The hype about Jason Atherton’s 22 Ships reached me months before it actually opened, yet what with all the Christmas and end of year celebrations that seem to last far longer here than anywhere else, I have only just managed to give it a try.
Slightly put off by the no reservations policy that seems to have peeved quite a few people about town, and with absolutely no desire to queue for hours, we arrived at 5.45, putting us second in line for the 6pm opening time.
The focus is on the central open kitchen, around which you’ll find the best seats in the house; there’s something about watching your food being carefully prepared, with close attention to detail, that makes it even more exciting when it comes to actually eating it.
The menu, which also serves as your placemat, is inspired by Spanish tapas, given Atherton’s background at elBulli. However, this isn’t tapas as we know it; this is modern, fancy tapas that will definitely make your taste buds tingle.
Even 22 Ships’ sangria is fancy, topped with a thick foam and somehow not as sweet and sickly as sangria often can be.
To look at, the Salt cod brandade ortiz, wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, yet to taste, it was heavenly: a beautiful, creamy dip made of salt cod with anchovy and herb paste, topped with olive oil and avocado. I could have eaten it straight from the bowl with a spoon, yet of course it also worked with the crisp bread it came with.
From the specials menu, the tea cured salmon with rock melon and daikon was perfect. Each bite of salmon was flavoursome and unbelievably tender. Having been cured in tea as opposed to smoked, it didn’t have that strong, overpowering flavour, but rather was light and delicate, pairing perfectly with the sweet melon and creamy avocado.
A side dish of peas, broad beans, goats curd, Iberico ham and mint dressing was light and fresh, but nothing to write home about. The occasional mint leaf we came across brought some excitement to the dish, so it definitely could have done with a few more of these.
Absolutely incredible, were the char grilled Iberico pork & foie gras burgers. You might expect this combination to be far too rich and salty, yet these beauties were utterly perfect, the flavours balanced by the fluffy, slightly sweet homemade bun.
The suckling pig was also divine. Having found Hong Kong’s best suckling pig a few weeks ago at Manor, my expectations were low. However, although the two are completely different styles and cannot be compared, I think I may have found a close contender. The meat was unbelievably tender, served with roasted apple, piquillo peppers and red pepper-infused roast pineapple. I’m not normally a fan of cooked pineapple, yet this one, paired with the salty, succulent pork was amazing.
For dessert, we opted for the olive oil brioche with chocolate ganache and sea salt. Concerned as to whether or not this would actually come together, we were pleasantly surprised when we combined each component and realised that of course it did. I particularly loved the pistachio ice cream and whole pistachio nuts, which neutralised the richness of the ganache.
One thing I didn’t like about 22 Ships was the feeling they gave us that they were trying to get rid of us; the dishes came out all at once to the point that we had to tell them to slow down. This must be their way of trying to get as many covers as possible on one night. Once they realised we weren’t in a rush to leave, however, service was good and the staff were friendly, which, combined with their no service charge policy, encouraged us to tip generously.
Much has been commented on about the cost of 22 Ships; no, it isn’t cheap. Yet neither is it extortionate; for our meal, we paid less than $400 each, including a tip. Remember that this lively, delicious restaurant has Jason Atherton’s name behind it, so it never was going to be cheap, was it?!
22 Ship Street
Tel: +852 2555 0722