19 Hollywood Road, SOHO, Central
The origin of tapas is nothing short of cool for any history buff. ‘Tapas’ means ‘lid’ or ‘cover’, and food at bars in Spain were, once upon a time, placed on little plates used to cover the glasses of wine or beer or whatever Spanish yuppies were drinking back then after a hard day of siesta. Other variations include how it prevented the peasants or lower classes, who could not afford a full meal, from drinking on an empty stomach. However, out of all these explanations for why the Spanish take little meals with their drink, I quite like the story of the once ill stricken King Alfonso X – also known as Alfonso the Wise, and wise he was indeed – who issued a decree that all wine must be served with a small meal. If he had the reins over LKF, I’m sure we’d find much fewer underage kids throwing up in the public toilets next to Beijing Club.
I would’ve thought tapas would have more presence in HK. For one, people of Guangdong province are notorious for talking about food way more than any of its neighbours (I’m not even going to give the Northern provinces a second thought), Hong Kong itself is a foodie heaven, and the drinking culture in the more Westernised districts of Hong Kong, like Lanks, could do way more to cater to this Hongkie love for food. I suppose that’s what we’re seeing with Ronin HK and Three Monkeys in Sheung Wan, with delicate bites (albeit not ‘tapas’) paired with premium whiskies and elaborate cocktails, but with a price tag like 50 bucks for a single skewer of ox tongue, who is really going to get even remotely full as fast as they get fucked?
This is where Tapeo comes in, and where tapas bars should make some headway in the Hong Kong dining scene. With the incredibly reasonable prices for Soho and delicious, uncomplicated, authentic Spanish fare, I love this place and will be returning. From 5 to 7 they offer an early bird dinner special, and it is rather small, so booking is a must. An unpretentious open kitchen greets you as you slide the simple glass doors and settle yourself on their plush, burgundy stools – surprisingly comfortable – and in true tapas bar style, we changed our seats around to talk to eachother as we munched through dishes and chugged our jug of refreshing red sangria. A jug of sangria is a no-brainer here, by the way.
Starting with the pan con tomate or tomato bread ($45), a standard tapas dish, we knew we were in for a treat. Rustically presented, the bread had a great crunch on the crumb and crust, and was rubbed with garlic and a slightly sweet tomato paste and olive oil. This was simple but intensely flavoured.
The charcuterie platter ($168) was next – we saw a full leg of iberico that had been cured for 36 months that we knew we had to have. Jamon, chorizo and salchichon featured on the platter, cured for varying times and from different parts of Spain – including Jabugo, known for its jamon iberico. This was more than enough for the four of us, rich and a great taste of Spanish fare.
We then ordered the braised beef cheek ($88) – good for two – and perhaps this was the hit and miss. The beef cheek felt apart nicely and was very soft, paired well with a beautifully dark beefy sauce and pea puree, but the beef cheek itself was sadly underseasoned. However, the quince aioli was amazing, incredibly garlicky, which I love, and compensated for the lack of salt on that beef. It was a bit of an ‘argghh!’ moment – don’t forget el sal, pal!
The gambas al ajillo or gambas pil pil ($98) as it was presented on the menu was nothing special, and I think out of all the dishes we could’ve done without this. I am always a fan of lots of garlic on prawns, but the sauce or dish on a whole was not as memorable as the others and I have definitely had better gambas elsewhere… or, dare I say it, could make a better gambas al ajillo at home… (To be continued..)
The final dish was on the Tapeo specials, and I really wanted Andrew to try morcilla or the Spanish blood sausage. It is the only type of ‘black pudding’ that I actually love to eat, as it doesn’t have that overpowering irony/bloody taste. This morcilla in this dish was very mild, but seasoned perfectly and topped with prawns and pretty little fried quail eggs. It looked quite fancy, but not at the expense of flavour. In all, a boldly beautiful dish, and I have a lot of faith in their specials after this!
So, that’s all for my rave. I am definitely a fan of Tapeo – an authentic tapas bar in the heart of Central, with pricetags that won’t make you run in fear.