Ever since I lived in Madrid a few years ago (where I pretty much refused to eat anything other than tapas every day!), I have been on a quest to find something that even remotely comes close to Spain’s delicious tapas bars. Sadly in Hong Kong, although people rave about certain tapas joints I will not name, for me, most of them come very short of the real deal. They simply lack that authenticity in flavour and are extortionately priced for what they are. The problem, I think, lies in that a lot of these places aren’t even run by Spaniards… so when I heard that a new Catalonian restaurant was to open in cute tiny tapas bar form, I was eager to put it to the test. BCN (which, for you less well-travelled individuals, is clearly the international airport code for Barcelona) is a brand new little gem on Peel Street; walk a step too far and you’ll miss it, for this diddy little restaurant seats a maximum of only 12 diners at one time. Head (and actually, at the time I visited, sole) chef Edgar Sanuy Barahona is fresh off the boat from Spain (bar a short stint in Tokyo) so is as authentic as they come and serves the food to match. What with there being only one chef, Edgar likes to keep it simple, so menus consist of a Special Chef’s Set (a modern twist on Spanish fare, $680 per person), a “Trip to Spain” Set (Spanish classics, $580 per person) or a Paella set (what it says on the tin plus more, $480 per person), with plans to mix the menus up every three to four weeks. Also wanting to keep it simple (and cheaper!), we opted for the Paella Set, which began, as any tapas meal should, with a plate of chorizo and Manchego cheese. These ingredients are flown in directly from Spain, so although you’re paying for the mark-up, you know that everything you’re eating is 100% bona fide and utterly delicious. To follow, a green salad with Mediterranean flavours was served. Poor chef Edgar thought he was off to a bad start when he later realised I had a food blog in which I had expressed my indifference to salads. It’s not that I dislike salads per se; it’s just that a salad, for me, needs to be exciting. This salad, Edgar will be pleased to read, was exciting – loaded with pine nuts, anchovies, fresh and sundried tomatoes and parmesan. Had it been the only dish, I wouldn’t have found it as satisfying, but as part of the set, it worked. What I was more excited about, however, was the surtido de tapitas (selection of small tapas) – a ham croquette, pulpo a la gallega (Galician-style octopus) and a smoked salmon canalón. The croqueta, one of my favourite tapas, was just as it should be: crispy on the outside, creamy and comforting on the inside and dotted with salty jamón Ibérico. The pulpo a la gallega, a traditional Galician dish consisting of boiled octopus lovingly sprinkled with paprika and served on a bed of boiled potato, was also perfect, as in fact, was the canalón, stuffed with a creamy blend of yoghurt, cream cheese, sesame and rocket. My only complaint is that I wish there had been more of each tapita. I’m not always a fan of gazpacho, as it reminds me too much of tomato juice, which I consider rather offensive. This traditional Andalucian gazpacho, however, was milder than others, and a certain welcome refreshment for Hong Kong’s muggy climes, made the more so by the addition of a watermelon, cherry tomato and basil skewer. The set menu’s namesake, the BCN Paella cooked behind the bar for all to watch, was also a success; the rice was cooked to just the right consistency, with enough flavour without being overpowering and definitely not too dry either. Although the portion size was rather large, I still managed to polish off my helping. Chef Edgar was very accommodating to my friend who is intolerant to shellfish, and served her an oxtail mellow tower from the Special Chef’s Set. Consisting of beautifully tender braised oxtail, potato and foie gras, this tower simply melted in the mouth. A meal is never complete until it is finished with something sweet. Each of the set menus at BCN ends with two chocolate truffles topped with orange peel. I personally think orange pollutes chocolate, so discarded the peel, but the truffles were beautifully smooth, rich and the perfect end to the meal. One would have sufficed, but the second was a welcome bonus. In BCN, I think I may have found a likeness to Spain’s tapas bars as far as the design and food are concerned. What I can’t say I like, however, are the prices. Granted, Soho’s rents are expensive and obviously ingredients are imported, but $480 for the most basic menu before adding service charge is definitely more than I would have liked to have spent on a mid-week meal. That said, however, the food was good and the service very attentive, so I do hope BCN is here to stay.
BCN G/F, 37 Peel Street, Soho, Central
BCN G/F, 37 Peel Street, Soho, Central
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!