Rating: ★★★★☆

Address: G/F, 22 Ship Street, Wan Chai 灣仔船街22號地下

Telephone: 2555 0722

http://www.22ships.hk/

Sometimes the whole of Hong Kong can be raving about a particular restaurant, and recently, it’s been 22 Ships. Named after its address, number 22 on Ship Street, this tapas bar is Jason Atherton‘s new baby in Asia. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the man, Jason is Gordon Ramsay’s protégé, and he is also the brains behind London’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Pollen Street Social. His co-owner is Yenn Wong, founder of JIA Boutique Hotels group and owner of 208 Duecento Otto, the sleek Italian restaurant in Sheung Wan.

As the city becomes fascinated with Spanish cuisine (as demonstrated by the opening of BCN (Hong Kong), Boqueria and Eclectic), 22 Ships became known for its creative modern tapas. The decor is contemporary and stylish, complete with bar tables and a small al fresco dining area. The vibe is hip and upbeat, and the young and enthusiastic staff have been well briefed on the tapas served at this haunt.

22 Ships, like Socialito (Hong Kong) and Brickhouse (Hong Kong), follows the latest trend of a no-reservation and no-service charge policy. The restaurant is so popular that if you come at 8pm, the waiting time could be up to 2 hours. I came the restaurant at 6pm on a Saturday night as soon as it opened, and watched in horror as the 35 seats filled up within just 10 minutes. I thought that no one else (except for myself, of course) would be sad enough to have dinner at 6pm on a Saturday night, but it seems like Hong Kongers are prepared to do anything for delicious Spanish tapas! Our meal cost around $500 per head excluding tips, which was not cheap, but I personally thought it was worth it.

(1) The Spanish breakfast, chorizo and potato ($98) set the bar high for our meal. The potato was wondrously smooth and creamy, and the lovely, delicate egg and a few slices of tangy chorizo made for a heavenly and sensuous dish!

(2) Some friends have told me that they found the Manchego cheese and Iberico ham toastie ($78) a bit plain, but I personally loved it. True, it looked just like a normal ham and cheese sandwich, but the cheese was ultra creamy and the Iberico ham was impressively flavour-packed. Not to mention how incredibly cute the fried quail eggs looked!

(3) This Miso grilled mackerel, wasabi avocado, cucumber chutney ($148) was accomplished. The skin was crispy and well-browned and the mackerel was firm and juicy. I adored the sophisticated presentation of this dish, and the wasabi avocado paste gave it a nice kick.

(4) There was an air of elegance in the way this simple dish, Heirloom tomato, red onion, sherry vinegar ($58), looked. The tomatoes in this were fresh and juicy, and the sherry vinegar helped accentuate their natural sweetness.

(5) We did not order the Foie gras and sweetbread empanada, caper and burnt onion jam ($148) at first, but decided to go for it after we saw how enticing it looked! Mini burgers have become very popular in restaurants; while I cannot say that this sweetbread empanada was a notch above the other ones I have had, I can definitely say that it tasted delicious. The sweetbread was fluffy, and the foie gras in the burger was rich and decadent.

(6) For mains, we shared the Suckling pig, roasted apple with spices, piquillo pepper ($148), but were a little bit disappointed. While the skin was attractively thick and crunchy, we wished the meat was more tender and could be more easily torn apart. The suckling pig was a tad underseasoned, and was almost overwhelmed by the sweet, vibrant roasted pineapples and piquillo peppers.

(7) The two of us ordered the “PJB” peanut parfait, blueberry sorbet, salted peanut crunch ($68) for dessert. While I adored the perceptible taste of nuts in the peanut parfait, it wasn’t creamy or rich enough to form a contrast with the light blueberry sorbet. The different elements of the dessert somehow did not manage to come together.

(8) Besides drinking sangria, you could also order the Spanish beer, Estrella Damm ($55), which is known for its creamy hops and its refreshing, fruity taste.

Conclusion: Some of my friends found 22 Ships overrated, and thought that the quality of the meal did not justify the waiting time or the hype. Indeed, some of the dishes could be improved, but I was truly impressed by the creative and inspiring menu, which gave a refreshing spin on traditional Spanish tapas. What I adored the most was the tapas’ presentation – at 22 Ships I saw some of the prettiest dishes I have seen all year, and the restaurant’s level of finesse was on a par with many fine dining or Michelin starred restaurants.