Jason Atherton is well on his way to building a global restaurant empire and has now opened three restaurants in Hong Kong which, aside from 22 Ships, are Aberdeen Street Social (where I enjoyed a decent smashed avo on toast) and Ham & Sherry. 22 Ships is most similar to his Social Wine & Tapas back home, with a very casual and buzzy setting.
The restaurant is small with only 35 covers but the slight feeling of confinement is aided by the open, exposed layout which gives a sense of Spanish al fresco dining. You can either perch at the U-shaped bar (definitely the best seats in the house) and watch the chefs as they skillfully prepare various dishes, or sit low in the window looking out onto Wan Chai’s ever-trendier Ship Street. The decor is black & white minimalist with the only splurge of colour coming from the vivid red font on the menus, which display a concise array of para picar, meat, vegetables, eggs and desserts for you to choose from. 22 Ships is, however, yet another restaurant that has jumped on the infinitely irritating and trendy no-reservations policy bandwagon, so be sure to go early if you don’t want to wait too long (though it is worth it).
We couldn’t have gotten off to a better start having lucked out on getting the corner seats at the bar, and quickly got to work ordering wine and choosing dishes. Service was excellent and the staff very helpful with recommendations, coming across both knowledgeable and personable. From the “para picar” (snacks) we ordered the pan con tomate, crisp jamon ($58), burrata, toast, balsamic ($128) and 48-month iberico bellota 60g ($148) (all prices in HKD $).
Let’s just say everything was fabulous. The pan con tomate was the perfect balance of crispy & juicy and the ratios of bread to topping perfect, with the tomatoes incredibly flavoursome. The burrata was a generous portion and ultra creamy & gooey with the drizzle of balsamic cutting through the richness of the cheese. And, as for the iberico bellota, the slightly oily texture meant that the slices of strong, distinctively flavoured ham quite honestly melted in your mouth. So far, pretty damn excellent. From the “seafood” section we sampled the scallop ceviche, yuzu, Chinese radish ($138), tuna tartare, cucumber, shiso ($178) and crisp squid, ink mayonnaise, lemon ($108).
The scallop ceviche was beautifully presented (in fact, every dish was), with the fish delightfully smooth and the citrusy yuzu dressing and sharp Chinese radish making it a very light and refreshing dish. The tuna tartare was another stellar plate, the fish served thick & chunky (my personal preference) and the marinade fresh but subtle so as to showcase the flavour of the tuna itself, which we particularly enjoyed scooped up on the crispy seaweed cracker. Our final fish dish, the squid, was my least favourite, as although the squid was cooked reasonably well and was not at all rubbery, I felt it lacked seasoning and didn’t particularly enjoy the strong and bitter flavour of the squid ink mayo. Not at all a bad dish, just not as good as the others.
In terms of “vegetables”, we chose the cauliflower, mushroom, parsley, walnut pesto ($88) and salt-baked beetroot, goat’s cheese, red vein sorrel ($98) to share. The beetroot dish was the clear winner of the two, with the cauliflower dish essentially raw grated cauli with some tasty dollops of sharp herbiness & nuttiness artfully dotted on top, whereas the beetroot was seriously delicious. I absolutely love a veggie dish done well (see my review of The Gate) and this was spot on. The combination of sweet, soft, salty beetroot and crunchy seeds and sorrel with the tangy, creamy goat’s cheese made it eye-wateringly good.
On to “meat”, the boy’s favourite part of the meal; middle white pork and foie gras burgers, avocado, pickled cucumber ($178 for two, but you can add on odd numbers for half the price) and braised chorizo, red wine, onion, peppers ($108). The burgers are 22 Ship’s signature dish and it’s not difficult to immediately appreciate why. The meat is unbelievably juicy and flavoursome with the buns that delightfully soft, squishy texture. The accompanying sour, crunchy pickled cucumbers and creamy avocado dip really balanced out the richness of the pork and made for an all-round freaking excellent burger. The chorizo was my least favourite dish of the evening (bar the cauliflower), not for any other reason than personal taste. I just found it a bit heavy and oily, whereas the guys lapped it up.
We were definitely stuffed but I had been told the desserts were off the charts so insisted we try the chocolate fondant, malt ice-cream, 100’s & 1000’s ($88), which in no way disappointed. It was a rich, gooey, chocolatey bowl of deliciousness with the cold malt ice-cream and crunchy chocolate sprinkles only adding to the heavenliness. Our waiter must have appreciated our hungry appetites and kindly served us his favourite dessert, the green tea cheese cake, lime and yoghurt ($88) for us to try, which was also absolutely stunning. The cheesecake wasn’t too sweet and wasn’t heavy at all, with the zesty lime flavour making for a refreshing finisher.
22 Ships was excellent from beginning to end. We visited on a Saturday evening at 8pm, and only waited around 40 minutes for our table. Service was never lacking and incredibly friendly. The food was *almost* faultless and for the quality of the dishes and overall experience, very good value. 22 Ships is easily one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong, the tapas offerings are not only innovative within their own common sphere but also so different to the majority of the rest of trendy, reasonably priced restaurants in HK which serve almost exclusively Asian food (I am by no means complaining, Asian is my favourite, but 22 Ships makes for a pleasing change!). Definitely, definitely go.