If you believe everything you read or hear, Hong Kong flips from one culinary fad to another with depressing and predictable regularity. This year’s Korean Mexican fusion was last year’s gourmet burgers, which was in turn 2013’s small plates and 2012’s Peruvian wave. By this reckoning, Spanish food is currently about seven years out of date. But that, as the Madrileñas would tell you, is callos – utter tripe.
Yes trends come and go, some thankfully more quickly than others, but ultimately a good restaurant stands on its own regardless of fads. If the food is authentic, prepared with skill and love, then it should stand the test of time. Such is the case with Paloma (The Pigeon) in Sai Ying Pun – but what’s especially impressive is that it’s only been open since April.
Spanish cuisine is always near the top of my go-to list. It’s the infinite variety, the ingredients, the passion and all those other Mediterranean clichés. From a humble bocadillo to Elena Arzak’s strokes of genius, the country covers all the bases. Most of all however, for me it’s all about the paella.
Back when Ebeneezer Goode was the guy in the place with a bittersweet face, my semi-retired parents moved on from teaching in England’s original capital city of Colchester to a small town north of Valencia on Spain’s eastern coast. They taught in a well-known English language school for Spanish kids and, on my occasional visits, I predictably fell in love with paella. Valencia is the home of paella – let no one tell you otherwise. Valencia is also the hometown of Paloma’s chef Vito Chiavacci, so he knows paella better than most. But he also knows a lot more besides.
The space near the new Sai Ying Pun MTR is casually finished with exposed concrete pillars, Spanish colours weaved throughout and a pigeon of some description on every other surface. The three of us took a good look across the menu, going for specialities as well as a few classics. The former included a ‘bacon and cheese explosion air baguette’. If the name is a bit silly, all was forgiven with a brilliant mouthful of everything that your doctor tells you to avoid, in one mouthful. Order them and enjoy.
Staying with the holy trinity of cheese, meat and bread, the classic Barcelona Bikini sandwich is tweaked by Vito using sobrasada (raw, cured smoky sausage that is spread) instead of the classic jamon:
Good if unspectacular patatas bravas and mixed vegetables came and went, as did a spinach and Manchego salad, before we got back to meat business in the form of a wonderful bowl of ‘callos‘ or tripe stew with white beans and morcilla, blood sausage. Tripe is a great divider of diners but here it still retained a faint metallic tang in the best possible way, while the broth was greedily attacked with sourdough.
Garlic prawns were sticky, stinky beauties, as they should be:
Our order of beef short rib (where doesn’t serve short rib in HK these days?) was probably a dish too far with the main event waiting, but we made good inroads into it regardless. The real star of the show was inevitably my beloved Valencian paella of white bomba rice, green beans, chicken and rabbit, artichoke and white beans, all simmered with saffron, rosemary and more.
The all-important soccarat underneath was crispy and scraped off, the aioli was rich and squeezes of lemon lifted the ensemble. Frankly it was almost big enough for two carnivores as a dinner in itself.
The check for a lot of food was a very reasonable $1100 and while they await their licence, fill your boots and bring your own booze.
La Paloma, 1/F SoHo 189, 189 Queen’s Rd West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong. Tel:+852 2291-6161 https://www.facebook.com/Lapalomahk