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

Things have been busy and I’ve not been particularly keen to open my laptop to write posts once I’m back home. But I thought I’d give myself a kick today and post a recipe I made last night. Nikujaga!

That’s Japanese for ‘meat and potatoes’ and it’s a very common, very simple dish that’s served with rice. Due to its sweetness, it’s particularly popular with kids … and we like it too! Everyone seems to have their own ratio of soy/sake/mirin/sugar and I saw sugar amounts that ranged from 1 tbsp to 4 tbsp for the same amount of meat and potatoes. I went with my gut and the ratio below is what worked for us.

For the thinly sliced beef, to get it fresh, you’re likely to need to visit a Japanese or Korean shop that sells fresh meat. I find a good source of thinly sliced meat is also the frozen section of Chinese shops as the thin slices of meat are frozen in rolls, ready to go into hotpot. I cut them in half and in they go into my pot directly. Easy.

Nikujaga (with a red spoon)

Nikujaga
Serves 2-4 (depends if you have other dishes)

1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
200-250g thinly sliced beef (I use frozen like you use for Asian hotpot)
1-2 large potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small carrot, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise
500 ml water
3 tbsps soy sauce
3 tbsps sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp demerara sugar
1 scant tsp instant dashi
A handful of frozen peas

Heat a medium sized pot over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Add the onion slices and saute until just started to get translucent. Add the beef and continue sauteing until the beef loses all its red colour. Add the potatoes, carrot, water and seasonings, stir well and bring it all to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, partly cover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Scatter over the frozen peas and continue cooking for another five minutes before turning off the heat.

Go ahead and leave the dish to soak up the flavourful liquid until mealtime (it’s now a good time to make anything else you’re having for your meal!). Serve with hot white rice.

(Konnyaku noodles are apparently great in here too and if you don’t have peas, green beans work too.)

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

Right, here’s yet another Japanese TV show that I’ve been watching that I can definitely recommend. This one is Lunch ON!, an NHK World television show that is the English translation version of a NHK television show called Salameshi, dealing with the subject of lunches eaten by the working man/woman.

And yes, weekday lunches in Japan are just as exciting as you’d expect them to be. There are no sad sandwiches to be seen here; instead, there are noodles and dishes with rice and onigiri and, of course, bento. Oh, how I wish our work cafeterias served the dishes that I have seen on this show! Of course, it’s more likely that more unusual or quirky lunches and lunch traditions and customs are featured on the programme but it’s still a good insight into the country. Not so cool is the waking up an extra hour early to put together that bento, or in some cases, the making of many bentos for others. Just as interesting are the different jobs they cover, from various salespeople to archaeologists to scientists to shopkeepers, etc. Also of interest to me were the clearly delineated gender roles in Japan and it was heartening to see some men subverting these roles, making their own bento.

I’m not going to lie – the narrator’s voice is infuriatingly grating. I just sucked it up and watched everything I could though…my interest in the subject trumped her voice. I’m mentioning it here so you can’t say I didn’t warn you!

Here’s one example episode on Youtube. Others can be found by searching for ‘Lunch On NHK’ on Youtube. Sadly, I’ve watched all that I could find already and I hope to catch new episodes on the NHK World app.

Out of blue one day, Blai requested sushi. He hadn’t eaten it in a while and please could we go for nigiri sushi? That had me baffled as I think this was the first time he’d particularly requested nigiri and after a bit of searching, I originally thought of going to Wimbledon to try one well-known Danish sushi chain but scrapped that idea at the last minute when I found Hashi in Raynes Park. It was off on the trains there and a short walk from the station to the restaurant.

We managed to get a table without booking for Sunday lunch but it was very busy and I’ll probably book next time, just in case. One thing that immediately impressed me was our waiter bringing over two little white compressed towels in a little dish and pouring over hot water, causing them to expand. A hot towel each! I’m not sure when I saw that in London last!

And while waiting for our orders to be taken, we looked around and everything about the place and the service and the food reminded me of Kiraku, one of our favourite restaurants back in West London. Like Kiraku, there’s a variety of Japanese dishes on offer as well as good value set lunches (actually, the prices have gone up somewhat at Kiraku). We decided to split one set lunch and get a few things from the regular menu too.

After placing our orders, our teas arrived, looking all adorable in their little teapots.

Tea

Our dishes came in stages – here were the starters. Tori Kara-age (£6.90) was crisp and sitting in a thin sauce of ponzu and soy. Beautiful.

Tori Kara-age

The set lunch we shared was the Sushi Set (£14.50) and our seven pieces of nigiri were to come with miso soup, salad and two chefs dishes of the day (it’s a great deal at only 50p more than just the nigiri off the a la carte menu). The salad and two little dishes came out first – the latter were salmon and avocado maki and vegetable croquettes. All were just perfect.

Starters for the Lunch Set

Salmon and Avocado Maki

Vegetable Croquettes

Before our main courses came out, we were served miso soup. This would have been the soup we expected with our set lunch but since we were sharing, they very kindly brought out two – a nice touch!

Miso Soup

And then it was onto the mains. Here were the mixed nigiri that was part of our set lunch. Everything was wonderfully fresh and I liked the little extra touches – like the little bit of grated ginger on the tuna nigiri.

Sushi Moriawase

We had an order of Mushroom Medly [sic] (£7.00) as our ‘vegetable’. This mixture of shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, onions and peppers was brilliant, having been cooked in a sweet soy mixture.

Mushroom Medly

A Jun Special (£14.00) was a massive roll with eel, avocado, cucumber and a whole lotta other stuff. Again, excellent. There really was nothing to fault here.

Jun Special

To end our meal, we each got a beautifully presented half an orange which caused Blai to proclaim, “I’m going to cut all our oranges this way!” That reminds me, I’ve got to buy a bag of oranges.

Orange

Brilliant. This place is brilliant. Just go already.

Hashi
54 Durham Road
Raynes Park
London SW20 0TW