Thanks to our friends AB and VZ, we managed to get a table at Catalunya last weekend, Hong Kong’s newest Spanish restaurant. Until now, we have had a few Spanish restaurants to choose from (Fofo By El Willi being my personal favorite), but I must say, none as classy as Catalunya. Earthy and sensual tones, plush banquets, wood paneled ceilings, warm red walls and a stunning central lighting fixture: there’s only one word for it, and that is sumptuous.
The choice of location is a strange one, off the Wan Chai Road, on a street that houses an office building, a Baptist Church, Queen Elizabeth Stadium, a hospital. In other words, after a certain time of day, the only activity on this road comes from Catalunya, and the flashing lights of ambulances as they pass the restaurant. Nonetheless, the restaurant was packed, and we were seated in the Cocktail Lounge for a short while to wait for our table. Not to worry at all, we kept ourselves busy with sangria, cava, and something to whet our appetites.
The word has already been spread that Catalunya’s Executive Chef Alain Devahive Tolosa honed his skills for 1o years at El Bulli with Ferran Adria, a molecular master of creative and thought-provoking cuisine, which I sadly never got to try. But Catalunya is very different, it’s warm, comforting, indulgent, and introduces you to tapas that are different from the run-of-the-mill. Here they serve a cross-section of Catalan favorites – a tortilla is not just a tortilla, and bikini is not a bikini.
You’ll see what I mean …
We started off with the only molecular item on the menu, a ‘spherical olive’, created by the process of ‘inverse spherification’. Olives are pressed for their juice, mixed with calcium chlorate, then submerged in sodium alginate (!!), which causes the outer layer of olive juice to harden, but not all the way through. The result is olive juice that looks like an olive, is shaped like an olive, but bursts in your mouth upon the slightest pressure of your tongue. I haven’t had many experiences with molecular cuisine, and it is a curious thing to bite down on something that you think is one thing, but is in actuality, quite another.
“Have them in one bite and watch out for the pit!” Many of Catalunya’s individual dish descriptions on the menu have these cute, tongue-in-cheek comments which I found quite amusing. It made reading the menu fun, and also entices you to order certain dishes that you may not have ordered, because sometimes the title itself doesn’t jump out at you.
We were very generously given a few appetisers to start with while we were waiting, so I wasn’t exactly sure what they were, and whether they represent the regular portion size. All I can say is that this ham was incredible.
“Your first introduction to Tapas” the Pa Amb Tomaquet, or tomato bread, was a good start – a sweet tomato sauce, garlic scent and rustic bread.
“You choose the style, we give the flavour.” Aaah the famed gamba roja. I say famed because I recently watched an episode of “Around the World in 80 Plates” where the contestants travel to Barcelona and cook with them – ever since I’ve wanted to try one. Ours were served grilled, and the flavour of the prawn was just incredible. I loved the richness of the prawn head juice … is there a proper name for that stuff? We were completely spoiled with this starter, and it was on this high that we were then seated at our table.
“You’re not getting a swimsuit!” These little parcels of calorific goodness are not to be missed! Truffle shavings, heaps of melted cheese and ham in between two pieces of pan-fried bread. As for why it’s called a bikini? Well, I’ve read that in Catalonia, the ‘bikini’ is a tapas bar staple – a Catalonian truffle, ham and cheese sandwich, if you will. When it’s cut into quarters diagonally, each piece resembles biniki bottoms!