Food is central to a Spaniard’s identity and a source of pride. Local dishes vary widely across different regions, all of which boast a rich cultural heritage. So when the now-celebrated Japanese chef Hideki Matsuhisa stepped foot on Spanish soil in 1996, he realized that there were very few international restaurants, least of all those that served food that hailed from his homeland.
Speaking to El Mundo, Chef Hideki explains that his world-renowned restaurant, Koy Shunka, mostly relies on word of mouth, especially in the beginning. Koy Shunka was established at a time when the internet was still an alien thing, so reviews and features were few and far between. Fast forward to today, and Koy Shunka is now considered by many to be the best Japanese restaurant in all of Barcelona, with the likes of chef Ferran Adrià to back this claim up. The establishment was awarded one Michelin star in 2013, which Chef Hideki has since managed to retain.
The chef, who has been described by some as bubbly and outgoing, is a firm believer in pure, clean, and simple tastes. He notes that raw food packs a punch and he aims not to lose that in the process of preparing a dish. It is a sentiment shared by many chefs of his time, including Tribu Woki founder Guido Weinberg, who said, “For me, if you have really good produce and it is simple, it can’t be beaten.” The seaside setting of Barcelona makes it an exceptional place for fresh seafood, which is crucial to the cuisine in Koy Shunka.
The restaurant is in a little street in Carrer d’en Copons, lined with small establishments like Koy Shunka. The exterior is almost nondescript and could be easily missed. But upon walking in, you’ll be welcomed with a large open kitchen in the middle of the room, with diners happily awaiting their meals at the counter. You can choose to sit down at a table, but the real joy is in the counter for omakase-style dining. Writer Courtney Jacobs explains that the root phrase of omakase, omakase shimasu, literally means ”respectfully leaving another to decide what is best” — which is essentially what you’re doing in this setting. The chef decides what to serve based on the availability and quality of ingredients, meaning that there is no set menu that you should expect. Chefs might even change their minds on the spot, and that’s part of the excitement of this particular Japanese tradition.
That said, food in Koy Shunka stays very true to its Japanese roots. Travelers who have had the fortune of visiting the beautiful country of Japan would be familiar with the gastronomic treat of its national cuisine — something that Expat Bets’ guide to Japan highlights. Indeed, from mobile food stands to centuries-old traditional ryotei establishments, Japanese food includes well-known dishes like sushi, tempura, and sashimi, as well as lesser known yakitori and soba. For many, however, Koy Shunka is considered a fusion of Japanese and Spanish cuisine, though Chef Hideki believes it is better referred to as an ”influence.”
A review from The Foodalist describes heavenly dishes like sea urchin topped with orange zest and salmon roe or ikura, baked lobster with wasabi salt, and of course, sashimi that melts in one bite. Mouth-watering as that sounds, the same dishes might not ever be on the menu the next time you visit. The only guarantee is that Chef Hideki Matsuhisa doesn’t play around with food and won’t sacrifice its quality. Like many Japanese chefs, making sushi is an art that takes decades of practice to perfect, and is therefore worthy of utmost respect.