I recently had an incredible lunch at 1 Michelin-starred Yam’Tcha in Paris—160€ for the menu and 50€ for the tea pairing. A Maitre D in a three-piece suit was on hand to hinge over the table to explain and charm. Shortly after that, I had lunch at Soluna in Barcelona. The Soluna menu is priced at 56€ and the more expensive Festival menu at 89€.
Though I reserved an early table at 13:00. We had the restaurant mostly to ourselves until we started dessert. Chef Teppei Nii is alone behind the island at the front of the restaurant and one waitress manages the dining room.
As with yam’Tcha in Paris, there is no choice, only accommodation for allergies. Soluna is primarily a pescatarian restaurant, the exception being the supplementary Wagyu dish. The “fish is consistently exceptional” status of Barcelona often comes up in stark relief when I eat fish in other cities. A place like Soluna is the perfect place to experience that. The Japanese approach of treading thoughtfully around the delicate flavours of fresh seafood works beautifully.
It begins with a small dish of tender sashimi, dotted with vibrant green spring peas and large flakes of salt. Miniature barely steamed Galician scallops are served on a rich puree in a bespoke plate where the bowl is the depth and width of a generous mouthful. A solitary razor clam is served on a high-glazed plate that is evocative of the deep sea the clam came from. It has been cut into four segments so I don’t have to engage in an indelicate battle of tugging at the long creature. (Incidentally, since I have spent time in Barcelona, Razor clams have become my favourite clam.)
This being a Japanese establishment, Katsuobushi flakes make an entrance. A whole symphony of them waving around like an enthusiastic audience at a concert. They embellish an impossibly crispy “pizza” as Soluna refers to it. And though it comes with a pizza slicer, the texture inside is of an omelette or savoury crème brûlée.
The trio of sashimi with minced tuna off to the side is spectacular. It sits in light soy, a good-sized splodge of wasabi affixed to the side like a barnacle on the hull of a ship. The squid is sliced up into an intricate lattice which renders it incredibly tender. Squid sashimi is a good way to judge the skill of the chef, there is no doubt that Nii is skilled.
A warm main dish reminds us that we are in Catalunya and that it’s Spring with a tender calçot propped up on the fish. Then, a make-your-own handroll arrives. The seaweed is dry and crisp but pliable enough that we can fashion it into a makeshift roll. Inside there is a tartar of local red shrimp contrasted against a crisp confetti of freshly fried tempura. The decapitated head glowing brightly off to the side.
It ends too soon. With a strawberry shortcake of sorts. A crips disc of biscuit, dollops of custard, strawberries and a quenelle of glistening gelato.
That we can have a meal this accomplished and nuanced at this price point is one of the many delights of Barcelona. Along with the fact that Soluna doesn’t require us to book weeks in advance. The urge can grab you and you could be sitting there a few hours later. I recommend a seat at the bar, so you can see it come together effortlessly.