Catalunya has been around a while now, all of five years. In Hong Kong terms, that’s a stayer. It’s clear why as the 5,000 square foot spot, nestled in the back streets where Causeway Bay meets Wan Chai, has consistently delivered some of the best and most authentic Spanish cuisine in Hong Kong. When you look at the pedigree of the chefs, that’s no surprise either, as many worked at el bulli under the one and only Ferran Adria – who turned up to the opening, if you were lucky enough to have received an invite. I wasn’t, but found this online – on the left is the excellent manager who is still there today, the Mexican Mauricio Rodriguez.
So slightly confusingly, the latest chef to take the reins is also called Ferran. Ferran Tadeo was born in Barcelona and spent a decade being mentored by the great man (the other Ferran) and his brother Albert Adrià (owner of Tickets in Barcelona). He also worked with the jolliest Spaniard on US TV, José Andrés.
Another legacy comes in the first thing served, the one-bite ‘olives’ made with spherification, a (then) revolutionary technique conceived and first executed at el bulli. Of course they’re liquid inside and explode with olive flavour. They’re clearly a little homage to Adria and a nice welcome.
As is always the way, Spanish plates are for sharing, unless you’re married to a vegetarian. ‘Pulpo a feira’ was a perfectly-grilled octopus with potato spheres and paprika, Galician style. Strong but not overpowering whack of the sea, followed by the creamy potatoes. A clever riff on a classic.
The herbirvore was in rapture at the simple but delicious charcoal-grilled lettuce with red and green pepper ($85)
Smoked sardines with goat cheese, the salt next to the vinegar, lovely. (This was a tasting portion so smaller than normal)
Tomato tartare with tomato foam was utterly delicious in only a way that our Iberian friends have with tomatoes. I had two tomato epiphanies, both in Spain, including one recently in San Sebástian where I was very lucky to visit a txokos, a traditional Basque dining organization. That just reminded that the best things in life can be the simplest. Tomato, olive oil, salt. This wasn’t far off that mark, albeit in a more cheffy and deconstructed way.
The best came last, however, a brilliant lamb shoulder cut from Castilla-Leon with red fruits, slow-cooked with fresh berries and foie gras oil. You can tell by the shine and the sheen, the slick. Bread was needed, much bread. My days, was this a good dish.
Overall, Catalunya remains the definitive best option for Spanish dining in Hong Kong. There are old-school options like Ole, more recent arrivals like The Optimist or short lived flash-in-the-paella-pan like Vasco, but none can hold a candle to the spiritual home of Ferran and company.