I love experiences like this: you walk into a restaurant with no expectations about quality and walk out having had a really good meal.
Actually, my expectations of Tangerine were low - very low. For one thing, when I sat down at 8pm on a weeknight, there were no other customers - although, as we all know, the popularity of a place isn't necessarily an indication of the quality of its food (and vice versa).
The menu, at first glance, seemed confused, as it stated "Thai. Tapas. Wine". I worried it would be Thai food and Spanish tapas - in other words, a restaurant attempting to serve two disparate cuisines, a formula that is very rarely successful. Then we were given chopsticks, rather than a fork and spoon - the usual implements used to eat a Thai meal.
But as I sat and waited for my guest, a few other customers walked in and the friendly servers gave them a warm welcome; it was obvious that our fellow diners were regulars. And as I examined the menu more closely, I saw that all the dishes - even on the tapas side of the menu - were Thai. We only ordered from the Thai tapas section, which, we assume, were smaller than the mains, so we could taste more items. Each tapa had a suggestion on what wine would pair well with it.
Then the food came, and we knew at first bite that the meal was going to be good.
With its pile of fried garlic and chillies, the stir-fried soft shell crab (HK$95) was almost like the typhoon shelter crabs you find at the restaurants on Jaffe Road in Wan Chai. The crab was cooked perfectly, so it was crisp outside and moist within. Deep-fried crispy vegetarian spring rolls (HK$68) weren't the prettiest we've seen (some of the filling had burst out of the wrappers) but they were piping hot and well seasoned.
The lettuce leaves with minced pork, Thai chillies and kaffir lime leaves (HK$70) weren't that easy to eat as they were overfilled, but the meaty mixture had a well-balanced, authentic Thai dressing.
Char-grilled rack of lamb with light Thai spices was a bargain at three pieces for HK$88. The small chops were meaty, tender and juicy.
The only dish I didn't care for was the roti paratha with "Panaeng" (as it was spelled on the menu) curry sauce (HK$48), which was too creamy and rich.
Tangerine would be a great place to dine with a group. The tapas portions are generous and there are many dishes we wanted to try but couldn't because there were just two of us.
Tangerine - which has tangerine-coloured walls and banquette covers, and a few tangerine-flavoured cocktails - replaces the restaurant known as F.
Tangerine, 51 Peel Street, Central, tel: 2546 6162. Monday-Friday noon-3pm, 6pm-11pm; Saturday and Sunday 6pm until late. About HK$190 without drinks or service charge