The Mexican wave (of food) in Hong Kong continues with hot newcomer Socialito. Taking over Privé’s former location on Wyndham Street, Buzz Concepts’ latest and boldest venture is a three-in-one package of ‘taqueira, restaurant and discoteca’. Hoping to embody the essence of the name and replicate a Latin-American social vibe, Socialito aims to provide a space for people to mingle, play, eat and drink.
The 50s-style shiny metallic taqueria (taco-stall) out front is a playful touch, serving up an array of tacos, gorditas, tostadas and tamales. You can stroll in, pull up a stool for a quick bite and quench your thirst with one of their margaritas, or just grab a takeaway. Don’t be fooled by this laid-back funky exterior however; a discreet silver door on the left gives way to a sleek dark formal dining area. The softly-lit bar at the back draws you into a sophisticated space of high ceilings, wrought-iron gate features, plush leather seats and dark-wood panelling, evoking images of old Mexico. After dinner, this space transforms into a club from 11.30pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays, complete with DJ booth and the tables converting into bar tops.
As I waited for the rest of my dinner companions to arrive, I got a head start in drinking and tried one of Socialito’s fun and original specialty cocktails created by Eric Stephenson, bar manager of Lily & Bloom. After three sips of my delicious refreshing Zumbido (Havana Club 7 and Denizen Rum with passionfruit, honey and lime), and later a Sociarito (Jalapeno infused Alacran Tequila with lavender-honey and peach bitters), I realised that these cocktails pack a punch – beware of drinking one on an empty stomach! I loved the Zumbido with its Mojito-like tones, whilst the Sociarito was a perfect blend of sweet balancing out the fiery tequila.
Soon dinner was in full swing; we started with a lobster and swordfish ceviche topped with coconut chili sauce, pickled shallot and herbs, served with cucumber noodles. The seafood was fresh and delightfully fleshy, the sauce and shallots adding a lovely zing, while the cucumber noodles gave it a cleansing after-taste.
Next up was the cauliflower almond soup. A visual crowd-pleaser, the soup of pickled cauliflower, caramelised apples, almonds and morita chili was poured into bowls of at our table, leaving us clambering for action shots! Though soothingly thick and creamy, the soup was a tad oversalted, but had a lovely blend of pickle with a subtle hint of heat.
However, our next two dishes were a triumph. Wagyu tacos were presented with a flourish, our eyes feasting on the line of fresh homemade tortillas encasing tender beef slices topped with salsa, guacamole and crispy onions. Meanwhile, the seared pork belly surrounded by a sea of green peanut mole was flavoursome and succulent, the outside seared perfectly. The mole itself wasn’t as distinctive in taste as its colour, but I loved the chicharrones (fried pork rind) and the accompanying sautéed onions and jalapeno.
Our main of seared duck breast was presented beautifully, slices sitting on black beans and arranged on a long plate separated by little islands of corn tortitas atop corn puree. The duck was moist and wonderfully seasoned but I felt the dish was slightly let down by the black beans, which were a little dry and glutinous, and the corn tortitas, which didn’t really add enough dimension to the dish.
Time for desserts… and no matter how full you are, you must try the King Banana. This ridiculously cool-looking dessert with arrangements of fried milk bananas, sour cream sorbet and King banana chips on cumin crumble was a delight to the tastebuds. The cumin crumble was a great savoury contrast to the sweetness of the bananas and the sour cream added a faint tang to the ensemble.
The molten chocolate cake was equally sublime. The sponge gave way to a sexy ooze of warm chocolate and I adored the contrast of the cold coconut semifreddo that it came with. I was also intrigued by the decorative candied Ancho chilli fried chocolate; it’s made by mixing tapioca with molten dark chocolate, then solidifying, dehydrating and deep-frying it. Clever stuff.
And so ended my evening – my dining companions and I a touch merry from the cocktails, stuffed to the rafters with Mexican food. Although the three-in-one concept is commendable, I do feel people may be confused as to what Socialito has to offer, especially as the taqueria is so prominent. Would diners be more interested in the casual or the finer dining side of this establishment, I wonder? Another issue is finding the restaurant! I myself couldn’t find the door to the dining room at first and although the door is marked “Abierto! Pase Usted” (which means “Open! Come on in”), that doesn’t really help non-Spanish speakers!
That aside, the menu and the cocktails are exciting and I think Socialito will be enjoying a steady stream of fans flocking to its taco stall and dancing to La Bamba, drink in hand!
Socialito G/F, 2 The Centrium, 60 Whyndham Street, Central
3167 7380 www.socialito.com.hk
The taqueria opens from midday, the restaurant from 6pm; both are closed Sundays. There are a limited number of tables available for reservation, only for groups of 6 or more.
Check out more food-related writings from Michelle on her blog, Chopstixfix!