Real ramen and superior sushi, The Tatami Room is a serene escape from Barcelona’s boisterous tapas trail.
Soft lighting and warm tones welcome you into a cocoon of tranquility, where it all feels very far away from the hullaballoo of everyday Barcelona. Downstairs you’ll find two cosy tatami areas, where you’re invited to remove your shoes and dine in traditional Japanese style – there are “normal” tables and chairs for those who aren’t feeling too nimble.
… back in Tokyo
It’s not just the decor that oozes authenticity; the menu features everything from tempuras, uramaki sushi rolls, nigiris and sashimis to teppanyaki dishes, noodles and ramens.
Hugo, one of the chefs and owners, fell in love with Japanese cuisine whilst living in Tokyo (he still has an apartment there and travels back once a month to pick up ingredients) and ended up learning to make it whilst doing research for a novel he was writing about his experiences in Japan. Many moons later, he, his Japanese wife and another partner opened The Tatami Room with the mission of bringing authentic Japanese dishes to the Catalan capital.
The first few years were far from easy and Hugo had to work tirelessly to master his craft, learning as much as possible from the various sushi chefs who passed through the kitchen over the years. These days, thanks to the arrival of Nao, an umpteenth generation sushi chef from Japan, he spends a little less time in the kitchen.
Hugo spoke to Nao in fluent Japanese as the plates arrived at the table and, once Nao was out of earshot, indulged in a little bit of chest beating…
I have no doubt that he’s the best sushi chef in Barcelona. He only works for me because he’s a friend of my wife’s and she talked him into it!
I started my culinary immersion with a couple of tuna and salmon nigiris, washed down with a punchy pot of hot sake. I’m no expert, but the quality spoke for itself.
Filled with burning enthusiasm and an almost childlike obsession, Hugo seems to be driven by the adventure of it all, as he recreates his life in Tokyo. For him, it’s about authenticity and, more importantly, respect for the culture. It’s as if he’d rather not do it at all than to do it and not get it just right.
“Everyone was talking about ramen all of a sudden, but I didn’t want to do it. A lot goes into making a good ramen. You’ve got to cook a pile of bones for twelve hours and then bash them about with a bat just to make the broth. And then people ask if you can do a vegetarian ramen or a gluten free ramen, and it’s just impossible to make an authentic ramen without some sort of meat ingredient.”
But then he discovered a recipe for clam ramen, “which is extremely popular in Japan at the moment”. (Chefs in Japan do not give up their recipes lightly, and the means by which Hugo obtained said recipe are worthy of a whole other blog post.)
Using clam broth, “mountain potato” and yuzu, it’s a lighter and healthier option – as well as being delicious and extremely slurpable – and it spurred Hugo on to developing a full ramen menu, ranging from traditional soy ramen with pork and chicken broth to the more assimilated flavours of “samurai Iberico ramen” with pork and chicken broth with miso.
It does indeed all sound very exotic and I wondered how much all of this labour and authenticity would cost. Needless to say I was, and still am, blown away at the ramen bowls’ modest €8.50 price tag.
In a Nutshell
Whether you’re a fully-fledged Japanophile like Hugo or more of a wannabe like me, you really won’t find a better place to eat authentic Japanese food in Barcelona. I’m not talking about “trendy” or gimmicky Japanese food, but real, just-like-they-make-it-in-Tokyo Japanese food.
What’s more, the prices offer outstanding value for money and betray the quality of the dishes, and the serene setting is the perfect escape for those times when you just can’t bear to eat another bowl of patatas bravas.
Oh, and there’s Kirin Japanese beer for €2.75!