Hong Kong’s restaurant scene gets a taste of Spain
Catalunya Hong Kong in the Wan Chai neighbourhood is Hong Kong's restaurant of the moment, with discerning foodies and glamorous socialites desperate to secure a reservation.
In April, Spain regained its culinary bragging rights with the announcement that Catalonia’s El Celler de Can Roca restaurant had taken the number one spot from Copenhagen’s Noma (which held the title for three years) in this year's San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurant awards.
But the spotlight on Spanish cuisine is not only confined to Spain. In Hong Kong, several Spanish restaurants have opened in the past two months, including the most anticipated debut of the year, which attracted the presence of legendary elBulli chef Ferran Adria.
Catalunya Hong Kong, which soft-opened in mid-April in the Wan Chai neighbourhood, is Hong Kong's restaurant of the moment, with discerning foodies and glamorous socialites desperate to secure a reservation. The restaurant has a team of pedigree chefs and front-of-house staff from Spain, including group executive chef, Alain Devahive Tolosa, who was Adria's right-hand man at elBullitaller, elBulli's research lab. The dish that has people salivating is the suckling pig, Segovian style. Cooked perfectly with flavoursome meat and crispy skin, it is served in the traditional manner – carved with the side of a plate (instead of a knife) tableside – to demonstrate its tenderness. Also noteworthy are the Mediterranean red deep sea prawns, intentionally kept simple (salted and grilled or steamed) to ensure their place as the star of the dish (for the full experience suck the head; it tastes like bisque). If you’re eating at the bar, pick from tapas options such as the creamy Jamón Ibérico croquette and a decadent toasted sandwich of Iberian ham, cheese and black truffle.
Also in Wan Chai, and still as popular as when it opened in October 2012, is 22 Ships from talented British chef Jason Atherton. Instead of typical tapas, Atherton and his team take inspiration from the small plates concept to come up with creative Spanish-style dishes. The indulgent Ibérico pork and foie gras burger is a constant on the menu (currently being served with avocado and kimchi), while newcomers include the melt-in-the-mouth salmon ceviche with watermelon and wasabi; and a chorizo, clam and Jamon paella. Finish your meal with the visually stunning Texturas de Chocolate, where white, milk and dark chocolate is presented in six different forms – meringue, powder, ice cream, cream, balls and pearls.
Quemo, which opened in April in Wan Chai, is one of the few Hong Kong restaurants that serves an authentic paella, right down to the caramelised rice crust (socarrat). Other top choices are the oyster bocata (sandwich) with barbecued foie gras and homemade sweet potato bread, and the playful chorizo lollipop filled with quince jelly and goat cheese. The restaurant is a venture between a local restaurant group and chef Quim Marquez, the owner of noted Barcelona tapas bar, El Quim de la Boqueria.
Finally, Iberico & Co Kitchen and Bar, a Spanish gastro pub in SoHo, has been attracting attention since its April opening for dishes such as salt-rubbed crunchy pig’s skin with smoked paprika mayonnaise, and crispy cider roasted pork belly with apples. Despite the name – a culinary nod to the black pigs for which the Iberian Peninsula is world famous – the restaurant is not just for pork lovers. The varied menu includes the addictive triple cooked patatas bravas with garlic aioli, while the roasted home-salted cod filet is balanced by a warm salad of garlic, lemon and chickpeas.
Vicki Williams is the Hong Kong Localite for BBC Travel. She also writes sybariteunlimited.com.