I have a half written post on Vancouver but we’ve just come back from a relaxing holiday in Barcelona and we visited a fantastic Japanese cafe for the first time on our last night and I just needed to share it with you. It’s Usagui (Japanese for rabbit) in St Gervasi and we do love it so! The cafe is larger than I expected, taking up what appears to be a converted cellar. There’s plenty of seating, the music isn’t too loud, the food is excellent – it’s everything I need in a cafe!

We visited on a Saturday night – I, Blai, and Blai’s mother; it was quite busy but not especially crowded – this may be explained by it being holiday season. We started with tea. This was my kikucha (a green tea with stems) while Blai and his mother had hojicha (a roasted green tea). I was particularly impressed by the care the staff took to ensure that the water was at the correct temperature for each tea – hotter for the hojicha than the kikucha apparently).

Green tea tonight! This Japanese cafe (Usagui) in Barcelona is fantastic! They took great care to ensure that the hot water for the teapot top-ups was at the correct temperature for that particular tea.

Between the three of us, we split two dishes for supper. First there was an oyakodon, the classic chicken and egg donburi which was executed perfectly here, with the egg still a little on the runny side.

Their savoury food is all very comforting and delicious. Fabulous oyakodon.

There was also omusoba, listed on the menu as yakisoba with the optional egg, and again, here, it was fantastic.

Omusoba! They have a short menu but it's full of things I want to eat.

I wasn’t going to leave without trying some of their cake. Their matcha roll, filled with matcha cream and azuki bean paste, was light and fluffy and extremely moreish. And like many Japanese cakes, not too sweet – which was a very welcome respite from all the rich Christmas treats.

Dessert at Usagui tonight.

We took the last portion of the matcha cake and I was greatly tickled by the sad rabbit sign put up afterwards!

Dessert at Usagui tonight.

Mochi was also available and we went for the matcha mochi filled with azuki bean paste and whipped cream. This was amazingly fresh – all soft and chewy (chew well, folks!) and the whipped cream lightened the texture of the entire sweet.

One more from tonight - very fresh matcha mochi with azuki beans and whipped cream!

There’s a menu del dia at lunchtime and they’re also open in the evenings (but not till very late at night – best to check Google Maps for opening times on the day). We’ll be back for sure.

Usagui
Carrer de les Santjoanistes, 28
Barcelona
Catalonia

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There was one particularly memorable lunch in Barcelona in Gràcia (closest metro station: Fontana). I’d heard good things about a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant called Somodó and as we were planning on taking my mother-in-law for a nice lunch, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it. Reservations recommended as there’s only seating for about 20 people though we managed to book that morning for lunch for three.

You wouldn’t be blamed for walking straight past the restaurant – the windows are blocked up and there’s a very minimalist entrance, not unlike those I remember seeing in Tokyo. They have set menus for lunch and dinner but while both are very well priced for you get, lunch is the real bargain. Inside, the lighting is a bit dim but I guess that could be considered intimate. We were seated immediately at a round table laden with a small dish of olive oil and an apple. (We would later see apple threaded through the menu.)

Apple and Olive Oil

No printed menus were proffered but instead chef Shojiro Ochi himself came to our table and sullenly recited the choices for that day’s menú del dia to us in Spanish. No choice for the amuse and the first course. Fish or lamb for second; brownie or mousse for dessert. Between the three of us, we tried everything available – I love creating our own little tasting menu. Anyway, I believe the menu changes daily so you do need to listen carefully!

Excellent warm bread was brought to our table and turned out to be necessary to mop up all the sauces that were to come. Of course, it went well with the olive oil too.

Bread

I only thought to take a photo of the bread midway through the meal – don’t mind the crumbs!

Our first amuse/tapas was braised pigeon wings served with an apple sauce. We grabbed the little things with our fingers and gnawed away every last bit of flesh before mopping up the sauce with that excellent bread.

Pigeon Wings

The first course was an incredibly tender seared salmon fillet in a smoked tomato sauce. We suspected it had been first cooked sous vide but forget about any analysis – just eat. Eat and wonder if they’d give you a second plate of the same thing.

Salmon in a Smoked Tomato Sauce

It was at this point that more bread was brought to our table without our even asking. Those sauces! Not a drop was left on our plates.

For the second courses, the fish was monkfish with artichokes. You may want to note that portion sizes here run a little smaller than at your typical lunch joints but gosh, are the dishes fantastic here. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and served in a creamy sauce with a surprise slab of thick melting bacon underneath and fried artichoke slices on top.

Monkfish with Artichokes

The lamb was equally excellent, with mangetout, Japanese mushrooms, and kimchi! Yes, kimchi! I definitely didn’t expect to find it here; its strong flavour worked so well with the lamb.

Lamb with Kimchi

An unexpected cheese course came along at this point. A very strong local goat’s cheese (if my memory is correct) was served on little toasts with a homemade apple compote alongside.

Cheese

Desserts! The mousse of mató was topped with an apple sorbet and lots of little bits and pieces of various textures. Candied fruit, chewy jellies, blueberries and meringue. This was incredibly refreshing.

Mató Mousse

The brownie was made with chestnut (maybe it was more of a blondie?) and served with ice cream, caramelised banana and toffee and scattered with crushed popcorn. Oh, and yes, under a sheet of glass sugar!

Chestnut Brownie

Coffees were then proffered (a Japanese green tea in Blai’s case) and alongside we were offered onion financiers. We thought we didn’t hear properly but nope, that’s right! Savoury onion financiers! A bit of a surprise but still delightful.

Onion Financiers

By the end of the meal, chef seemed to have warmed up to us and waved us off with a big smile! In hindsight, I’d call it a Mediterranean restaurant with Japanese influences – but whatever it is, it’s excellent. And I haven’t told you the best part yet: it’s €20 for the menú del dia, including bread, water, wine, and coffee (the evening menus don’t include bread and drinks). If you’re visiting this beautiful city, go!

Somodó
Ros de Olano, 11
Gràcia
Barcelona 08012

We spent Christmas and New Year in Barcelona and the days were heavily punctuated by some fantastic eating, as you can expect. Christmas was feasting with family out in the village. St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day here in the UK) was more feasting at home. New Year’s Eve was snacking on canapes as we waited to shove grapes in our mouth with each strike of the clock at midnight. On New Year’s Day, even more feasting. Ah, that was the good life.

One thing that always strikes me about Barcelona is the way that chocolate is used with reckless abandon at all patisseries. Croissants, coques, palmiers,etc, come in both plain and chocolate-covered varieties. The chocolate coating is not a mere afterthought but a proper drenching – a thick coating! – that turns the pastry into a hefty, weighty treat. And these can be found at all patisseries! There were a couple of more unique chocolate treats that stood out during my visit though.

We went back to my beloved Forn Mistral to try a wide variety of their pastries. I particularly wanted to try their mini chocolate croissants and I wasn’t disappointed. They don’t look very promising from the outside but under that surprisingly thin layer of puff pastry is an equally surprising hefty lump of chocolate. There is a proper 50/50 ratio of pastry to chocolate in these little morsels. And if you pick some up for takeaway, there’s a chance you could get a scoop straight from the oven….mmm…. little chocolate lava morsels.

I'm a little obsessed with the mini chocolate croissants from @fornmistral ... Here's a cross section of one. Look at all that chocolate! And the portion we bought yesterday was hot out of the oven! 🍫

We also re-encountered a bakery that we’d visited years ago – Forn Jaume MontserratThe bakery is famous for their coques, Catalan flatbreads that are topped or filled with sweet or savoury ingredients. I noticed that there were many comments online about their coca de xocolata – pictured below – and we bought a large slice to take home. While the chocolate in the mini croissants above was pure dark chocolate, the one here was like a stiffer dark chocolate frosting, probably to hold up to a longer baking time. It was sweeter but I still liked it. I loved it. More please!

Slices of a coca de xocolata from Forn Jaume Montserrat ... Another example of the major chocolate representation at bakeries and patisseries here!

I guess it’s another way of mainlining chocolate that isn’t in liquid form!

On our walk back home through Gràcia from our lunch at Rio Teppan, I happened across a restaurant whose name rang a bell in a good way – La Singular. We revisited with Blai’s mom later during our trip and it did turn out to be a great meal. Their €10 menu del dia is creative and brilliant, as evinced by the crowds but there are no reservations taken for lunch so either show up early or show up late to avoid a wait.

To feed the crowds quickly, I can see that first dishes and desserts are made in advance and just plated while second dishes are cooked immediately. Blai started with the Amanida de llentíes amb vinagreta de cumí (lentil salad with cumin vinaigrette). This was brilliant with the earthy cumin playing nicely with zingy vinegar and the equally earthy lentils. Cumin isn’t a common nor popular spice in Catalonia but it was used wonderfully here.

Amanida de Llentíes amb Vinagreta de Cumí

I already knew what I wanted for my first dish when I saw the paella of black rice when we entered the restaurant. Arrós negre amb all i oli was delicious with its squid and mussels and the aioli served with it was clearly homemade with a very light, foamy texture.

Arrós Negre amb All i Oli

Blai’s second dish of an Asian-inspired Ventresca de tonyina amb soja, algues i brots (tuna with soy, seaweed and bean sprouts) was extremely fresh and not too heavy. I loved its simplicity.

Ventresca de Tonyina amb Soja, Algues i Brots

My Cuixetes de pollastre escabetxades amb taronja i hummus de pèsols (chicken legs in a vinegar sauce with orange and pea hummus) was also excellent. The combination wasn’t one I’d ever come across – peas and orange – but by golly, it did work. There are certainly some good ideas coming out of that kitchen.

Cuixetes de Pollastre Escabetxades amb Taronja i Hummus de Pèsols

Desserts were of the very simple sort that I love for everyday. Pastís de pressec (peach cake) was a slice of a simple sponge embedded with chunks of fruit.

Pastís de Pressec

The winner though was a Mousse de mató amb coulis de fruits vermells (fresh cheese mousse with red fruit coulis), all light and fresh.

Mousse de Mató amb Coulis de Fruits Vermells

Definitely a winner, this one! I think the menu changes daily too and from what else I’ve read about the place, there is indeed a thread of Asian-influence running through the Catalan menu. As usual, I’m keen to go back for dinner one day!

La Singular

Carrer de Francisco Giner, 50
08012 Barcelona

My heart was broken when we found that one of my favourite bakeries in Barcelona – Forn Mistral – was closed for holidays in August. Alas, it was a good excuse to visit La Fàbrica Moritz – the former old brewery for the Catalan Moritz beer – which is now a multi-storey restaurant/bar/shop.

From what I can tell, the place is extremely popular – it’s huge and we did find the food to be excellent. The menu is just as huge – but on closer inspection, you’ll find some repetition in the ingredients and how things are put together. This is a good thing as giant menus tend to strike fear in my heart. Anyway, there are lots of little bites and big dishes too; we went with a mixture of tapas and Catalan classics for our dinner that night. There are even some Swiss specialties on the menu in honour of the founder of the Moritz brewery and some German dishes as it’s a brewery!

Croquetes crocants de pernil ibèric were priced by the unit and were exceptional, perfectly creamy and chock full of ham bits. All the frying here was done to perfection (and we are suckers for anything deep fried).

Croquetes crocants de pernil ibèric

El fregit d’Arenys was a mixture of fried monkfish nuggets and quartered artichokes, all served with romesco. Fantastic. (On a separate note, the fish and chips platters that went past us also looked excellent.)

El fregit d'Arenys

Braves d’aqui are their version of patatas bravas (the usual version is also available). This turned out to be the usual fried potatoes topped with aioli and, instead of the more common spicy tomato sauce, a spicy red chilli oil. Very simple and very good (though I think I missed the tomato sauce!).

Braves d'aqui

Coca de recapte artesanal lleidatana was a beautifully thin, savoury pastry topped with escalivada and preserved sardines. It was only as I took the photo that I realised that it looked like the Catalan flag!

Coca de Recapte

Desserts were entirely unexpected – some very creative, some very traditional – and all not the kind of things you see in the usual Catalan restaurants. Blai’s gaspatxo de pressec (the creative) was indeed a cold peach soup topped with a refreshing yogurt ice cream and drizzled with olive oil.

Gaspatxo de Pressec

My Orelletes d´Alacant (the traditional) turned out to be one giant crisp fritter! This sugar dusted piece of fried dough was thin and crisp and not unlike a Canadian BeaverTail (though thinner). There were some anise seeds embedded throughout and was served with a small glass of anis too. I loved this.

Orelletes d´Alacant

Well, holidays for Forn Mistral meant that we discovered La Fàbrica Moritz. It’s a good place for groups or picky eaters as you’ll definitely find something you like on the menu; when we were there, we saw a table of two couples happily tucking into just a ham sandwich each. They’re open from breakfast until late at night; their breakfasts look fantastic but I’ll need to drag myself out of bed for that one day! Personally, I do prefer the atmosphere at Moritz’s other restaurant at El Born but this place has great food too.

La Fàbrica Moritz
Ronda de Sant Antoni, 39-41
08011 Barcelona

Okonomiyaki in Barcelona! Yes! To my knowledge, Rio Teppan (in Gràcia) was one of the first places to specialise in this Japanese treat and I happened upon it a few years ago. It’s now very popular and we finally got to try it this year. Luckily I insisted that Blai book a table for that lunchtime – the place is tiny and bookings are truly essential for lunch or dinner; many people were turned away whilst we were there. Oh, and FYI, there’s no menu del dia there, just the a la carte.

We started with a plate of karaage which turned out to be tasty but unlike any other karaage I’d ever had. This version was battered rather than coated with the usual flour/starch.

Karaage

The real strengths were, of course, in the dishes cooked on the teppan in the back – there are even seats right by it for you to see all the action. An omusoba was delicious and not drowned in sauce. The omelette wrapping the yakisoba was thin and clearly very carefully made.

Omusoba

Our okonomiyaki was also clearly made with care and again was not topped with crazy lashings of sauce. The cabbage was finely chopped in the mixture and the whole thing didn’t feel as coarse as some okonomiyakis I’ve had in London. I’d go so far to say that this okonomiyaki was definitely better than any I’ve had in London! I really need to go back to try their Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, made in layers with one of noodles.

Okonomiyaki

For dessert, we split a homemade strawberry ice cream mochi which was fine. We probably wouldn’t bother with this again as usually these homemade mochis end up rock hard during freezing. Our problem, not theirs.

Strawberry Ice Cream Mochi

Highly recommended but just remember to book in advance!

Rio Teppan
Carrer de Minerva, 6
08002 Barcelona

There’s a restaurant in Gràcia called La Ceba (The Onion) which specialises in truites – the Catalan word for Spanish tortillas. Their main menu lists truites made with many ingredients, some of which you perhaps cannot imagine in an omelette, as well as other Catalan dishes. We ate there one lunchtime this summer and ordered off their more expensive menu del dia (they have a cheaper one as well – and it also looked good) at €13,80 each. Service from the off was…well, off. The servers were ill-tempered and rushed off their feet at the lunchtime crowd. They seemed to hate our (the diners, any diners) existence. That said, the food is fabulous so perhaps someone’s happy in the kitchen.

A torrada d´escalivada, formatge manxego i anxoves gratinada was a large slice of toast topped with lots of the Catalan grilled vegetables, melted cheese and anchovies. While simple, the toast was delicious in its simplicity and generosity.

Torrada d´Escalivada, Formatge Manxego i Anxoves Gratinada

We had to have a truita, of course – here was a truita de carbassó i patates (courgette and potato). Excellent. It wasn’t overcooked and had just the right egg to filling ratio. Its perfect size inspired me to go out and buy a pan that’s just that diameter (I bought it and it’s great!).

Truita de Carbassó i Patates

I had seen a hamburger go to a neighbouring table and it looked great – we ordered one. This excellent hamburguesa amb ceba caramel.litzada (cooked to a perfect juicy medium) came with salad, fries, and that lovely large dollop of caramelised onions.

Hamburguesa amb Ceba Caramel.litzada

Our other second dish was the Catalan classic botifarra amb mongetes seques – a big grilled fresh sausage with cooked dried beans. Excellent and especially excellent were the beans, which had been fried a little after they had been boiled. Usually you just get boiled beans.

Botifarra amb Mongetes Seques

Notice how both were big, hearty meat dishes – we needed a break from fish after our time on the Costa Brava!

Desserts were an average flam

Flam

… and an amazing pastís de formatge (cheese cake) that Blai says was the best he’s had in the city.

Torta de Formatge

So yeah, hopefully it’s not always this grumpy in the restaurant as they’re putting out some terrific food. I’d love to go back in the evening to try one of their many other truites.

La Ceba
C/ La Perla, 10
Barcelona