Catalunya comes to Hong Kong!

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.

Olive

Spherical Olives @ $15 each

“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.

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Iberico Ham

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.

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Pa Amb Tomaquet HK$55

“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.

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Mediterranean Red Prawns HK$500 (portion unknown)

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.

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Ham Cheese and Truffle ‘Bikini’ HK$115

“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!

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Plaza Mayor, Hong Kong

The chefs at work

The chefs at work

After failing to secure a table at Ted’s Lookout, we decided to head over to Plaza Mayor around the corner for some tapas instead. I haven’t been to the Star Street area in a while, and it’s amazing how many new places have opened up in the last year. Named after a stunning central plaza in Madrid, it was a grand name to live up to. Sadly, it didn’t quite do so.

The original Plaza Mayor, Madrid

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Solera – a gem in Discovery Bay

IMG_4279I’m in a taxi and the driver is careening onto Connaught Road like a mad man. My IPhone clock strikes 8pm – and my heart sinks. I’ve missed it, I know I’ve missed it. Still, the driver continues, clear in his purpose and adamant to fulfill it. We hit a light, we hit another light – my eyes dart between the clock and the road. “Time to do those sprints!!!”, my friend SN texts me, “I’ll hold it as long as I can!”.

We screech to a halt in front of Pier 3, I throw a $50 note at this amazing man who has managed to get me here on time, and tell him to keep the change. My brown 4-inch heeled boots strike the pavement HARD – people must have heard me coming from a mile away. CLOP CLOP CLOP CLOP, I doot my Octopus Card, fly past the barrier, SN is at the ready throw the ferry steward in the water in case I don’t make it. But I’ve made it! I stop with a panting finish onboard the ferry – we are on out way to Discovery Bay!

IMG_4278Our destination: a girls dinner at Solera, a new Spanish Tapas restaurant located in DB Plaza. At first sight, it is obvious that they have tried everything to make this place as Spanish as possible, to the point where they go overboard just a tad. However, the result is that after a while, you could actually start feeling like you’ve been transported to a restaurant in Spain, and the feeling grew on us.

Once we started eating the food, the illusion became complete.

Iberico Cold Cut Selection (served with tomato bread)

Ibérico Cold Cut Selection (served with tomato bread) HK$250

We started off with an Iberico cold cut selection, served with a very flavorful tomato bread. Whilst it was a lovely platter, it doesn’t really serve to show the “edge” that this restaurant has with the rest of its food.

Pan y Tomate

Pan y Tomate (also offered separately on the menu at HK$20)

Solera tries to offer a slightly different interpretation of traditional tapas dishes, and they hit the spot with this one – their version of Heuvos Estrellados, a simple dish of fried potatoes, fried egg and Iberico Ham. The saltiness of the cube-cut-then-fried Iberico ham  is juxtaposed by the sweet onion confit, and using fried potato crisps instead of larger pieces adds a wonderful crunch. The egg coats the whole dish with rich creaminess, and it is so deliciously moreish.

Organic Egg Slow Cooked at 63° served with Ibérico Ham on Onion Confit anf Fried Potato

Organic Egg Slow Cooked at 63° served with Ibérico Ham on Onion Confit and Fried Potato HK$120

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