As with all trends, some definitely do it better than others, but with the ever-changing dining scene of Hong Kong, one thing that never goes out of style is comfort. And what's more comfortable than dining at home away from home? Private kitchens have retained their hotspot status in HK, and El Palanca is a shining example of how to do it right. Having completed a stunning pop-up run at La Paloma to rave reviews, Álvaro Ramos, the Spanish native behind the project, has officially launched El Palanca in his own Mid-Levels dining room.
We enter Chef Álvaro's Mid-Levels home on a hot day with very little knowledge of what to expect, but what we step into is an airy and tastefully furnished flat decked out in eclectic accents and wonderful verdure, with a spacious balcony and view. Álvaro's wife and kitchen partner, Rosie, greets and wines us as the man himself sets to work preparing our eagerly anticipated lunch tasting.
Hamachi y tomates confitados
Esparragos blancos y mayonesa de trufa
The atmosphere is familiar and jovial, and we start off with hamachi tataki with confit tomato from Chef Álvaro's specially prepared tasting menu. The hamachi, also known as the Japanese amberjack or yellowtail, was succulent and juicy, with just the right amount of tang from the lime – the perfect appetite whetter for the meal to follow. Crunchy and fleecy, the white asparagus are a great find of Álvaro's from the local markets (an explorative journey that he expands on in his blog; if you're an avid cook yourself, we suggest gleaning some tips and tricks from his method of combing the wet markets of Hong Kong Island). Paired with homemade truffle mayonnaise, it was deliciously indulgent.
And here we have a perfect example of 'don't judge a book by its cover'. This terrible, terrible picture that we snapped of Chef Álvaro's judiones Asturianos does not do it justice in any shape or form; in fact, it doesn't even walk on the same planet as the soup, much less breathe the same (deliciously fragrant) air. With a cooking process that takes up to two days, just hearing about the preparation of this dish lets you know that it's going to be a good one, even if the initial presentation doesn't wow you. And it didn't disappoint: the beans (each about the size of our thumb) were soft and earthy and the soup well seasoned, salty and belly warming. We finished off this incredibly moreish dish hankering for more servings or perhaps an IV drip hooked up to the stuff. It tasted amazing.
Gambas al ajillo
Despite his relatively short presence in Hong Kong, Chef Álvaro sure established that he knows his way around finding the freshest and best goods in this city, because these prawns were huge. Huuuuuge. HUGE. About the size of an adult's hand from wrist to fingertips. Plump and fresh (he had picked them up from his 'secret' (read: awesome) fish market buddy earlier that morning), El Palanca's gambas al ajillo were roasted with generous helpings of garlic and butter. This dish was simple in execution but bold in flavour. We joyously got down and dirty picking the shells apart and sucked on piping hot, buttery prawn morsels.
Papada de cerdo Canton y Madriz style
Arroz de bogavante
So soft and succulent that the meat fell apart at the bare touch of our tongues, El Palanca's slow-cooked pork neck was the perfect bite to prepare us for the highlight of the day (though everything we tasted was unbelievable and bursting with flavour): the arroz de bogavante. This lobster paella has us drooling and fighting over the soccarat on the bottom of the pan, because you know the best part is that crusty, crispy bottom that becomes caramelised and toasted while cooking. Hands down, this was one of the best paellas we've ever had the pleasure of trying.
Dining at and with El Palanca was a truly delightful experience and a great way to impress your friends and family, as well as yourself. Chef Álvaro knows his way around the kitchen, and he sure as heck knows his own cuisine from top to bottom. Drawing from influences and culinary traditions passed on from his mother and grandmother, he executes beautifully and lets the flavours do the talking. And, boy, do they talk loudly and eloquently.
For more information and booking enquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Chef Álvaro's website.