Sunday, 7 March 2010

Koy Shunka - Barcelona's Hidden Treasure

Nobody goes to fine dining restaurants to eat. Even people like me, whose lives are committed to fine dining, divide eateries into two groups: those we go to for the cerebral thrill of experiencing a great chef's creativity, passion and originality... and those we go to because we're hungry. But every now and again you come across a restaurant that spans the gap between dining for intellectual pleasure and dining for hedonistic pleasure. It's a rare experience, but a handful of chefs have managed to build that bridge. Peter Gordon is one example and I'll be writing about him again soon. Hideki Matsuhisa is another. If you read this, Hideki, I haven't deserted you. It's just that I'm now living 709 miles away, so it's a bit difficult to pop in on a Sunday night.

Hideki Matsuhisa and his business partner Xu Zhangchao (known to regular foodies and local pool players as "Sam") run one of Barcelona's true hidden treasures, Koy Shunka. Located in a small alleyway off the Via Laietana not far from the city's tourist hub at Plaça Catalunya, you could easily walk straight past the place and not notice it was there. But great quality doesn't go unnoticed. Pop inside, and you could find yourself seated next to regular customer Ferran Adrià or any one of a number of other top chefs, celebrities and gastronomes. For Koy Shunka is predominantly a kappo-style counter restaurant in which customers sit at one of about 24 places around a bar, while 10 or more chefs busy themselves preparing the food right in front of the customer. The most junior chefs cook the hot food in the centre, their superiors work around them and the most senior chefs plate up dishes, prepare cold food, sauces and extras and attend directly to their 'personal' customers. Hideki Matsuhisa supervises all sashimi dishes personally.Hideki Matsuhisa, chef/proprietor of Koy Shunka

Although I've eaten there several times and written enthusiastic comments about the place more than once, I never managed to take any food photos and consequently never wrote it up in my restaurants section. Thinking about that the other day it came home to me that it wasn't a coincidence - when you dine as a critic you bring your critical apparatus with you, but when you dine as a member of a family it just doesn't seem appropriate somehow. Hideki Matsuhisa always made me feel like I was at home.

Luckily for me my friend Professor Paulina Mata - Portuguese food scientist, molecular gastronomist, author and broadcaster - paid a visit to the Catalan capital recently, equipped with a copy of my 2009 post Dining out in Barcelona. Better still, she returned home with some great photographs of the food at Koy Shunka, which she's encouraged me to reproduce. Click on slides for descriptions of dishes:

Readers with a command of Portuguese should read Professor Mata's writeup on her gastronomic forum NovaCrí "I adored the environment, I adored the food", she reported. "When I return to Barcelona I shall certainly revisit Koy Shunka." I'll raise a glass of sake to that!

It's front of house, rather than the kitchen, that ultimately makes all the difference to a restaurant by turning great food into a great customer experience. In Koy Shunka, personal chefs entertain and inform you throughout the meal. But waiters and waitresses also operate almost invisibly on the customer side of the counter, removing and replacing crockery and cutlery, topping up glasses and attending to every issue that makes the experience perfect. Including important rituals such as offering a hand towel at the start of the meal. Except that at Koy Shunka, even this transcends ritual to become entertainment. Click left and enjoy!

For anyone who can't afford to visit Tokyo but can manage the fare to Barcelona, I can't recommend Koy Shunka too highly. Make sure you call ahead and book - then just turn up and be pampered.


Paulina said...

Nice post. Thanks for the tip!

Trig said...

My pleasure. Glad you enjoyed the meal.

Oceangoddess said...

Lovely blog, Trig! I stumbled across it whilst looking for a photo of nasturtiums. Hey, there is a raw foods blog I follow -- don't have any monetary interest and don't know the author personally, I just love it for its simple and delicious recipes. Thought you might find it interesting as well. It's called Raw on $10 a Day (or Less!).
Best regards!

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