Given my Venezuelan heritage, can you imagine my excitement when I heard that a new Latin American restaurant serving Venezuelan arepas had opened in Hong Kong? This was back when Picada was just a pokey little place on Elgin Street. I tried and tried to visit, but, for one reason or another, I kept being put off. One of the main issues I had was that, during the Pokemon Go craze, I saw a photo on Picada’s Facebook page of arepas made with food colouring to look like Pokemon characters and called Arepamon! I was horrified! Fast forward 18 months or so and Picada has moved to a two-storey space on the corner of Wyndham Street and Lan Kwai Fong – and thankfully got over its Pokemon phase!
It’s now a huge space featuring a bar, a main dining area, a dancefloor, a private dining room and a gorgeous terrace. The restaurant brings together food from all over Latin America and this is also expressed in the décor, which is inspired by the diverse natural landscape of these countries, such as the Amazon river, the Andes mountains, the desert and the jungle. The menu, similarly, brings together food from Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela, all designed for sharing.
We started with the Peruvian ceviche. Since Chef Abel Ortiz Alvarez is Peruvian himself, this was understandably a very good ceviche and the leche de tigre was spot on, with a good amount of zing.
We followed this with the elote grillado – Mexican street corn. Whilst the corn was perfectly cooked and deliciously sweet, we were a bit surprised it was served with Parmesan cheese, instead of something like queso fresco, as the Parmesan seemed too overpowering here and didn’t melt into the corn.
Picada serves both Argentinian empandas and Colombian/Venezuelan empanadas. If you’ve been to South America, or even just eaten a great deal of South American food, you’ll know that each country has its own version of these delightful little pasties. In Argentina, they are made with wheat flour and usually baked, whilst in Venezuela and Colombia, they are made with Harina Pan (corn flour, therefore gluten-free) and deep fried. We first tried the Argentinian three cheese empanadas. These tasted divine, filled with basil, blue cheese, jack cheese and cheddar cheese, but the pastry itself was slightly under-cooked. We also found the accompanying chimichurri to be far too heavy on the vinegar.
We then tried a selection of Venezuelan empanadas – El Pollito Pío (shredded chicken), La Vegetariana (mixed mushrooms) and “La Colombiana” (shredded slow-cooked beef). Again, the fillings were all delicious, but here the pastry was actually over-cooked. This type of empanada should be nice and crispy on the outside, but the dough should still be a little soft underneath – these were hard and crispy all the way through.
I often struggle to explain to people what an arepa is. “It’s kind of like pita bread, but not; kind of like an English muffin, but not; made out of corn flour, but not corn flour as you know it; stuffed with anything you like…” Much like the argument between Peruvians and Chileans about the heritage of a Pisco Sour, Venezuelans and Colombians have the same debate about the arepa. Being half-Venezuelan, the answer, for me, is obvious. In Venezuela, this staple is eaten every day of the week for breakfast, lunch, dinner, late-night snack – basically whenever you feel like it. Here in Hong Kong, we usually have them once a week, usually for dinner on Sundays, whether just the two of us, or with the rest of the family. Picada’s slow-cooked beef ribs arepa had the potential to be amazing, but fell a little short of the mark. The rich, flavoursome beef (carne mechada in Venezuela) was delicious, but it had soaked through the arepa, making it completely soggy on the bottom and difficult to eat. We were also confused by the inclusion of lettuce inside the arepa – a definite no-no in arepa etiquette!
The Bandeja Paisa is a typical Colombian dish not too dissimilar to Venezuela’s national dish, Pabellón Criollo. Traditionally, this dish, made with pork belly, black beans, minced beef, avocado, rice, egg and plantain was eaten by the country folk in the region of Paisa (hence the name) and is in itself a complete, wholesome meal. The mini arepa here was perfect, as was the patacón (fried plantain), which served as suitable vessels for transporting the rich, comforting stews to the mouth.
Chef Abel also brought us his Peruvian corn cake, which isn’t yet on the menu. This was another rich, yet satisfying dish, consisting of minced beef with olives and tomatoes, topped with chunky corn mash and dusted with sugar.
The Torta Tres Leches here is made with Harina Pan, making it gluten-free. The flavour was spot on, but the corn flour made the cake more dense than usual, meaning it hadn’t fully absorbed the milk… not that that stopped us devouring it!
The service at Picada was efficient and friendly, the prices mostly reasonable – you could probably pay around $600 a head for a filling meal and a few drinks. Speaking of which, the drinks list also features spirits, wines and beers from all over South America and a selection of popular cocktails. There are still a number of things that need to be worked on here, but it’s certainly headed in the right direction and is sure to satisfy both those who speaka the Spanish and those who don’t!
29 Wyndham Street
Tel: +852 3425 4037