Saturday, 25 July 2015

22 Ships - tapas at the cool end of town

I've not really been in Hong Kong long enough to have witnessed the gentrification of parts of Wan Chai. I mean I can still see elements of the old Hong Kong in the hip Hong Kong district, but it seems as if a large part of the area has already changed.  It's not for me to say whether that's a good or bad thing, I have a natural predilection towards urban renewal, but there are some parts of Wan Chai that are now pretty hip and cool.

Ship Street is probably one of the leading lights in the gentrification of Wan Chai, with an ever expanding number of cool little restaurants and bars, along with some of Asia's top restaurants (see post here and here).  It was with this in mind that we decided to catch up with local food buddy Cynthia from JustCozitsTuesday for dinner, it also helped that it was in Cynthia's neck of the woods for a change!  Big fans of Aberdeen Street Social (see post here), we went to Jason Atherton's other Hong Kong restaurant, casual diner 22 Ships.

Named after it's location in Ship Street, 22 Ships is easy to spot from the street.  As with a lot of small, hip restaurants, there's a no reservation policy at 22 Ships, which normally means you need all parties together to score a seat.  We'd arrived a little earlier and with puppy dog eyes, asked if we could take our seat as our friend would be joining pretty quickly.  The waitress took pity on us and led us to one of the few tables that was still available inside and as we waited for our dining companion to join us, we looked over the menu.

22 Ships is a tapas bar and our place-mats outlined a pretty decent looking range of tapas that would sit well in any little restaurant in Spain.  In fact, the buzz of the restaurant very much reminded of our time in little Spanish tapas bars during our visit to Barcelona.  No sooner had SC ordered a red sangria, then Cynthia joined us and immediately ordered a white sangria... Of course, what else to order in a tapas bar?  (Well, maybe a good beer?!)

In keeping with the buzz and funky feel of 22 Ships, the menu is equally cool, looking like an artsy sketch pad and sectioned off by food types (accompanied by an equally artsy picture).  Looking through the sections of eggs, seafood, meat, vegetables and dessert, we rattled off half a dozen little bites, with the intent of coming back and ordering some mains pasted up on a specials board.  We got to chatting and catching up as the plates began to arrive.

The dish that most excited SC was out first.  The jamon, manchego & truffle toasty, topped with a quail's egg sounded pretty good and certainly put a different spin on the humble toasted sandwich!  Let's be honest, toasted sandwiches are pretty basic, right, and this looked like a bog standard toasted sandwich, cut into quarters, the only difference as the fried quails egg sitting atop our end pieces.  Plain looking it might have been, but it certainly packed a punch.  The salty jamon and the sweet and sticky manchego cheese were a wonderful pairing, but the subtle taste of the truffle helped set the toasty apart.  I didn't get an end piece with the egg, but the girls tell me it was tops!

Next up was probably the only disappointing dish of the night.  We'd ordered one of the blackboard specials, la plancha gambas with garlic and chilli.  Three huge prawns were presented on an awesome looking earthware plate, topped with crispy deep-fried garlic chips, the prawns should have been really tasty.  Unfortunately, there was very little flavour from the prawns and the garlic and chilli added almost nothing to the taste.  Maybe I'm spoiled coming from the land of 'throw-a-shrimp-on-the-barbie' but for me, prawns should have a sweet flavour, which was just missing.

With quite a few delicious looking options from the meat section of the menu, we decided to go raw! We'd made a great choice in ordering the wild Hereford beef tartare with egg yolk and crisps, which looked spectacular and very appetising.  Usually when ordering beef tartare, an egg yolk is broken over the top of the beef, but the 22 Ships option went with some whipped egg yolk which sat atop of the beef interspersed with a watercress puree.  The sweet egg yolk and the slightly bitter 'cress worked in harmony with the beef, which was mixed with the usual condiments that you'd expect in a great tartare.  We probably needed an extra couple of pieces of toast to go along with the tartare because we ran out, but a minor issue.

The dish that most excited me was next, and it would be no surprise to guess that it was a chorizo dish, one of my favourite ingredients in the world.  The chorizo was braised in a red wine and came presented with onion, garlic and peppers in a matched earthenware bowl.  While the chorizo didn't have that wonderful crunchy caramelised sweetness that comes from being grilled, there was a very satisfying deeper flavour from the infused red wine.  The texture was also a lot softer by being braised, but to be honest, food doesn't get much better and the texture didn't bother me at all.  The dish had it all, chorizo (that is all)!

Sticking with the meat section, our suckling pig with pineapple and piquillo peppers was presented next and it was about that time that we started to be thankful that we'd not ordered any more food, it was a very generous serving.  Sitting in a huge serving tray, there was a whole side of suckling pig and it smelled good!  We all dived in at the same time to tear the little piggy apart.. The flesh was wonderfully sweet, as you'd expect from suckling pig.  I didn't really get the pineapple with the pork, while it can match OK, it seemed a little wrong for me.  The best part though was the skin, which was  strangely not crispy, but had a satisfying chewy texture that just bled flavour into my mouth.  It was very filling!

Yep, we were stuffed and pretty happy that there was no more food coming, although we really wanted to check out some more tasty treats from the menu.  Sanity prevailed and we ordered dessert instead.

Cynthia and I have had many discussions about how awesome condensed milk is to suck out of a tube, so when we saw that there was condensed milk in one of the desserts, our minds were made up. It also helped that there was a peanut butter parfait and a brûlée banana, making up a deconstructed banana split.  The desserts looked awesome on pale blue plates and side by side they looked almost identical (which is good).  The peanut butter parfait was powerful, almost too powerful on it's own, which is why the sweet condensed milk ice cream and banana were on the plate.  Even to this moment I feel conflicted about the dessert, it was good, but not quite what I'd expected.  It didn't help when I saw how awesome SC's dessert looked.

Ordering the green tea cheesecake with lime and yoghurt, the dessert looked beautiful.. Contrasting colours of the green cheesecake, golden honeycomb and white yoghurt ice cream just really appealed to my visual senses.  The slightly bitter green tea cheesecake was ably supported by the sticky and sweet honeycomb, but the almost savoury yoghurt ice cream was the element that helped balance the dessert to perfection.  It was actually genius, but I don't want the chef to get a big head.

While Jason Atherton is the culinary director of 22 Ships, the day to day operation is run by executive chef Nathan Green, who is no stranger working with Michelin Starred chefs.  With a background working with other Great British Menu master chef, Tom Aitken, as well as well known British chef Tom Sellers, Nate's clearly the right man for the job.  We really enjoyed our food at 22 Ships, with the exception of those prawns.

22 Ships is definitely a cool spot to hang out, we were early to arrive (as we usually are) and the place was jammin' before we arrived and got even busier as the night went on.  Many of the seats are located around the bar area, but there are plenty of seats with an alfresco feel as well as a few high tables in the main dining area.  The music was right up our alley, funky house with a bent edge to it, the music really added to the atmosphere.

We'll be back to 22 Ships, firstly we love Spanish cuisine, but mostly because its a great little spot with a heap of tapas options that we still want to try.  Plus, I really want some more of that braised chorizo, it was so good!

It was good, but the peanut parfait was so powerful
Packed bar area
In fact, it was packed everywhere and queues were starting to form
The team in action

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