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The concept for Asian ‘tapas’ restaurant Kuai Momos cannot be called ‘fusion’ in the conventional sense of blending two unique styles of cuisine into one. Instead, and even better, this tantalising eatery sends you off on a tour de force of pure Asian flavours from one far reach of the great continent to the other. The restaurant and menu are the creations of dynamic Barcelona native Jordi Brau. Born and raised in Gràcia, Jordi has turned the much-coveted gourmand backpacker’s dream into a reality—his own restaurant dedicated to seven years of travel and life experience throughout Asia. Dishes reflect real experiences during his adventures, with some even bearing the name of the person who inspired it (who is this Riky of Thai Fish Cake Riky’s?). The name Kuai Momos is equal parts wordplay and obscure foodie reference. For the first word, think “¡que guay!” (how cool!). The second, momos, is a type of traditional savoury Nepalese dumpling (steamed then pan-fried), similar to the Japanese gyoza and a must-order when dining at this busy little neighbourhood favourite.
Located in the heart of Gràcia, Kuai Momos is one of many restaurants that I have walked by dozens of times without a second glance. I was surprised that I had never stopped to look at the menu, displayed outside in a small lightbox. The place is small, with an appealing display of wine bottles at the entry, a long narrow service bar and dining area, and an upstairs dining room at the top of an impossibly-narrow staircase. The real highlight is the large collection of framed travel photographs taken by Jordi Brau himself during his seven-year journey which give the restaurant a homey and authentic feel.
Our dining experience started off on the right foot, as we were seated immediately by the pleasant hostess. The menu was explained in detail and our server informed us that the average order was around two plates per person, with the goal of sharing everything. Plates here leave the kitchen when they are ready, in no specific order. In keeping with the traditional family-style service found throughout much of Asia, the idea of starter and main courses is non-existent. Though not one Spanish or Catalan dish can be found on the menu of Kuai Momos, their motto of Tapes amb palillos (Tapas with chopsticks) is very appropriate. Nearly everything on the menu costs between €5 and €9, and with five people the bill split evenly came out to just about €25 each.
The array of delights at Kuai Momos makes choosing difficult. The meal began with a Cambodian salad of cucumbers in peanut sauce. I love peanut sauce and could probably eat it on most things, and this one did not disappoint. Not too thick and not the least bit gritty, there was a touch of sweetness and a good kick of acidity from the vinegar and lime that cut the richness of the sauce and refreshed the palate, allowing the cilantro to shine.
Next came the famous momos dumplings: one order of the vegetarian variety and one with mushrooms, bamboo and ground pork. They are the pan-fried-then-steamed kind of dumpling, but with thicker dough than a typical Japanese gyoza and less greasy than the Chinese gou tie. While recalling every one of the countless dumplings that I have eaten in my life would be an impossible task, I can say that I may have had better. That being said, if you don’t order at least one plate of momos you’ll be missing out. I would go for the mushroom and bamboo variety again and plan to taste the prawn and vegetable filling on my next visit.
After the dumplings, the speed at which our plates began to leave the kitchen increased, with one dish after another landing on the table until nearly every bit of space was occupied. The Thai green chicken curry and the Thai red vegetable curry were both really nice. There was well-developed flavour, tender meat and vibrant notes of lemongrass and lime leaf, though I have a feeling that the Asian chefs in the kitchen (Kuai Momos announces proudly on their menu that their food is authentic, right down to the people who cook it) may have been holding back on the spice to cater to the local palate. With the dimension added by some good heat, the curries would have been elevated to the next level. As my hand with the hot sauce gets heavier as the years go by, it gets harder for my taste buds to get their fix. In a city like Barcelona where very few things are truly spicy, a chef who can harness that perfect balance of pain and pleasure immediately captures my attention.
Luckily, my favourite dish of the night had yet to arrive, the ‘Korean salad of beef fillet’. Composed of raw strips of ‘cube roll’ (a succulent and flavourful cut of beef known alternatively as Boneless Rib-eye or Scotch Fillet) marinated in spicy Korean chili powder, daikon radish, lime, guindilla peppers and sesame seeds, this is better than any steak tartare you’ve ever tasted. As I greedily claimed the last morsel, I contemplated sucking down the remaining, fiery sauce right from the bowl.
The dishes we ordered paired well with the Albet i Noya 3 Macabeus 2014, an organic, 100 percent Macabeu varietal white wine from Penedès that possesses enough presence and body to stand up to bold flavours of the pan-Asian table. Recommended wisely by our servers, this bottle was well balanced, with ripe fruit and nice acidity, a lush floral nose and a crisp, refreshing lightness that made for very easy drinking.
I wouldn’t be over-generalising to say that the weak point of many Asian menus is the dessert section. I was relieved not to see the classic ‘fried ice cream’ of the Chinese-American restaurants of my youth, but of the four dessert offerings (five including the sorbets and ice creams), only the Black Sticky Rice with Mango tempted me. Momos offers hot mochi cooked to order with sesame praline, and though I am guessing that it is surely better than average, I’ve had too many insipid mochi experiences as of late to want to commit to an entire plate. If you’re a chocolate fiend, the chocolate truffles with ginger and orange would be right up your alley, but in the end, it was the rice and mango that made the cut. You would have to look hard to find my sweet tooth, and I would take another plate of dumplings over cake any day, so this not-too-sweet, warm bowl of black rice with perfectly-ripe cubes of mango was a good choice and I enjoyed it.
I am enamoured of Asian food in general and I crave it more often than any other type of cuisine, so it follows that the unique back-story and diverse offering of Kuai Momos immediately caught my eye. You could choose Kuai Momos as a casual date night spot, but the environment, menu and location make it an ideal destination for dinner with friends, as the friendly staff and ‘tapas’ format invite you to stay at your leisure, savouring each bite. Dig in as you retrace the footsteps of Jordi Brau, from South Korea to Japan, then down through China into South-East Asia before forging west to the mountain kingdom of Nepal. When you finally bid your sherpas adéu, you can make your way around the corner to either of Gràcia’s two busiest plaças and carry on in local fashion well into the night, with the scents of ginger and chili still clinging to your fingertips.
Kuai Momos. Martínez de la Rosa 71.