Hotaru

We had just arrived in Valencia and wanted to have lunch, but hadn’t booked anything. It was almost 15:00 and I was a bit fearful that we would not be able to find anywhere to eat.

Then we walked past this place, which we had spotted the last time we were here, but didn’t have time to visit.

We were very pleasantly surprised that the staff saw no problem on us joining so late, also found us a quiet place to sit at the counter, and were perfectly fine to serve us the tasting menu, even if there was only one hour left until the kitchen closed.

View from the counter at Hotaru
View from the counter at Hotaru

You could see that there was a visible effort to do things well: the produce was fresh and tasty, the presentation was very good, the crockery was beautiful, and I really enjoyed the show of the chefs preparing maki and sashimi, and torching various things with one of those gas powered torching devices.

On Devvers’ advice, we paired the food with a couple of sherries, which worked surprisingly well, as Japanese food has a component of sweetness, exactly like sherry does. We chose a glass of Napoleón from Bodegas Hidalgo (Amontillado) and a glass of Península from Bodega Lustau (Palo Cortado), which was slightly sweeter.

Tuna tartar with an assortment of dressings
Tuna tartar with an assortment of dressings

I’m not generally a fan of tartars but this was really enjoyable! Although I couldn’t really feel much spice (the waiter had warned us about one of the sauces being spicy). I must have been eating a lot of chillis lately and numbed my taste buds… maybe.

Pork trotters and dewlap gyozas
Pork trotters and dewlap gyozas

Really nice flavours and they felt very hand-made. Devvers would have liked to have more fillings inside the gyozas.

Crab, salmon and spicy tuna uramakis
Crab, salmon and spicy tuna uramakis

A little messy, but nice to start with.

Mackerel, Salmon, Tuna belly and sardine nigiris
Mackerel, Salmon, Tuna belly and sardine nigiris

These really didn’t need much soy sauce. My favourite, as ever, was the tuna one.

Beef tenderloin, sweet potato and ginger purée and crispy leek with yakiniku sauce
Beef tenderloin, sweet potato and ginger purée and crispy leek with yakiniku sauce

I would have torched the meat a bit longer so it got a bit crispier on the edges, but at the same time I couldn’t stop eating it, so I guess it says something.

Brioche dango with matcha and chocolate
Brioche dango with matcha and chocolate

The brioche was really fun as it felt neither Japanese neither Spanish; it had a whiff of cinnamon and the matcha with the chocolate (in the little jar) was on the right side of sour and sweet at once (I tried matcha chocolate cakes in the past and the flavour was WAY too overpowering to be enjoyable).

Soooo?

To be perfectly frank, it was not “canonical Japanese fare”. If you, like us, have been spoiled by multiple visits to Japan and really good Japanese restaurants, you might find it hard to avoid having expectations about what things should taste and look like.

There are a few things here and there which didn’t feel quite right, like maybe the rice was a bit too cold and a little bit under-vinegared, or maybe using the tokkuri (the sake bottle) for serving soy sauce felt a bit strange. But we really were, as we say in Spanish, hilando fino, i.e. being very picky.

Once we let go of all the expectations and accepted this as “Japanese-Spanish fusion”, it got really fun and enjoyable. It was, in fact, the best Japanese style food I’ve eaten in Spain.

If you’re after a really nice Japanese restaurant in Valencia, this is your place.

If you’re after a cheap all you can eat buffet, then don’t go, because it’s not that kind of place and you’ll feel disappointed and complain about “the amount of food you get for the price you paid”, as I’ve seen in some reviews (although I felt more than satisfied).

Personally, I would love the chef to embrace the “fusion” and explore further into the intersection of the Japanese and Valencian cultures, armed with the excellent local produce. Relatedly, all of the dishes in the tasting menu were either meat or fish based (except the dessert), and it was a bit sad to not see them taking advantage of having access to nice fresh vegetables almost literally on their doorstep, as they’re 5 minutes away from Russafa’s market.

They have the technique and the ability to do things right—I’m really intrigued by what they could achieve if they allowed themselves to be a little bit more playful!

Hotaru
https://www.hotaru-restaurante.com/
C/Cádiz, 48
46006 Valencia

Hotaru's door, at night, there is a sign that says "Hotaru" on top, and a narrow tall window with iron railings on the right side.
Hotaru’s door, at night

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