Rating: ★★★★☆

Address: G/F, Guardian House, 32 Oi Kwan Road, Wan Chai 灣仔愛群道32號愛群商業大廈地下

Telephone: 2866 7900

http://www.catalunya.hk/

Catalunya was justifiably the most anticipated new restaurant in Hong Kong in 2013, and this is not at all surprising, given its impressive pedigree – it is helmed by Executive Chef, Alain Devahive Tolosa, who has worked alongside Ferran Adrià of elBulli, once the world’s best restaurant, for more than a decade, as well as a team of 20 chefs who come from many of Spain’s top Michelin three-starred restaurants.

Catalunya is the sister restaurant of Catalunya Singapore. Located in an inconspicuous part of Morrison Hill, the restaurant is a huge 8,000 square foot space behind an intentionally low-key entrance, with a VIP room which can be accessed from a separate back entrance. I felt instantly transported to Spain as I stepped foot into this restaurant – dimly lit and in black-and-red tones, the venue is highly reminiscent of traditional restaurants in Catalonia, Spain.

The restaurant has proven to be immensely popular with the fine dining crowd in Hong Kong – even with dinner costing on average $600-$1,000 per head, the restaurant has been heaving every night ever since its opening. However, my verdict was that the restaurant has failed to live up to the high expectations of it – for such an upscale restaurant, the staff was shockingly unfamiliar with the menu. The service was by all means slow, but it could be forgiven as the restaurant is still within its first few months of opening. Most importantly, while most of the tapas were utterly scrumptious, many other dishes on the menu did not shine.

(1) Mixologist Dario Nocentini has created a list of unique, inspiration cocktails on the menu, and I ordered a glass of Stairway to Heaven ($160), a drink made with rum, pineapple purée, vanilla syrup, lime juice, egg white, coriander leaves and celery. The cocktail, presented ceremonially with smoking effects from dry ice (similar to the AVA-tini I had at AVA) was just the right kind of sweet, fruity drink to start our meal with.

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(2) The spherical olives ($15 each) are a must-try item at the restaurant. Originated at elBulli, each “olive” was basically olive liquid contained in a thin membrane, which delightfully popped in the mouth.

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(3) The avocado and lobster roll ($160), consisting of lobster, avocado, vegetables and mayonnaise, was a combination of common flavours which worked fantastically together, creating a fresh-tasting and delicious dish.

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(4) The Cod Fish “Esqueixada” ($110) had a refined, sea-fresh taste and a firm, chewy texture.

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(5) The Jamon Iberico Croquette (4 pcs, $100) was undoubtedly the star of the night. Made with not mashed potato, but a mixture of velouté and flour, these deep fried croquettes were exquisitely smooth and utterly indulgent.

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(6) The Lomito Iberico ($130), cured pork sirloin with smoked pepper hint, had an appealing texture; the level saltiness was also spot-on.

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(7) The white asparagus ($110), made with flown-in asparagus, steamed and topped with tarragon mayonnaise, was light and delicate, with the mellow taste of asparagus perfectly complemented by the creamy textures.

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(8) The “Escalibada” with foie-gras and smoked eel ($130) was accomplished. The perceptible smokiness of the eel worked brilliantly with the foie gras and eggplants.

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(9) The tortilla de Trampo ($85), also called “Sin Tortilla”, was a simple, yet well-balanced, dish. There was some uncooked egg white in the tortilla, which gave it an attractive moisture.

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(10) The clams “a la Basca” ($110), clams with the traditional green sauce of the Basque country, were wholesome and well-seasoned.

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(11) The Gambas al Ajillo ($160), red prawns with crispy pork belly and “Ajillo”, tasted intensely of scrumptious fresh prawns and were lifted by a kick of garlic. However, the soft and limp texture of the prawns did not do justice to the outstanding flavours of the dish.

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(12) The lobster rice with fresh grilled lobster ($480), an extravagant version of a simple paella, comprised of rice plumped up with thick, lobster bisque-like broth.The taste was startlingly fresh and oceanic, but was unfortunately way too heavy on the salt.

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(13) If you have been reading other reviews of Catalunya, you would recognise the look of the Traditional Suckling Pig “Segovian Style” ($825 for 3-4 Pax), a signature dish of a sucking pig roasted in the traditional Segovian style. In line with tradition, the waiter cut the pig with a porcelain plate, instead of a knife. Putting the debate on whether this pig looked too much like a road kill aside, I have heard mixed reviews of its taste – while some praised it for its tender textures and succulence, I found the suckling pig a bit bland in taste and lacking in meaty flavours. There was a strong scent of rosemary as the dish was served, but it was not detectable taste-wise.

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(14) Almond ($90) was apparently one of the most popular amongst the six desserts on the menu. A warm and smooth almond sponge cake was accompanied by a refreshing yuzu sorbet. While the light, mellow flavours of the dessert worked harmoniously, there was certainly no wow-factor.

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(15) The “Torrija” ($70) came with a soft, warm, flan-like bread and a scoop of smoked milk ice cream, and was my personal favourite. The smoked milk ice cream was peculiarly tasty, with the smokiness accentuating the creaminess of the ice cream – provocative, yet delectable.

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(16) The Chocolate ($95), served with three sticky scoops of differently flavoured ice cream or sorbet, tasted playful and interesting but I wouldn’t peg it as scrumptious.

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Catalunya, with its impressively large space and backed by a team of culinary experts, is guaranteed to be one of the most popular restaurants in Hong Kong and a must-try restaurant for Spanish food-lovers. However, do adjust your expectations of the cuisine – the tapas are absolutely brilliant, but the mains are not much to write home about.