You’d have thought we’d have long tired of tapas restaurants in Hong Kong, given the pace at which they multiply in this city. However, Spanish fever here shows no signs of weakening – and I suspect it never will, particularly when a restaurant as delicious as Zafran enters the scene.
Zafran is Aqua Group’s latest baby, hidden down a little alley off Wyndham Street. In my opinion, whilst the food in other Aqua restaurants isn’t bad, it usually comes secondary to the location or view. At Zafran, however, although the restaurant itself is very cool, the food is spectacular.
Upon entering its “secret garden façade”, I was surprised to see just how big Zafran’s space is. Almost like a cavernous basement, it is divided into three sections: the bar, the dining room and the late night lounge. The use of dark wood and bare bricks give it the look and feel of an underground hangout, yet a very very cool one.
We were seated at the open kitchen/tapas bar where you can watch the kitchen team, led by Spanish chef Marc Lores, create delicious masterpieces of “classic tapas” and “Zafran tapas”. To begin, after each being served an individual (mini) jug of sangria, we were offered an amuse bouche of watermelon sangria, a refreshing bite of compressed watermelon and wine that cleansed the palate in preparation for all the exciting flavours to come.
The first of our dishes was Galician Padrón peppers with sea salt. Usually, in a pile of 25 of these little peppers, you’ll find a few seriously hot ones. Whether Chef Marc had been through them and removed the hot ones, or we were just very (un)lucky I’m not sure, but not one single pepper was remotely spicy! They did, however, have a lovely charred flavour and a beautiful texture, with the sea salt complementing the ever so slightly bitter twang of the peppers.
Gambas al ajillo are a personal favourite at any tapas restaurant, and Zafran’s version was just what I was hoping for. The texture of the prawns was perfectly bouncy, served in just the right amount of garlic-infused olive oil, with large, lightly fried slivers of garlic and chilli.
Chef Marc’s take on the classic pulpo a la Gallega were his octopus skewers with potato foam. Sprinkled in paprika, this dish had the same lovely, simple flavours as its classic counterpart, and was warm, comforting and utterly delicious. The octopus itself was cooked to perfection, without the slightest hint of chewiness.
Zafran prides itself on its homemade chorizo, and quite rightly so. Each bite had a lovely crumbly texture, the right level of spice and a comfortingly (but not overly) salty flavour – definitely one of the best dishes of the night.
The salt cod brandada with cauliflower cake and ikura was clearly one of the more creative “Zafran tapas” of the night, and we could tell the chefs had had a lot of fun constructing it. To look at, it was beautiful… but to taste, it was even better! The textures, from the smooth cod brandada to the crumbly cauliflower cake, crunchy toasted bread and popping fish roe, worked extremely well together.
Our last (savoury) dish was the “Secreto Iberico”, acorn-fed pork with chickpea puree and confit piquillo pepper. On its arrival, Chef Marc announced, “I am really in love with this dish!” – and we definitely agreed, even if we felt it would have benefitted from just a little more of the confit pepper.
For dessert, we were served the “huevo frito” – a sweet replica of a fried egg, black pudding and chips, made with pumpkin ice cream, white chocolate foam, chocolate cake and pineapple with strawberry and sour cherry ‘ketchup’.
Whilst the huevo frito was fun and interesting, it was the ‘chocolate dessert’ from the specials that really impressed. An explosion of bread, chocolate, olive oil, peanuts and sea salt, all the ingredients fused together to make a truly delicious dessert.
Prices at Zafran range from $68 to $270 per plate of tapas. Service is excellent, and I’d particularly recommend sitting at the bar for a taste of the front-row action. Although there may be tapas restaurants all over town, don’t for a second lump them all in the same category… sometimes one might come along to take you by surprise, and Zafran did just that for me!
Zafran Basement, 43-55 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!