Tatami Room opened 5 years ago. A collaboration between Jazz (of Mosquito fame), Jason (who I’ve not met) and Hugo (with whom I spend the afternoon talking). Some years in, Jazz decided that the Poble Sec barrio didn’t suit him much and left.
Hugo is from Cambridge, floppy hair, quick to guffaw and comfortable in a pair of tatami zori sandals. From what he says, he has been on a few esoteric pilgrimages. Among them, Peru where his asthma was cured after imbibing ayahuasca. He spent 15 years in Japan, met his wife there, explored wabi-sabism through soba noodle making and became a convert to all things Japanese. (Listening to him I begin to fear that I have been squandering my allocated time on planet earth – I don’t have a single shaman encounter and how have I never been to Japan?!)
“What do you want to have?” He asks. My lunch has been organised by Rob Dobson of Homage to BCN who has recently upgraded the Tatami Room website.
“I don’t know – whatever’s good? Probably a few sushi so I can see what your rice is like.”
Hugo smirks. “The rice is fine. I can tell you that our sushi chef’s father was a sushi chef and his grandfather was a sushi chef. We have one of the few Japanese, properly trained sushi chefs in Barcelona bar one or two other restaurants.”
“Like Shunka?” I pipe up.
“Shunka? No, they are all Chinese in there, except for the lady who takes you to your seat.”
“I’ll get you some sushi. I want you to try our cockle ramen. We have 3 new ramen dishes and this one is my favourite. It’s all the rage in Japan. I go back there every 6 weeks to pick up ingredients for the restaurant.”
“Well if it’s big in Japan (sorry couldn’t resist)…”
The cockle broth is delicate, savoury and a little tart from the yuzu. The noodles are wonderful. I tell Hugo.
“They’re ok” he concedes. “But you know, ramen is about the noodle more than the broth, the same as with sushi. These noodles are good, the best in Barcelona (I agree) but they can be better. I think I am just going to have to buy a noodle making machine.”
And that is the thing about Hugo and about Tatami Room. It’s a place that operates without an eye on the bottom line. They know what things ought to taste like and they are not willing to sell a bastardized product to the market simply because the market doesn’t know any better.
The ramen is outstanding – my new favourite in a city that is fast falling in love with slurping noodles out of a bowl. The nigiri sushi I try (salmon, tuna and eel – the eel coming from a farm in Valencia and cooked in the restaurant) are gorgeous. Upstairs is nice and downstairs even more so – the novelty of sitting barefoot, on the floor to have lunch in a room decorated with beautiful objects, handmade by Hugo’s wife with food this good and prices like this? 8.5€ for the best bowl of ramen? It’s an opportunity you can not miss.
The Tatami Room
C/ Poeta Cabanyes, 19
08004 Poble Sec