flavours and excellent service. Our waitress, Patricia, was quick, efficient and friendly, responded graciously when I asked if we could slow things down a bit and offered advice on the wine. If there is such a thing as a service award in this town, which there should be if we are ever to sharpen up the game, I’d like to nominate Patricia (pictured above left) immediately, but I digress.
Ikibana’s menu is rather long and covers a lot of ground from edamame beans to ceviche, seaweed salads to tempura and dumplings, various types of sushi and sashimi, rice balls and noodles, kobe burgers and chicken skewers, strawberry mochis and New York brownies. It was exhausting just reading it so I ordered a bottle of Susana Sempre (a sprightly, steely Mallorcan white) in honour of my friend who has the same name and the mid-range tasting menu (there are three) for €48.
The balance of tastes and textures—salt, sweet and acid, soft and crunchy, cooling and warm—was impressive, and on the whole it worked like a dream with just the occasional flop. Why would you put a fried banana beneath a chunk of Waguyu beef, which was a bit tough and chewy anyway, only to get a dish that was just cloying and blah? Hey ho—the rest showed solid kitchen skills and brought together a host of interesting flavour combinations.
King prawn salad with hijiki and wakame seaweeds tossed in a zingy sweet and sour yuzu dressing was just the ticket to get you salivating, before the arrival of buttery lozenges of raw salmon marinated in sake and scattered with pink peppercorns and shaved celery. The green apple and passion fruit dipping sauce provided added layers of acidity. And so to a bowl of steamed gyoza stuffed with beef and coriander in a warm dashi broth cradling shitake mushrooms and dark tohsaka seaweed to warm the stomach, followed by a pure, cleansing nigiri of hamachi (yellow tail) on avocado. Gunkan maguro comprised a silky ribbon of tuna stuffed with chopped tuna and tofu whisked into a light miso mayonnaise and sandwiched between two slices of refreshing lime. Clever. And the crunchy ‘Bossa Nova’—a vegetarian uramaki of wasabi-spiked guacamole, tubiko and wakame seaweed—delivered crunch and texture against all odds.
Where the sense of balance got slightly lost was in desserts. Both were fine in and of themselves —a green tea sponge cake topped with lychees, white chocolate cream, toasted coconut and raspberries, and some sort of chocolate bomb that came as a bonus dish—but rather too heavy after the almost ethereal lightness of the rest of the menu.
The only other down point, as I said at the start, was the music which unfortunately is a problem wherever the club world merges with the restaurant one. It started well, soothing us into the night with bossa nova crooners, then descended into electro hell turned up far too loud.
That didn’t stop us lingering for a postprandial passion fruit ‘mojito’ however, and nor will it stop me returning. Ikibana serves just the kind of light, lively and interesting food I like, at a price that doesn’t make you shudder.
Ikibana, Avinguda Paral·lel 148; tel. 93 424 4648, www.ikibana.com.
Open daily 1.30-4pm, 8.30pm-2.30am. Tasting menus: €33, €48 and €68. Weekday lunch menu: €12. House wine: €14.50.