So many Spanish tapas restaurants in Hong Kong seem to forget what the concept of tapas is all about; it’s supposed to be a casual, inexpensive selection of dishes to complement drinks. Initially, in Spain, tapas (which means ‘lids’ or ‘covers’) were complimentary plates of salty food that were placed on top of glasses to keep the flies out and ensure that customers kept buying more drinks. Obviously this has now evolved and tapas offerings have significantly grown, yet the concept should still remain a casual one, not an expensive, fancy one, as many restaurateurs believe.
Now, the team that brought us the popular Spanish restaurant Fofo by El Willy has opened a second Spanish tapas restaurant in Sai Ying Pun called La Paloma, which seems to actually get it. La Paloma, which can either mean ‘dove’ or ‘pigeon’ in Spanish (in this case the latter), is a fun, lively, down-to-earth tapas restaurant that doesn’t charge ridiculous prices for small plates of food.
Where Fofo is all white, clean and very simple, La Paloma is colourful and bright, with colourful pigeons dotted around wherever you look. It’s inspired by ‘chiringuitos’ – Spanish beach bars – so the design aims to bring an outdoor look and feel to an indoor restaurant, which is achieved through the use of outdoor furniture, bright colours and fairy lights hanging across the restaurant.
The menu, put together by Catalan chef duo Willy trullas Moreno and Alex Fargas, is simple yet offers a wide selection of traditional and modern tapas at reasonable prices. We began our feast with a tabla mixta consisting of the chef’s selection of cold cuts and cheeses, paired with some fresh tomato bread. You simply can’t go wrong when you have good quality meat and cheese imported from Spain.
The vermut was an interesting, yet nonetheless tasty, dish consisting of mussels in an escabeche sauce with pickles, pork scratchings and fresh homemade potato crisps. Since this dish is traditionally made with tinned, marinated mussels, they had an unusual mushy texture that was not unpleasant, but might confuse people who aren’t expecting it.
Patatas bravas are a quintessential dish in any tapas restaurant, and here they were spot on. The pulpo a la gallega was also excellent, in this case served as individual pieces of octopus on individual slices of potato, of course with that all-important paprika seasoning.
One of the best dishes on the table was without a doubt the chipirones rellenos en salsa de langosta – stuffed baby squid in lobster sauce. The squid was cooked to perfection, stuffed with pine nuts and vegetables, topped with crispy bacon to balance the rich, sweet lobster sauce – divine.
Remember the explosive salmon air bags from Fofo? La Paloma has them too, but this time stuffed with a gorgeous, spicy chipotle cream that explodes onto the palate at first bite. There is also a bacon con queso version that’s similar, but not nearly as good – I would have liked my bacon a little crispier.
Another stellar dish was the cochinillo – roast suckling pig. This is first cooked sous-vide over 18 hours at 68 degrees Celsius, before being finished in the ‘asador’ clay oven to crisp the skin. This oven, imported from Castilla y Leon, goes up to 300 degrees, resulting in beautiful, golden, crispy skin with incredibly tender and juicy meat beneath. At $350, this is one of the most expensive dishes on the menu, but it’s definitely worth it.
Last of the savoury dishes was the Paella valenciana, cooked in a huge paella dish on one of the designated paella cooking stations. The rice had a decent bite to it and was packed full of flavour. It was a perhaps a little heavy on the thyme, but at least it had a great deal more flavour than other paellas I’ve tasted in HK.
The desserts we tasted were all a little doughy and heavy for my liking, so I could only manage a bite of each. If you love Nutella, the Bollycao might be one to try – a sweet brioche bun with a gooey Nutella core. The torrijas con vainilla consisted of bread soaked in vanilla, with a caramelised sugary top that had a comforting slightly burnt essence. The cutest and perhaps tastiest of the desserts we tried were the donetes – mini steamed doughnuts encased in thick dark chocolate.
Service was pretty decent and I appreciated the authentic touch of having an almost all-Spanish team. Even the drinks list consists of entirely Spanish wines, ciders, beers and cocktails that aren’t crazy expensive. Depending on your selection, you’d be likely to spend between $350 and $500 per person on a satisfying dinner. La Paloma is a refreshing, vibrant place to go for a decent Spanish meal that doesn’t cost the earth. I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of go-to tapas joints.
1/F, SoHo 189
189 Queen’s Road West
Sai Ying Pun
Tel: +852 2291 6161
Closed on Mondays
Only open for dinner on weekdays. Brunch and dinner on weekends.