The back of the Boqueria market has been cleaned up by the town hall. There is a large open space, dotted with saplings interspersed with drunks and happy tourists alike sitting and soaking up the sun. It borders on Carrer de Carme, which is perpendicular to Ramblas. The further away from Ramblas you go, the more ethnic it gets but the front end is tourists. On this prime corner sits Satay Grill – a new restaurant (the seventh I guess?) from the TribuWoki group. I follow a local blog who swooned over the place bar so I was curious to see.
In the looks department – it’s well stacked. A Satay station to your right as you come in, another central bar kitchen in the front and a line of double round tables along one wall. I shoot off to the bathroom to wash my hands (the better to eat my steamed pork bun later). And…no soap in the soap dispenser. Ominous sign for me, a fastidious manager would do the rounds and give all the dispensers a few pumps before lunch service. I shrug it off, few people can or want to adhere to my impossible standards. I get that.
At the table my friend asks me – “so is this ‘Satay’, the real deal, or the Barcelona interpretation of Asian?”
We both love steamed pork buns – these are supposed to come with hoisin sauce – so we order one each. And beef satay for me and the quail for her, which they don’t have so she ends up with a sausage balls on a stick.
She takes a bite and slams it down in disgust. “I knew it. It’s Barcelona Asian.” Which if you are not from here means a car crash. Usually too sweet, a lot of vinegar and gloop. I take a bite, the bun is a delight but that’s where it ends. The pork is a soft mess of protein, there is some thin pickled cucumber that is making the bun go soft and a bright orangy red sauce smothered on both sides which tastes suspiciously like blended jarred kimchi.
“Well this isn’t hoisin.” I beckon the waitress over. “The menu said that this came with hoisin sauce, this isn’t hoisin sauce.” I hold up the bun for her to see.
“Yes it is.”
“No it’s not.”
“Yes it is.”
pause from me “….it’s not though.”
The truth is, she doesn’t have a clue. No one has taken the time to take her through the dishes and explain what’s what. She folds her arms and looks at us “Honey, that’ what hoisin looks like.” She walks over to the guy at the satay station and tells him we think it’s not hoisin. He says it is, then he says that actually it’s the pork that is cooked in hoisin and the sauce is something else – he glances around and points at one of the sirracha bottles that adorn every table.
My beef satay is dry, the satay sauce is thin at best. It comes with a bowl of rice that has been coated in oil, with a little pool at the bottom. It’s mildly reminiscent of boil in a bag Uncle Ben’s. Basmati it’s not.
We’ve managed to unsettle both the waitress and the cook which is unfortunate because it’s not them, they work hard, on their feet all day for not great pay but they are making and selling a product that firstly isn’t what it says on the box and secondly they haven’t received any training on.
When she asks if we want dessert we both give our biggest smiles and ask for the check please.
It’s a pity to see, when someone has gone to the trouble of securing a nice location, fitting it out, thinking of the menu but then hasn’t followed through on the day-to-day. Of the other TribuWoki places I have been to Barracuda in Castelldefels and although it’s pricey – I like it. So maybe some attention will be given to Satay Grill and it will get straightened out. But for now – go to Koku Kitchen Buns if you want buns or Saté up in Sant Antoni if you want Satay.
Carrer del Carme, 42
08001 El Raval