Destination

CROSSING CULTURES

Nikkei, a meld of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine, is Ferran and Albert Adria's latest big bang in Barcelona.

by jaime ee

AT PAKTA, THE FOOD IS A NEVERENDING STREAM OF WELL THOUGHT OUT JUXTAPOSITIONS OF JAPANESE KAISEKI AND PERUVIAN EXOTICA THAT ARE NOT AT ALL CONTRIVED.

IMAGINE if you dropped a gifted Japanese chef into the middle of Peru 100 years ago. Let him stew in the culture a bit, devising ways to substitute rice vinegar with lime juice or the indigenous leche de tigre ('tiger's milk') - a potent mouth-puckering milky liquid. Expand his culinary vocabulary beyond dashi or tsukemono to include escabeche, causas and chalaca. But don't let him go home. Keep him there, so he and subsequent generations can spawn the Nikkei movement - the Peruvian-Japanese cuisine that's now taking the world by storm. And making the biggest bang in Barcelona, thanks to Ferran Adria.

The legendary chef has endorsed 'Nikkei' as the next buzzword after molecular gastronomy, opening the hot eatery Pakta with his brother Albert in a tiny, discreet little shop in a nondescript neighbourhood - right next to his favourite seafood restaurant Rias de Galicia.

Since it opened in April this year, Albert Adria, Japanese chef Kyoko Ii and her Peruvian counterpart Jorge Munoz have been wowing diners with an elevated fusion of Japanese and Peruvian ingredients and aesthetics that sparkles with the elBulli x-factor.

While Ferran has no personal involvement in the kitchen - Albert calls the business and concept shots - it's clear he's left his stamp on Pakta the way he has with Tickets and 41 degrees. There's that element of showmanship and stylized techniques like foams and deconstruction. But thanks to the common sense of Albert, Pakta's cuisine - unlike the ideas-driven elBulli - has flair and also tastes really good.

There's always that niggling question though - why Japanese-Peruvian and not another ground-breaking Spanish restaurant? Several elements are at play here: Ferran's friendship with Peruvian star chef Gaston Acurio (with whom he made a documentary Peru Sabe - about the erstwhile unknown culinary spoils of the South American country. Then there's Peru's cuisine - now enjoying its day in the sun with Acurio as its ambassador, doing what Sao Paulo top chef Alex Atala did with Brazilian cuisine. Third, global chefs are discovering Nikkei - the eclectic cuisine that evolved from the late 19th century with an influx of Japanese immigrants into Latin America who worked on the farms and stayed on. And finally - this is Ferran and Albert we're talking about: the wonder twins who start things that other people follow. So even if it's a cuisine that originates in a country 10 flight hours away from Barcelona, you can be sure they'll put a distinctive spin on it that lifts it into a class of its own.

And there you have it - a polished 32-seater that is a marriage of sleek Japanese design and folksy Peruvian craft, with colourful wool screens against wooden dining counter and warm burgundy furnishing. The food, too follows suit - a never-ending stream of well thought out juxtapositions of Japanese kaiseki and Peruvian exotica that are not at all contrived; harmony and funkiness served up with signature elBulli precision. In fact, you're warned beforehand to let them know if you need a bathroom break so it doesn't upset the carefully timed pace at which the food is served.

Nothing falls out of balance in the entire 20 or so (you lose count) courses from the Machu Picchu menu, cleverly priced for value and repeat visits at 120 euros (90 euros for a smaller menu) - served small plates style but in Japanese presentation. The first thing to wow you would be the appetizers presented like Zensai - an eye-popping quintet of sugar-sweet corn cream offset by salty caviar; pristine baby scallop balanced atop clear tomato jelly with diced tomatoes in a tangy Peruvian chalaca sauce; home-made yuba in soy sauce with marinated avocado and salmon roe; melting-soft char-grilled eggplant in a citrus cream; and a wedge of Peruvian potato and mayo-like huancaina sauce sprinkled with olive dust in a lettuce cup.

The edible joy ride continues with teapot soup made with a broth from fish bones and trimmings left from making ceviche, finished with lime juice and sesame sprinkle; sashimi-like smoked mackerel with a hint of sesame and Galician seaweed; nigiri sushi topped with herbs or umeboshi sauce, with added ginger jelly cubes to cleanse the palate; an amazing chewy soba dunked into tomato ponzu and Peruvian huacatay oil. On top of that, the Peruvian culinary flag rises on inspired creations such as red prawns smoked in pine leaves, fried rockfish and a beautifully balanced ceviche of seabass, sweet potato and kumquats in traditional tiger's milk.

Pakta means 'union' in the Quechan language, but the Adria brothers have done more than just introduce an age-old cuisine to Barcelona. With the Spanish/elBulli influence, they've shown how cross-cultural cuisines can be merged and adapted to create something truly global.

Restaurante Pakta

C/ Lleida, 5 08004
Barcelona, Spain
Tel: +34 936 24 01 77
www.pakta.es

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