If I had to name my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong, Tapeo would come fairly high in the list. So imagine my excitement on learning that another branch of the tapas joint (run by Concept Creations, who also own Belgian eaterie, Frites) had opened nearer my neck of the woods in Sai Wan Ho, even if I was a little nonplussed at the idea. The Chai Wan side of the Island seems to have an air of unloved cousin about it compared to Central side and Tapeo’s other location is right at the beating heart of the desirable Soho area in Central.
However, once I got there, it made perfect sense. Located next to stunning harbour-side views with some clever tables that are actually windows too, it feels totally fitting for Spanish cuisine – what could be more Mediterranean than a fun casual dinner followed by a stroll along the harbour to walk off those calories after?
In fact, I personally prefer the Sai Wan Ho Tapeo to the one in Central, where it’s all (limited) bar seating and the mood feels set more to ‘hip bar’ than ‘fine dining’, which is a shame as the food definitely justifies the latter tag. The Sai Wan Ho branch actually has tables (gasp!) and lighting that (heavens above!) actually allows you to see what you’re eating (as well as appreciate the skill that goes into it at the open kitchen). And thanks to those open windows and more generous seating arrangements, it’s an altogether less cramped and more comfortable dining experience than in Central – so take that, Soho!
Nevertheless, the food is the reason I love Tapeo and after my Sai Wan Ho visit, the food is still the reason that I love Tapeo. The Sai Wan Ho menu sees a few dishes gone AWOL or modified slightly, paellas added and wine a few bucks cheaper, but otherwise it’s pretty similar to Central – and thank God for that, because I need my manchego cheese and honey ($48). It’s becoming an addiction.
Last time, I managed to put away two platters of manchego cheese and honey by spuriously branding one serving as ‘dessert’. The combination of flavours and textures is just incredible – delicious more-ish cheese and lashings of sticky sweet gooey honey atop dry crispy toast.
Grilled squid with herbs and spices ($58, similar to Squid a la Plancha on Central’s menu) is another Tapeo speciality. The most tender, juicy squid I’ve had in HK, swimming in its spicy, salty, garlicky juices. Just delicious.
I tried the marinated lamb skewers ($68) for the first time and these were also lush. The lamb was succulent, sweet and cooked to perfection and whatever it was marinated in brought out its flavours even more. The chunks of lamb were interspersed with baby tomatoes – little bursts of juicy flavour that really complemented it.
The pork belly with quince aioli ($62) is (yet another!) Tapeo favourite. The pork belly was crispy yet still dreamily tender and flavoursome whilst the quince is an inspired choice. It would have been easy to pair pork with some obvious apple-based goo but the quince has a more delicate, zesty flavour and goes wonderfully with the pork. I simply adore this dish.
Sauteed prawns with garlic and paprika ($68) arrive still sizzling on their plate. Every time I order these (and I do order these every time), I’m always a bit disappointed. Again, the juice was scrumptious yet the prawns themselves were a little bland. But I just can’t tear myself away from ordering prawns as tapas; I’ve since opted for the crispy prawn option instead, which comes in a delightful spicy yet creamy dressing – but don’t order that if you mind your shellfish coming shell on!
If you don’t feel like paella, some kind of Spanish tortilla is a must. Also known as frittata or Spanish omelette (basically an omelette made with potatoes as well as egg), it’s a dish that will fill you up a bit more and I daresay that Tapeo’s are the best in town. Thanks to the potato aspect, these can often be a bit heavy yet Tapeo’s are light, fluffy and impeccably seasoned. We opted for the chorizo and spinach one ($58) and the tiny nuggets of chorizo are doses of intense, salty, scrummy flavour that bring out the best of the dish.
Finally, ham croquettes ($48). By this stage, I was already full but kept seeing people ordering these and they looked too good to resist. Little golden balls coated in breadcrumbs and filled with soft mashed potato and smoky ham, these were very tasty but a little heavy for that stage of the meal!
I know it’s a bit tourist-y of me, but I always feel the urge to drink sangria with tapas. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of actual fruit in my glass ($45 and seemingly just sliced grapes!) but it was a fruity, appetising and most importantly, icy-cool accompaniment to our meal!
Service was attentive and friendly, with food arriving within five minutes of us ordering. The beauty of Tapeo is the open kitchen, which gives the place a real buzz and a chance to watch your food being cooked up right before your eyes. Being sat right by the open kitchen, I can also attest to the chef having a great sense of humour!
Tapas is a cuisine perfectly suited to the HK style of dining – sharing, picking over your food and chatting just as much as consuming – and I can think of no better place to enjoy it than Tapeo Sai Wan Ho. Expect me to become a regular; I’ll be the one surrounded by platters of manchego cheese!
Tapeo, GA01-03 G/F Lei King Wan, Site A 55 Tai Hong Street, Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong, 2513 0199
Check out more of Rach’s food and nail polish (don’t worry – not at the same time!) adventures on her blog, Through The Looking Glass.