We’re back with a look at another restaurant that delivers signature cuisine — or cuina d’autor in Catalan — to Barcelona, lucky us! This time it’s Arnau Muñió’s tiny establishment on a corner of one of the small cobbled streets connecting the world famous Boqueria market with El Raval.
Originally from Cerdanyola del Vallès, Arnau began his career at hotel and catering school in Manresa, before working in the kitchen of the Michelin-star restaurant, La Dama, which has since closed and returned in a different guise. He felt an immediate passion for the trade and studied seven days a week. The head chef at La Dama had worked at various famed restaurants and managed to get Arnau a job at a hotel belonging to El Bulli in Seville, where for a year he learnt to make all of the restaurant’s renowned dishes. That was back in 2003, and when he returned, he trained as a pastry chef at Carles Abellán’s Comerç 24. A year later, Carles made him head chef, a position he occupied for 10 years, earning a Michelin star in the meantime.
Arnau then worked at Albert Adrià’s restaurant in Ibiza, before returning to Barcelona to work on Albert’s Creative Cooking workshop for up and coming chefs. Having felt he had hit the heights of his trade, Arnau realised something was still missing from his professional life, which is why he contacted Carles Abellán again to enquire about making use of the tiny premises where Direkte Boqueria has been making a name for itself over the past 10 months, Carles being the owner of the property. Having made three separate month-long visits to Japan, which he readily concedes changed his life, Arnau came up with the idea of infusing Catalan cuisine with oriental touches, from the space itself — with the tiny sushi-style bar surrounded by clients elbow-to-elbow and a sliding entrance door — to Japanese and Chinese flavours in the dishes. In fact, his inspiration is kaiseki cuisine — elegantly presented dishes in the form of a traditional Japanese tasting course, a culinary tradition that has become the pinnacle of Japanese haute cuisine.
“Seasonal products in small, aesthetically pleasing, carefully designed and prepared dishes” is how Arnau describes his signature cuisine. His dishes also have touches taken from other cuisines, such as Peruvian and Mexican, with chilli in one dessert, for example, but Arnau dislikes the term fusion because he feels it has lost its meaning. His is a natural fusion that has emerged from his travels, evident from a quick glance at the menu: his Fricandó shanghai mixes Chinese spices with vi ranci, his esquaixada de tonyina is like a elaborate Catalan version of sashimi, and his potato noodle salad is very Chinese in style. 90% of the dishes have some Asian touch, he says, but they are Mediterranean. Why? Because he makes the food that he himself likes to eat.
How the restaurant works
Direkte Boqueria is not like any other restaurant: it has two sittings of two hours each at lunchtime and in the evening (1.15 pm and 3.15 pm and 8 pm and 10 pm), with diners choosing either the 7-dish or 10-dish menu – both come with two desserts (the menus are priced at €42 and €56, respectively).
Guests watch Arnau weave his culinary magic first-hand before he explains the dishes as he serves them, also in English.
There is only space for eight diners plus three staff, and the outside terrace is used for waiting or the post-meal coffee.
The restaurant’s name is based on the fact that the same person buys, cooks and serves the food direct from the market. The ’k’ spelling adds a slightly anarchic, pun feel, an air that Arnau himself gives off, together with background music from the Clash and Iggy Pop, although at tolerable levels for diners to talk and hear him explain the dishes.
The wines are made exclusively for Boqueria Direkte by Antonio Lopo’s Thunder Wine Makers, who provide wines for Michelin-star restaurants.
Arnau caters to pescatarians if given advance notice, but not vegetarians. He will also adapt certain dishes for those with intolerances.