As much as I love a night out, nothing beats a good dinner party with great friends, free-flowing wine, tasty home-cooked food and the ability to kick on until whatever time you want, without being pushed out to make room for the next sitting. That said, however, a dinner party requires a lot of preparation, sometimes hours slaving in the kitchen and, on the actual night, even if you have pre-prepared everything, you’ll still have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen away from your guests. What if you could have a dinner party from the comfort of your own home, but didn’t have to lift a finger? Chef Álvaro Ramos, who goes by the name of El Palanca, has made this dream a reality.
Originally from Madrid, Chef Álvaro worked at several Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain, before moving to Shanghai, where he eventually spent four years working as Head Chef at el Willy and Tomatito (owned by the same group as Fofo by El Willy and La Paloma here in HK). He moved to Hong Kong about six months ago to be with his wife and new born baby boy. Aside from being a dad, Chef Álvaro is now a personal chef, who will come to your house and prepare a fantastic meal for you and your friends.
One Saturday afternoon, Chef Álvaro and his assistant chef arrived at our flat with a giant cool box. I showed them the kitchen, they shut themselves in there and set to work. Normally, before a dinner party, I’m running around frantically trying to get everything ready in time; on this occasion I sat down and painted my nails whilst I waited for our guests to arrive!
When everyone had arrived, Chef Álvaro came out of the kitchen, allowing the incredible aromas of his cooking to fill the flat, and introduced himself and his menu. Given his heritage, naturally, he prepares a Spanish tapas-style menu, with his own very unique twist. It’s worth pointing out that Chef Álvaro himself is a very unique character. He has well over 100 tattoos and a beard that many men would envy, yet he is incredibly sweet and so genuinely passionate about what he does. His first dish, Hamachi tataki with confit tomato, came beautifully presented on halved limes. The fish was incredibly fresh and flavoursome, the tomatoes giving it that Spanish touch.
The guaca guaca lobster ceviche was another stunning dish. The lobster flesh had been removed and marinated with curry flavours, before being put back into its shell and presented whole. It had a lovely spicy punch and I liked the contrasting textures from the crunchy vegetables against the soft lobster meat.
Although not nearly as pretty as the preceding two dishes, the white asparagus with truffle mayo was also a hit. The asparagus themselves had a subtle flavour, whilst the truffle mayo was so good we were scooping it up and eating it alone. Chef Álvaro had anticipated our love of truffle and brought out a couple more pots full of mayo.
The Spanish love their beans. El Palanca’s Asturian butter bean stew was just a small taster, yet was packed full of flavour. A small bowl contained a couple of butter beans, a piece of chorizo, a piece of pancetta, and a piece of black pudding. Chef Álvaro then topped each one with a rich, hearty butter bean stew that tied everything nicely together.
Everyone’s favourite dish was the mushroom paella with short ribs, presented in the paella dish at the table. Although it didn’t have that layer of crispy rice at the bottom, the rice was perfectly al dente and utterly delicious, with the amazingly tender beef a lovely complement.
Even El Palanca’s palate cleanser is a spectacle. Chef Álvaro came to the table and filled six shot glasses with a pink foam from a pressurised canister. The foam was a refreshing shiso mojito that successfully fulfilled its task.
The first of the desserts was a classic lemon tart with an El Palanca twist. The thin biscuit base was topped with a sharp lemon curd, celery and chilli jelly, mini meringues and mint leaves, which all came together to create a pretty special dessert that had a nice balance of sweet, sour and a little savoury.
To finish, we were presented with what looked like a takeaway burger box, which contained some chocolate ginger explosions. This was kind of like a xiao long bao crossed with a profiterole – the light, fluffy pastry gave way to a molten explosion of chocolatey-gingery goodness that nicely completed the meal. This was washed down with a delicious bottle of Spanish dessert wine that the chef kindly gave us as a gift.
What’s the worst part about holding a dinner party? The washing up you have to do afterwards! Not in this case, however. Once they had finished cooking, the duo of chefs washed everything, leaving the kitchen spotless.
Our menu cost $600 per person, but Chef Álvaro has a range of different menus to choose from for a minimum of six and maximum of 12 people. He will liaise with you and put a menu together based on budget and dietary requirements. He brings all his own kitchen equipment, including serving dishes, so all you have to provide are your kitchen, some plates and cutlery, good friends and multiple bottles of wine. Would I recommend this experience? Wholeheartedly.