El Mercado, Hong Kong: Splendid serendipity

  13.10.15    Hong Kong

Serendipity was my favourite bar in Tokyo, originally a recommendation from Tyler Brulé back when Monocle was readable. It was tiny and intimate and subterranean and an absolute bastard to find. It also closed its doors for good in February this year.

I thought of it while at El Mercado in Wan Chai as serendipity seemed to be the byword of a cracking lunch. Why? Partly as I visited on a total whim, one of many venues on a burgeoning list that never seems to shorten. It’s in the block also shared by Pirata, a hit and miss Italian and also Zahrabel, a pleasant enough if not-great-value Lebanese. Given the building’s form, I wasn’t expecting great things – but was gladly proved wrong. If there are better value or more original lunches currently in Hong Kong, then they’re being well hidden.

With no great fanfare or reputation, nor the word beloved of a thousand marketers, ‘buzz’, I’d presumed it was some version of Spanish small plates. It’s not, it’s Peruvian and Japanese. While that may seem incongruous at first, there are long and rich historical links between the two countries on opposite sides of The Pacific, not least in their cuisines which together have become known as ‘Nikkei‘.

The space is bright, especially so on a sunny Thursday lunchtime. It’s also really nicely fitted out, a central sushi style counter, a bar at one end. The counter allows you to see chef Jose Manuel Sabrera Meza, formerly of Astrid y Gaston in Lima, in action. Astrid y Gaston is one of South America’s best restaurants, so getting him to Hennessy Road is a serious coup.Mercado Hong Kong

Mercado Hong KongAs I await my companion, some complimentary vegetable chips actually taste of the vegetables they came from:Mercado Hong KongThe lunch menu features bento boxes ranging from $158-228, all of which feature a main along with soup and salad. The soup is an absolute winner and great way to start, called ‘Aguadito’ it’s made from vegetable stock, rice, coriander, green peas and corn.  It’s a beautiful mix of slightly sour, fresh herbs and broth that feels like pho in its addictive qualities.Mercado Hong KongThe salad is very good too, a substantial and generous mix of new potatoes, tomatoes, roast pepper, edamame beans, soft blue cheese under a vinaigrette dressing. El Mercado Hong kongThen comes the main event of tuna and avocado in an orange and soy reduction. Wow. Just a great combination of flavours and textures.El Mercado Hong kong

My lunchmate had plumped for their signature ‘cochinillo’ suckling pig and shared some of the perfectly crisp skin and rich meat, somehow decadent and lean, a total oxymoron, served on a groovy rice and edamame creation:El Mercado Hong kongWe were so impressed with lunch we tried their cute take on mango sticky rice, presented sushi style. It was good stuff, not huge, but then again was only $18. So all done we left just north of $200 each, with friendly warm service and a cappuccino. On the strength of lunch a return visit is imminent, this time to try their dinner menu.El Mercado Hong kong IMG_5314


21/F, 239 Hennessey Rd, Wan Chai Tel+: +852 2388 8009