The thick velvet green curtains at the entrance of Mantis are reminiscent of Gresca. When I mention it to the blond chef he says “I don’t think it looks like Gresca but the interior designer is the same.”
We are seated at the bar in front of the kitchen. There is a built-in wok station which prompts me to mention to my friend that this place has an Asian Fusion menu.
Again the chef intervenes. “Well not Asian,” he says. Unironically chopping up cylinders of wheat and tapioca dough and flattening it with his square cleaver for gyoza. “There are no Chinese chefs here, no Koreans…”
“So what are you?”
I pause. “So you lived in Hong Kong?”
“No, I lived in Sri Lanka for a year and a half, I can’t say I loved it. Or curries. But I travelled to Bali and Singapore and was drawn to Asian food. And you can teach yourself anything with YouTube.”
Disamirmingly direct – the presence of two statuetes of Ganesh juxtaposed against a waving Maneki-neko makes more sense now.
“But you are good at shaping dumplings.” my Korean friend remarks. “We used to always make them in my family and there is a saying that if you make ugly dumplings you will make ugly babies.” She giggles.
The concept is small plates. We are told to order a fair few which once we see the serving size, turns out to be good advice. In the corner of the kitchen are two cooked blackened beef tongues and one pigeon, head and claws intact. “It’s served whole.” He tells us. “In the manner of Peking duck.” Dismembering a small bird seems like too much effort for lunch.
We start with a just cooked langoustine on a shard of crispy chicken skin. My friend has the sea urchin supplement. Next comes mackerel sashimi, cut like it will be mounted in jewellery and served intriguingly on the lip of a shallow bowl with a pool of sesame oil in the centre for dipping.
There is a shrimp and pork hargau served with a shallow bowl of shrimp head bisque. Gyoza of hare and chocolate served on a flat plate and paired with earthy beetroot, the chocolate worked into a deep jus. This is a classic French dish and it occurs to me that what the chef is doing at Mantis is preparing Catalan and French dishes using Asian cooking techniques. The wok, the steamer.
We have a dish of celeriac which he seems especially chuffed about. There is a creamy reduction beneath the wedges and we opt for the truffle supplement. The long Chinese eggplant with a side of sticky rice steamed in a lotus leaf is the least successful and coincidentally the most similar to the original
We are directed to an agua chile fruit salad for dessert, the small uniform dice make it meld into one homogeneous tropical fruit flavour in the mouth, but the texture from the coriander seeds and shoots doesn’t add enough to make it interesting. A lacy tuile might have done the trick.
We may have walked in thinking Mantis is like Gresca but we leave feeling it’s more like Dos Palillos, Albert Raurich’s fusion Raval Eatery. But young and fun in the vein of Suru Bar illustrated by the amicable guffaws from the open kitchen when the young woman next to us drops the uni onto the countertop before she can get the langoustine into her mouth. The pricing reminds us of Clara, in fact increasingly new openings in the city are coming in at these price points.
Afterwards, I research. There are two chefs: Romero and Solans. Solans who I have been chatting to spent time at Fäviken which makes the claws on pigeon reappear in my mind. While Romero was at Koy Shunka and Diver XO. The background checks out with what we have experienced. Moreover, when the kitchen is led by young chefs who are finally implementing their vision after years of apprenticeship there is a specific unique energy that is delightful to be around.
Carrer de París, 145