I have pre and post coronavirus memories. After coronavirus, everything is muddy, the colour of the water in which you rinse your paintbrushes. Not necessarily worse in some aspects but shapeless. I can’t remember what I ate 3 days ago, even though I cooked it. Can you?
However, I can remember the last meal I had. It was at Arigato Barcelona. I ate alone. Most of my friends had already started avoiding restaurants at that point.
Arigato Barcelona is in what used to be the eclair/profiterole shop Patachou. And while I felt that Patachou struggled with an ungainly narrow restaurant space with a small light source at one end. Arigato Barcelona solved this by interrupting it halfway through with a heavy curtain.
The menu at Agreste is a mishmash. Bowls, sandwiches, two soups, a salad some desserts. Halloumi on the one hand and miso in the MisoStrone. Two things I love, Miso and halloumi and probably next to one another in my fridge but on a menu I questioned their inclusion.
I tend to approach things by initially listing and then addressing hesitations. Miso and halloumi appearing together on such a small menu was one such misgiving. As was the name. Arigato. “Why?” I ask Sussie, the young Danish woman serving me sporting an immaculate bob hair cut framing a smooth face. “We are influenced by Japan.”
So far so unclear.
I order the MisoStrone (6€) because it’s either a cringy name or an inside joke that I will hopefully find funny once I’ve tasted it. Definitely the latter. It’s umamminess is profound. It makes me salivate disproportionately in the short intervals between the spoon dipping into the broth and arriving at my lips. Then the Halloumi? I look for guidance to chef Sebastian manning a heavy toaster and a stamp-sized workspace. “Everything is good.” is his answer. I have the duck egg (7.5€) for novelty sake. And yes fun but writing this now, two months later I struggle to resurrect the memory.
But I remember with clarity what happened next. I ordered three desserts in quick succession.
That wasn’t my plan.
It started out like this:
I ordered a scoop of yoghurt ice cream speckled in alternating rows of matcha meringues and blueberries. Served on a scalloped dish, sitting on a wooden tray. I ate it while flipping through the menu and finding a whole paged of desserts at the end. Seeing the matcha nemesis with pomelo I signalled Sebastian and ordered.
“It’s a play on a famous recipe,” he began.
“The River Cafe‘s Chocolate Nemesis?” I proferred. Eliciting a raised eyebrow and possibly enough goodwill from him that when I ordered a half portion of the French Toast (6.5€) 15 minutes later he indulged me.
But not before asking “Are you really going to eat all these desserts now? Why don’t you come back another day?”
“Because I live in Sitges,” I answered, undaunted and unabashed. (Female appetite and the discomfort around witnessing it persists still. For more I recommend Supper Club by Lara Williams.)
And perhaps I had a subconscious premonition that we, Spain in its entirety, would be going into one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe.
“I don’t usually like sweets,” I confess to Faviola, a pastry chef at Arigato “but these, they are…”
“They are not too sweet,” she finishes for me.
That’s part of it. I don’t do sickly sweet. But beyond that, there is the freshness. The desserts are prepared the way they would have been in a Michelin restaurant, made to order. The ice cream has a smoothness I only ever encountered when I am paying upwards of 200€ for my meal. At Arigato, nothing on the menu is more than 10€ and most is around 7€.
There is a fineness to everything, even Sussie’s impeccable hair that speaks to sophistication and expertise. And when I dig a little, I find what I am looking for.
Arigato Barcelona belongs to Sussie and Sebastian, two chefs behind the popular pop up in Poble Nou, Cooking in Motion. Sussie is a sake sommelier. Both downplay their experience but I manage to tease out that Sebastian was Creative Director to Adria’s restaurants Pakta, 41 degrees and Tickets. And find out later that Cooking in Motion did a pop up at the Tate in London in 2017.
When I find out, I instantly feel vindicated that I am able to identify the extraordinary even when the label is covered up.
I ate here on Thursday the 12th of March. Arigato had only been opened a week. The next day, Friday, Barcelona and Spain went into a suffocating lockdown. I worried that they might not survive it. But now, two months later, perhaps these small agile businesses are the best equipped to weather out the uncertainty. I hope so. What Arigato is capable of doing and the things that this young power food couple know, you will want to know. And taste.
You can already. On the 15th & 16th of May order a complete menu with a sake pairing. Tell me what you think.