There are many celebrations I would quite happily do without…birthdays are not one of them. I love birthdays. More specifically, I love my birthday. As it so happens, my birthday falls in January…so as if I wasn’t intolerable enough in the lead up to Christmas [Santa is very much alive and kicking in our family, no matter how many years the ‘youngsters’ notch up], I somehow manage to gift myself an equally annoying second wind and stretch what is certainly the most painful time to be in my presence into the new year.
The moment the excitement of Christmas wears off [i.e. Boxing Day], the birthday countdown begins.
Yes, six months have flown by since my birthday, so I really have no business in bringing it up again. Furthermore, I am certain that those closest to me will attest to the fact I rode the Birthday Train until the wheels fell off and would genuinely find it surprising that there remains any steam at all to push it further forward. To that I say…suck it. You knew what this was going to be from the get-go: the red flags are right there on the packaging.
Sans family and a reduced circle of friends to shower me with love and affection, birthdays in London have been comparatively low key to those I enjoyed back home. This year, wanting to avoid last year’s disaster [I actually cried…but I hardly ever remind anyone of that now], I wanted to do something a little bit special. Queue: BARCELONA!
True to self, planning was extremely minimal and everything came together at the very last minute. But care I did not! I was just happy to be out of London and spent a wonderful week wandering aimlessly through the city’s pretty streets and bouncing enthusiastically between various bars and tapas counters. That said, I simply couldn’t come to Barcelona and not have a couple of reservations up my sleeve…so I selected a handful of restaurants I wanted to drop in to and ensured my days were planned around lunch and dinner bookings. It was my birthday, after all. I could do whatever I damn well pleased.
I had some really great meals that week. However, of these, it was Pakta that really won me over and proved to be my favourite meal of the trip. Quite simply put, I thought it was brilliant. So whilst I have a shed load of other posts that are technically further ahead in the write-up queue [if you haven’t noticed, I have been painfully lazy of late], this one has jumped the entire lot because I’m bursting with excitement to share it with you…although I guess not excited enough to have written it up six months ago 🙊.
I had read bits and pieces here and there about Pakta since its opening in 2013 and for one reason or another, it had found its way onto my list of must-go restaurants in Barcelona. Hardly surprising really, given I love Japanese food, I love Peruvian food…and, if you haven’t already gathered by my relentless gushing, I love Albert Adria. Having thoroughly enjoyed another of his Barcelona babies, Bodega 1900, the previous night, I was practically jumping with excitement at the very thought of this meal.
‘Pakta’ means ‘union’ in the Quechua language of Peru, which couldn’t make more sense in this context, given the restaurant dishes up Nikkei cuisine – a mixture [union, if you will] of Peruvian ingredients with Japanese techniques. The result? Delicious. Truth be told, the title ‘fusion’ often gets a bad rap…but as long as it tastes good, you can call it whatever the hell you want, as far as I’m concerned.
Entering the restaurant, I immediately fell in love with the space, which was completely enveloped in brightly coloured textiles, pulled tightly across wooden frames – a fun interpretation of traditional Peruvian weaving equipment. Being led to our seats, I was over the moon to discover we would be seated at the kitchen counter for the evening. My absolute favourite place to perch for any meal, because…Chef Porn.
We were given the choice of two seasonal menu options: the Pakta Menu [€120] or the Aycha Menu [€140]. We went for the latter, as I am a total slut for a good bit of wagyu, and the aged rib eye won it over for me.
As per always, proceedings got underway with a round of drinks. Yay, Pisco Sours! When in Peru…
First up was ‘Duck Wonton Soup’. Seemingly simple, but biiig on flavour, this was a bowl of pure, unadulterated comfort.
Perhaps one of the prettiest plates ever set before me, Albert’s take on Honzen-Ryōri [a traditional Japanese food style involving a highly ritualised form of serving artfully presented food on personal trays] arrived next.
This included smoked fish of the day; avocado ‘tofu’ with [the freshest tasting!] sea urchin and dashi shoyu; squid ‘chirashi’; popcorn with huancaína sauce; and potato with fresh black truffle and Joselito’s pork belly. Amazing. Just amazing. How uplifting to find something that tastes as good as it looks!
Then there were ‘Peas with its Yuba, Kizami and Egg Yolk’. Another seemingly simple dish, this came flavour-packed with the pure essence of pea.
This was followed by cockles with daikon and apple kimchi sauce and smoked coconut powder.
Then came one of my favourite [admittedly, among many] dishes of the evening: tuna belly sashimi with sea urchin. Fresh, briny uni coupled with rich, buttery o-toro…literally perfect.
…And as if it couldn’t get any better than that, it was accompanied by tuna belly tartare with kalix roe, rocoto mayonnaise and yuca chips. Be still, my beating heart.
On paper, I was unsure as to whether I would enjoy the artichoke with chestnut tofu and bottarga, but…I did. 🤷🏻♀️
Although not as much as I enjoyed the Chilean wagyu beef tataki with potato chips and ponzu. If you know me at all, you know this kind of dish is right down my alley…and this particular one was F-ing delicious.
Next was prawn sivinche with a sauce made from their coral and rocoto pepper. [No, that was not an autocorrect-driven recalibration of ‘ceviche’ – from what I gather, ‘sivinche’ is a shrimp-based dish hailing from the Peruvian city of Arequipa that utilises vinegar as its acidic cooking component…you are welcome to correct me if I am wrong!]. In any case, I loved the milky sweetness of the raw prawns against the rich, oceanic dressing. Yay! Another tick in my book. ✅
Meagre ceviche with pomegranate leche de tigre [the citrus-based marinade that cures the seafood in ceviche] was next to the table. I generally scowl at any attempt to sneak fruit onto my dinner plate. However, this was just fine. Better than fine! Fresh with a light acidity and very aromatic…Albert can sneak sweet into my savoury any day of the week.
‘The Causas’ followed swiftly. What a pretty pair of potato-based bites! The first included king crab ‘maki’ – a play on its roll-form, I assume – with a yuzu ‘acevichada’ sauce [a mix of mayonnaise and leche de tigre]. The second was topped with eel, umeboshi and green shiso. Both utterly tasty…I could pop these endlessly.
Onto the more substantial of the dishes, baby cuttlefish in their own ink with corn cream and sautéed vegetables were lovely.
…But by this point, I only had eyes for the aged rib eye of Chilean wagyu beef, served with ollucos [a type of Andean tuber] and pickles. Awesome. Meat craving well and truly satisfied.
The first of the sweet treats, simply titled ‘Classic’, revealed itself to be arroz con leche…rice pudding! A classic, indeed. This came with a purple corn ‘porridge’ and certainly beat the chicken shop staple from home I am accustomed to.
Up second was humita with coffee toffee and chocolate ice cream with cinnamon. Google tells me a ‘humita’ is similar to a corn tamale…although here, the corn was used to make an earthy, sweet, silky custard that I could not get enough of. Also, throw cinnamon on anything sweet and I’m sold. I ❤️ cinnamon. Nom.
Last of the desserts was coconut kakigōri. A tumble of light-as-air flakes of finely shaved ice blanketed a delicate mound of elderberry jelly and ginger. Light, subtle and endlessly refreshing, the meal definitely finished on a high note.
Coffee and a [far from your average] selection of petit fours rounded off the evening: sweet potato tempura with fig and cinnamon honey; hoshigaki [dried persimmon] and Pakta chocolate.
A seamless marriage between the delicate flavours of Japan and the spicy zinginess of Peru…it somehow all came together for me. I am a total Nikkei fan! The menu itself heavily featured sashimi and ceviche-style dishes, with a large emphasis on quality seasonal produce, so it was always going to tick my boxes. At the end of the day, the main draw for me was the wonderfully creative food that oozed originality and the intriguing elements of fusion that were worked in throughout.Couple a fantastic menu with friendly and efficient service sourced from an international cast…and an intimate dining room positively exploding with the colour and vibrancy of Peru? They have it nailed.
Oh, Albert. Take my money. Take all of it! My love for you [and by ‘you’, I guess I technically mean ‘your restaurants’ 🙈] knows no limits. That said, I am so often guilty of praising those at the top of the chain. In actual fact, the real star of the show here was Head Chef, Jorge Muñoz. In which case…Jorge, I love you too.
My Barcelona Birthday was the best in recent memory and I am so happy to have had an experience like the one I had at Pakta to take away with me. The memory clearly extended far beyond my time away.
Writing this little story months later works as a reminder of just how much enjoyment this meal brought me. It also makes me realise how the seasons have changed. Winter turned to spring…and spring has turned to summer. Aaand new season means…new tasting menu! Autumn lies just beyond the horizon and Barcelona is calling my name. Luckily, my brat-like nature need not be confined to my month of birth [or Christmas, for that matter]. I am good at being a brat at any time of the year!
Carrer Lleida, 5
Telephone: 93 624 01 77