When I first moved to Hong Kong many years ago I felt immediately that there was something missing in the cuisine. For Japanese, Regional Asian, Chinese, and Italian fare, Hong Kong had it in spades, but as someone who grew up in Texas where Mexican food is king and the Philippines where the post-colonial country still embraced its Spanish roots… what was missing for me was Hong Kong’s “Latin Flavor”.
Thankfully in this past year alone, we’ve witnessed a new trend of new modern Latin establishments which began with the opening of Heirloom (Mexican) in Sheung Wan and Comilonas (Spanish) in Sai Ying Pun. Since then, Latin restaurants have begun to make their definitive mark in the city’s culinary landscape, each special and different in their own way, offering unique menus and atmosphere catering to a variety tastes and occasions.
Mexican (Socialito, Brickhouse, Taco Chaca) and South American (Chicha) choices aside, I wanted to focus this post specifically on the city’s Spanish offerings because it just so happens that three of my most memorable dining experiences within the last few months just all so happened to be Spanish.. and beyond taco variations, there was just more amongst the three Spanish restos to write about in terms of differences in menu offerings, approaches, and ambiance.
+ E-clectic / No Frills, Homestyle Spanish Dining Experience
A close friend of mine, Chef Juan Martinez Gregorio, recently opened up his private kitchen, E-clectic centrally located on the edge of Sheung Wan, off Queens Road Central, located within walking distance to the MTR. The set up is no-frills with a vibe that is homey and domestic, a perfect backdrop for chef Juan’s dishes, a reflection of his hometown, Cartegena, in Southern Spain. Juan’s dream has always been to establish a Kitchen of his own in the city, serving dishes underrepresented in most Spanish restaurants.
I imagine patrons come here for the personal touch, with just enough space to mingle. For example our party of about 16 guests sat in the living room area for pre-drinks (no corkage) and tapas.
The dining area is prepared like a Chef’s Table, and is located in the center of the room next to the open kitchen where you can see Juan cook up a storm. You feel like this is really an extension of his own home.
Each day’s set menu is determined by the ingredients Juan is able to obtain on a daily basis. Usually all meals begin with sangria and a selection of basic tapas, such as the Manchego Semicurado Cheese and Sausage below.
Memorable staples stand out, like the house signature dish, the Empanada de Frito, a filo pastry stuffed with a tomato base sauce of olives, onions, and zucchini.
And the Spanish Piquillo Pepper Stuffed with Boiled Fish and Crispy Shrimps. It was absolutely divine.
I also enjoyed this cold soup, the Salmorejo de Cordoba… a cold tomato soup which complemented the hot dishes very well.
E-clectic is place to go if you want your dining experience completely private and up-close-and personal with the Chef. If you want the authentic Hong Kong style Private Kitchen, you’ll want to come here.
+ 22 Ships / Michelin Inventions Accessible Within Streetside Digs
You didn’t have to read my blog to know that 22 Ships is Hong Kong’s hottest new dining destination… yes… destination. Im sure you’ve already seen it all over Open Rice and Facebook. That said we were recently invited to have a taste at 22 Ships, Michelin Star Chef Jason Atherton’s first signature restaurant in Hong Kong, located in a refreshingly non-frou-frou street side locale on Wanchai’s Ship Street.
22 Ships is the brainchild of Yenn Wong, the entrepreneur behind the Phillipe Starck designed, JIA Boutique Hotel and 208 Duecento Otto Italian Restaurant in Sheung Wan designed by Turkish Design Firm, Autoban. For the restaurant’s cozy 35 seater venue, Wong hired award-winning Shanghai design firm, Neri & Hu Design Research Office (NHDRO), to formulate a concept that reflects the street’s historic and industrial vibe. What they came up with is a rustic yet urban atmosphere perfect for neighborhood drinks and al fresco tapas.
Perhaps the most impressive bit is how close and personal you are exactly to the chefs which run the joint. Adjacent to the drinks bar is the heart-of-house food prep area. You can witness your dishes plated and presented right in front of if you sit in the right seats at the bar towards the back. Since it’s a no-reservation system (much like all the newest venues in Hong Kong these days), you can’t request seats, but if you’re lucky enough to have one, like we did, it certainly adds to an unforgettable dining experience.
Some of my favorite dishes include the Spanish Breakfast, a creamy wallop of soft boiled egg, chopped chorizo, and potatoes.
A cool dish you have try is the Tuna Tartar “DIY”. The do-it-yourself dish consists of finely diced tuna with a selection of chives, shallots, sesame seeds, sea salt, olive oil, and sauce to sprinkle and flavour. There’s no such thing as over-sprinkling the dish… I sprinkled everything on and it all tasted great.
The Suckling Pig with Roasted Apple and Piquillo Pepper Jus had meat literally falling off the bone. It was served from the pan just right, not too hot. The best thing about it is that it was completely juicy, the skin just the right amount of crispness.
We ended the night with the sweet and salty PBJ, Peanut Ice Cream with Blue Fruit Sorbet, Raspberry, Blueberry, and Salted Peanut Caramel. So delicious.
Some hyped dishes like the Iberico Ham Infused Foie Gras Burgers and Scallop Ceviche were good, but for the steep price, there are better deals in the menu… ie. the quantity of food for the price of the dish. I can say this because there’s just so much selection to choose from. But definitely the price is warranted if you wanted higher-end modern Spanish plates via tasting menu portions, served in a non-pretentious environment. The down side, it’s a tiny venue with a no Reservation policy. So you cant pre plan big dinners here… which brings us to the next new Restaurant…
+ BOQUERIA / Authetic Barcelona Cuisine in Cool Family-Style Setting
BOQUERIA in Hong Kong serves up authentic Barcelona food, and is the sister branch of the original in New York City’s Flatiron district, a popular tapas destinations which the New York Times gave a 2-star rating.
The Hong Kong branch is much much larger than the New York one, and what it has going for it is the Open show Kitchen in the back where the Iberico meats and other ingredients are located, as well as the Island Bar in the middle. The very roomy location is great for big parties and gatherings, and a great place to meet up with plenty of friends and just hang out without people pressuring you to leave. For Architect Hernan Zanghellini, the focus was to reflect on community and the essence of the market. Large round and rectangular sharing tables define the open dining areas, and blackboards and textured walls reflect variety.
Chef David Izguierdo, ex Uno Mas (my favorite tapas spot in Wanchai back in the day) crafted the menus for both Hong Kong and New York which reflects his love for Catalonia tapas. Unlike 22 Ships and E-clectic where dishes are crafted in smaller plates, everything in Boqueria is big and meaty, appropos for real family style fare.
Below, Pella de Mariscos (Bomba rice, monkfish, sepia, squid, shrimp, clams, mussels, safron and salsa verde), and an order of Carne a la Plancha (Hanger steak, fingerling potatoes, shishito peppers, and mojo verde.)
The offering for Embutidos here is impressive. BOQUERIA serves up everything from Jamon Iberico below to other choices like the Chorizo Vela, a spicy pork sausage, and the Sobrasada, a soft pork sausage from Mallorca. You will not find a more complete collection of Jamon and Quesos in Hong Kong like this place.
The Chefs proudly keeping up the fort at 22 Ships.
Our photo with Gierdre and Alex at E-Clectic.
Overly helpful fashion designer, Yuen-Man, with Chef Juan.
What are you waiting for? Go have a taste!
Thanks to photographer Andre Eichman for lending us the opening photo of BOQUERIA on this post!