About two summers ago, or thereabouts, I wrote about a groovy little lunch joint called Muebles Ciudad in the old town, and kept two fingers crossed for it. So when heading out for dinner a couple of weeks back to the newly-opened Kynoto, I was surprised to discover that it now occupies the space that once belonged to Muebles Ciudad.
“I remember this when it was Muebles Ciudad,” I told my friend. “I remember it when it really was Muebles Ciudad [an old furniture shop],” she countered. And then the owner breezed by and said, “I remember it when it was the first Chinese restaurant in the city. It shut down in the Eighties. Are you enjoying yourselves?”
As it happens we were. The space—let’s stick to the name Kynoto to avoid confusion—is dark and sultry with soaring ceilings and windows that go on forever. A corner block is given over as a lounge area with WiFi where city-slickers go for coffee and internet chat in the afternoons (WiFi is rather sensibly banned at night), and that same fabulous black wallpaper printed with gold tropical leaves still graces the wall proud as Picasso.
Kynoto, though, is also a proper restaurant, or more accurately a ‘sushi lounge’. Owner Xavi Ribó is passionate about sushi and Japan in general and doesn't believe in mixing concepts. “If it’s sushi, it should just be sushi,” he told me. “If it’s shabu-shabu, or sukiyaki, or teppanyaki then it’s a Japanese restaurant. And that’s a different thing. This is just sushi.”
OK then. Sushi it is. But first a Saketini, amid a Japanese-themed cocktail list that reads like poetry. A Saketini, just for the record, is all the rage in New York these days, and the Kynoto version is a cheeky little number of smooth, high-quality sake, a soupçon of crystallised ginger, and a cucumber garnish. “I should warn you it’s very strong,” worried our waiter, clearly unaccustomed to the average journalist’s rare capacity for drink.
We order a bowl of tender, salty edamame (soy beans) which we toss back like peanuts with the cocktail and then move onto refreshing iki beer, a more sensible partner to the delicate raw fish platter that would duly arrive. Iki was created by a Japanese monk and includes green tea and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) which, by the way, makes you feel rather virtuous as you guzzle it back.
A bowl of sweet, succulent shrimp tempura enclosed in a crisp batter is superb, though the salad rolls could have done with more liberal use of the digestive herbs that generally go into these things. But the sashimi is excellent. It’s delicate to taste, buttery and mild, an indulgent mix of sweet, melt-in-the-mouth scallops, luscious folds of toro (fatty tuna) and salmon, and fork-tender halibut. I don’t even mind that there’s no dressing up with peppery chrysanthemum leaves or refreshing shredded daikon (Japanese radish).
I could eat it all night, but move on to neat little slabs of nigiri lightly perfumed with mirin (sweet rice seasoning), hosomaki (stuffed seaweed baskets) that are laden with ozone-rich uni (sea urchin); big fat salmon eggs that roll around the tongue and then pop seductively; smoky lacquered unagi (eel) and spicy tuna; and maki rolls delicately rolled in sesame seeds and chives. Other delicacies have wonderful names like dragon rolls (with eel, cucumber and avocado); kriptonita (spicy tuna, onions, cucumber and wasabi); CaribeNo and Rainbow, and in the case of three different tablas (mixed platters), the choices are left to the chef.
Light desserts like green tea truffles and jasmine ice-cream round out the experience. What Kynoto has so right—and where so many sushi joints fall down—is in its meticulous sourcing, strict use of high quality ingredients, and its unpretentious presentation: sushi as food for the masses was never supposed to be in the upper echelons of gastronomy, and it’s good to discover a corner of trendy Tokyo right here in Barcelona.
Kynoto, Ciutat 5 (Barri Gòtic); Tel: 93 304 2376. www.kynoto.com. About €35-40 per person for starters, a mixed platter of sushi to share, dessert, a cocktail and a couple of beers.