Favourite Hong Kong neighbourhood haunt 22 Ships has reopened with a new look and a new face in the kitchen. We talk with Chef Antonio Oviedo about authentic Spanish cuisine and creating a vibe on par with the best pintxo bars.
Spain has a brilliantly diverse culinary culture; what elements are we going to find on 22 Ships’ new menu from your native Madrid?
As a melting pot of the various regional cuisines of Spain, Madrid has a lot of interesting dishes I take inspiration from for our menu at 22 Ships. Some examples include Chicken Pepitoria, an old recipe of succulent chicken cooked in almond, egg yolk, spices, and saffron sauce; Gilda Skewer, a popular Basque pintxo made with anchovies, olives, and pickled piparra peppers; Marcona Almonds, shorter, rounder and sweeter than the California variety; and Vermont olives.
You’re determined to introduce new tapas dishes to Hong Kong diners; which new additions stand out?
We do a very unique version of Sardines & Ajo Blanco with grapes, a popular Spanish garlic cold soup. Carabineros Al Ajillo is created using the Josper grill, which brings out the best natural flavours of the prawns. Another is the Chicken Pepitoria.
22 Ships offers a relaxed, social vibe in a city that anything but relaxed. How hard is it to create an authentic Spanish tapas experience here and what elements have you had to concede on?
Hong Kong is naturally a melting pot of different cultures, and 22 Ships upholds a social sharing custom that is loved by all. Our location on Ship Street enables a convivial and down-to-earth atmosphere, with regular patrons coming in from the surrounding neighborhood. Of course, nothing can really compare to the sights, smells and sounds of Spain’s bustling food markets.
What are some of the ingredients you’re experimenting with at the moment?
We are experimenting with a new daily special of suckling baby lamb from Castillo Leon. The lamb from this region is super famous and considered one of the most tender and delicious meats. We are also introducing Piparra peppers, which are available only for around 30-45 days in the Basque region. There will be more to come as we have just re-opened for two weeks, so watch this space.
Will we find any Asian elements on your new menu?
Yes. On our menu, we have dishes such as Hokkaido Sea Urchin on Toast, for which we use sea urchin from Japan for its freshness. Sea urchin is also something that we enjoy plenty of in Spain, especially in the coastal areas. We are also using beautiful locally-caught turbot from Hong Kong. Our chicken is also local – the famous “three yellow chicken” – characterized by yellow feathers, yellow skin, and a yellow beak. We use some local ingredients because of the freshness and the ease of sourcing but the recipes and techniques will always remain 100 percent Spanish.
The menu has a focus on supporting small-scale Spanish producers. Has the current global epidemic made sourcing ingredients challenging?
In Hong Kong, we are very lucky to be in a city where sourcing ingredients is not so difficult, especially during these testing times. Hong Kong has recovered quite quickly, and this allows us to also source ingredients more easily from overseas.
Some of the very interesting Spanish ingredients and premium produce we use include our Arbequina olive oil, deep-sea Carabineros prawns, Payoyo cheese made with milk from the Payoyo Goat and Merina sheep, Marcona almonds and more.
Cheese plays an important role in Spanish tapas – tell us about some of the less common cheeses you’ll be serving.
Payoyo is an artisanal cheese from Sierra de Grazalema, made with the milk of native cattle species, the payoya goat, and the merina sheep from Grazalema. I believe we are the only restaurant that is serving this in Hong Kong right now. Pascualete is a sheep’s milk cheese from Extremadura that is also not commonly found in Hong Kong.
Tell us about the new Spanish ‘street-social’ cocktails being served and which cocktails-tapas pairing works the best.
We highly recommend pairing our vermouth with snacks such as the Marcona almonds and Vermut Gordal olives, and we recommend pairing our sangria with tapas such as Cristal Pan con Tomate and the summer gazpacho with cucumber sorbet.
The restaurant’s new look has retained the open kitchen counter – as a chef do you prefer working behind closed doors or in front of an audience?
Absolutely, I love interacting with our guests and I believe this is what hospitality is all about. At 22 Ships, we are a casual Spanish tapas restaurant and the interactive kitchen counter element is very, very important, just like the markets at Boqueria in Spain.
What’s the one dish at the new-look 22 Ships we can’t leave without trying?
I personally would recommend our Roasted Suckling Pig, which is prepared following a traditional recipe and slow-cooked for 24 hours before roasting for 30 minutes, resulting in juicy and tender meat that falls off the bone easily. It is so delicious, and the way we cook the cochinillo is very different from the traditional method.
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