Ikoya Barcelona Izakaya is located across from Santa Caterina market. It opened earlier this year, a collaboration between the 1 Michelin * holder Hideki Matsuhisa (Koy Shunka) and Iñaki López of the Sagardi group. Besides Koy Shunka, Matsuhisa also has the historically oversubscribed everyday Japanese spot Shunka and Kak Koy which specializes in Robata grill dishes. Robata hasn’t been reopened since its closure for refurbishment. (I suspect that the ample seating of Ikoya, will make the small Kak Koy redundant and we won’t see it reopen.)
I am surprised at the door when the earpiece-wearing, clipboard-wielding man with the Abraham Lincoln beard turns out to be the former sommelier from Vila Viniteca. After checking if I have a reservation (I don’t it’s Monday early afternoon) he ushers me in and shouts “Irasshaimase!” above my head to which the staff in the cavernous restaurant yell back “Irasshaimase!”.
I am installed at the bar, a square that wraps around a central kitchen, sushi counter and robata grill. The lighting of the place, even during the day, reminds me of the inky style I often encounter in Manhattan. Place settings are carefully picked out with precisely targeted beams. Around the bar the lamps are made of Hake skin, the light pouring out of gaping mouths. That’s not the only distinctive design I spot, above my head is the hull of a large wooden ship and some of the brick walls have paintings of windswept characters.
Proximal to the 4 and 5-star hotels of El Born, Gothic and Eixample (the 5* Edition Hotel is right across the street) the customers aren’t likely to baulk at the prices. As if on cue, an English-speaking silver-haired man with an expensive haircut sporting a long jagged fringe and no watch sits down with his two boys. He tells them about his idea for a new installation with AI-collected ambient noise. “Remember when we were in New York and we had that chef make Japanese food for us? It was almost as good as when we lived in Japan.” They switch to seamless French. I estimate his net worth at 35 million. Across from me, I’ve decided the young hirsute man with the thick eyelashes and the tie-dyed shirt is a Saudi Prince. (Also no watch, tourists have finally gotten the memo that Barcelona is a leave-your-bling-at-home type of city.)
The menu is made up of cold plates, warm plates, sushi, sashimi and robata grill. There are even two Ramens on the menu which the younger of the boys orders much to his father’s chagrin. “This the place to order ramen? Are you sure this is what you want to order?”
It has to be Agedashi Tofu for me. One of my favourite all-time dishes. Agedashi Tofu is like a dessert cactus flower, no sooner does it bloom than it starts to die. Tender Tofu comes wrapped in an ethereal crisp coating, shaved bonito flakes twitching life-like on top of it, the whole sits in a Dashi broth which stealthily creeps up the crisp sides rendering them soggy in minutes. It’s doomed to fail and like all tragic narratives, it’s compelling. And the Agedashi Tofu at Ikoya Barcelona is perfect.
The selection of three sashimi (21€) comes with salmon, tuna and razor clam. The wasabi is bumpy having been freshly grated. I finish the lot with a cherry mochi.
My carefully considered lunch for one tallies up to 55.50€. As Barcelona establishes itself as a place people want to move to rather than just visit I expect more of these professional setups to target an increasingly wealthier traveller. Is it a good thing or bad thing I wonder? Only to conclude that like everything, it’s rapidly changing.
Ikoya Barcelona Izakaya
Av. de Francesc Cambó, 23
El Born 08003