Jason Atherton’s restaurant group has grown exponentially over the past years. Apart from his two restaurants in London, he has opened numerous restaurants in Singapore, and now with 22 Ships, also Hong Kong.
Whilst Pollen Street Social, and Pollen are clearly based on French products and technique, two of Atherton’s restaurants offer a very different cuisine: Esquina in Singapore, and 22 Ships in Hong Kong serve tapas. The latter opened more or less at the same time than Catalunya, a restaurant run by a group of El Bulli disciples, who also have a restaurant in Singapore.
Compared to Catalunya, however, 22 Ships is very different. The restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, so you can expect queues at busy times. Once you get in, the small space is about as bustling as restaurants can get. Think of it as a more modern, less traditional tapas bar.
22 Ships offers both classical dishes, and more modern, adventurous compositions. There is no ambition here to make this into a fine dining establishment, which is perhaps why it is so refreshingly unpretentious.
Among the most convincing dishes here is a bit of seared tuna, which is served with avocado, and tomatoes. This is a fresh, lively, zesty summer dish that is the perfect start to a meal.
Similarly successful is paella with clams and ham. The rice has just the right amount of bite, and the flavours are intense, complex and clean. This being one of the richer dishes on the menu, it will please the amateurs as Alain Ducasse calls food-lovers on his menus.
A dish where the inevitable comparison between Catalunya and 22 Ships comes to mind is the roast suckling pig. Here, it is served with roast pineapple, peppers and a spiced applesauce. The garnishes are therefore a lot sweeter than the very bare dish that it is at Catalunya. The pig itself has less delicately crunchy skin, and feels a little heavier. In this case, Catalunya serves the more successful version.
When it comes to desserts, 22 Ships back on top form. Particularly good is a tapioca, black sesame and carrot dessert. The black sesame puree is frozen into strings, using liquid nitrogen, whilst the carrot is served as a sorbet. The whole comes with tapioca that brings it all together. The lack of sweetness is what makes this an interesting dessert. It is remarkably fresh, therefore allows you to finish your meal without being knocked out by a big sugar rush.
22 Ships is a tapas bar that serves a very particular cuisine, with the right ambience to serve it in. It doing a very good job at it, explains its success. It is, after all, not often that you see people queuing up in the summer heat in Hong Kong…