In August 2011, Carlota Akaneya opened the first sumibiyaki in Europe.
This is its most romantic and traditional version: each table is a concrete, wood and brick barbecue raised on the floor. Unlike yakiniku, sumibiyaki focuses on charcoal (sumi) and refers to any food grilled on it. The Japanese imported the concept from Korea and made it an important part of their culinary culture.
During his time in Japan in 2009, Ignasi Elías visited Kyoto’s Akaneya Junshinken restaurant, located on the emblematic Ponto-chō street, alongside the Kamo River. Inspired by this, he opened Carlota Akaneya two years later in the Raval neighborhood of Barcelona with his friend Felipe Fernández, and as a sign of friendship he named the restaurant after his friend’s mother’s first name.
The personality of Carlota Akaneya began to develop with a clear commitment to a traditional and genuine Japanese cuisine, plus the incorporation of Natsumi Tomita to the staff. The beginnings were difficult. The first fully booked night surprised them with Albert Adrià sitting for dinner and leaving the place without eating. "It was a disaster", Ignasi laments. However, word of mouth followed and brought celebrities like FC Barcelona soccer player Andrés Iniesta and El Bulli's chef Ferran Adrià much earlier than desired.
Albert Adrià invited Carlota Akaneya to TICKETS to learn from the inner workings of his establishment. "That evening we learned more than in 24 months working", they confess. Since then, Carlota Akaneya opens only in the evenings and spends the day preparing the mise-en-scène.
Three years after its opening, Carlota Akaneya incorporated into its menu, the most exclusive veal cut, wagyu grade A5, imported directly from Japan. This cut is famous for its flavor and texture of buttery marble, subtle and velvety.
Never had wagyu grade A5 been served outside of Japan, except in Hong Kong and Macao. For different reasons, Japan used to prohibit its trading and only since March 2014 they started to sell to the European Union. Thus, Carlota Akaneya became the first sumibiyaki from the West to serve A5, the highest rating given by the JMGA, the association that issues the official certificate in Japan.
In November 2014, Carlota Akaneya launched its website and decided to get noticed, "when there’s so much left to learn it never seems the right time to talk about yourself", Ignasi says. "However, time goes by and there are still a lot of people in Barcelona who do not yet know that they have a sumibiyaki in the city. Now that we have wagyu A5, we would like them to know."
Between 2016 and 2018 Carlota Akaneya is reinforced by the incorporation of chefs Eloi Soriano first, and Josep Maria Gómez after, from the Hofmann school in Barcelona. At its annual Travelers' Choice Awards, TripAdvisor includes Carlota Akaneya in the Top 10 restaurants in Spain. In November 2017, Albert Adrià mentions Carlota Akaneya as one of his favorite restaurants in Time Out magazine.
Carlota Akaneya travels to Japan twice a year to study the best proposals for restoration. "Being back in Barcelona is almost always starting over again".
Last update: February 2021