Unlike the other two Hideki Matsuhisa restaurants, Shunka and Koy Shunka, the Kak Koy interior is visible from the street. A corner spot with wrought iron window rails and soft crinkled Noren. Meter upon meter of white countertops are visible. Divided almost equally between kitchen and dining room.
The kitchen is the heart of the space. Its synchronized performance live. Instead of a pass with the chef facing outwards, there is a bit of counter space in front of the centrally placed Robata grill where the tickets are laid out, the head chef leads from there. His back is turned towards the guests as his eyes are trained on his cooks. He calls out the orders loudly, the cooks mumble their confirmation and compliance.
The cold starter section first, followed by the sushi, the Robata grill island further back, a wine section where every glass of wine is weighed out on a scale within a gram of accuracy. The young chefs are numerous, I count 8.
It’s lunchtime on a Friday and there are probably 15 of us eating. It gets much busier at night. 17 years on from his first opening, a seat at one of Matsuhisa’s restaurants is (still) one of the hardest ones to get. Their style is understated, consistent and the freshness of their fish stunning.
This is a Robataya, a Japanese Bistro, we are here to enjoy the cooked more than the raw. We are given a yellow pencil and a menu to tick off our selection. You can spend or you can go budget here and you are guaranteed a good meal. Without judgment – another thing to love about Barcelona, there is never any shame doled out for having moderate means. We order 7 dishes to share between two and our bill comes to 25€ each. We could have just as easily spent 75€ if we had opted for truffles and wagyu.
Each dish stands out. Rough cut pieces of tempurad calamari (7.5€); mackerel tataki (6.5€); smoky Iberico pork with gem lettuce hearts (8.6€). The miso eggplant alone is a reason to go to Kak Koy. Fat, squat, with a thick slurry of miso on top and glistening sides. The inside is plump and juicy, its sweetness juxtaposing the salty outside. And not a seed to be found.
Next to us, two young couples who don’t know each other have been seated across from each other. One orders the yakisoba, it comes riddled with Katsuobushi (dried Bonito flakes) that dance and twirl as if possessed. The other couple exclaim in surprise. The man who ordered the dish pushes the plate forward for the strangers to try. By the end of their meal, I hear them exchange numbers. The openness is emblematic of Barcelona but the layout of Kak Koy, with its long sharing bars and the intimacy of the kitchen, the extractor sucking up the smoke of the robata grill – it lends to an atmosphere of congeniality even while the food being served is bordering on exquisite.