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Spanish restaurant Catalunya offers an extensive menu for sharing

Susan Jung

 

Ah … first-world problems. "It's so hard getting a table at Catalunya. You have to book so far in advance. And when you finally eat there, there's too much on the menu that sounds good, so it's hard to decide what to eat."

The latter really is a problem. It's not that the menu is too extensive, because it's not. The menu descriptions can be annoying: one dish is said to be "yummy" while it says of another "... fresh fish captured by our chef's eagle eye"? (Does an eagle eye work better than a fishing pole?)

But even after ignoring all the dishes that depend more on good sourcing, rather than cooking (such as the cheese and charcuterie), there's still a lot I wanted to eat. The chef, Alain Devahive Tolosa, had worked at the now-closed elBulli, in Spain, so I knew the food, while it was based on traditional Spanish dishes, wouldn't necessarily be the traditional versions.

I was grateful that I'd asked two friends to join me for dinner, because it would have been extremely difficult to review the place with just one other person; as many of the main courses are meant for sharing, a meal for two would have meant limiting yourself to just a few tapas dishes.

We were served the fried dishes first, and they didn't impress. With the jamon Iberico croquettes (HK$100), we couldn't detect the taste of the distinctive flavour of air-dried ham - the small bits of meat could have been anything.

We had the same problem with the too-smooth cod fritters (HK$75), which didn't taste much of cod. The suckling pig tapa (HK$135) came as three boneless pieces that had crunchy skin, but were slightly overcooked.

All the other customers seemed to be ordering the ham, cheese and truffle bikini (HK$115), and with good reason. The pressed and grilled sandwich had crusty bread and a deliciously rich, slightly gooey filling. The gambas al ajillo (HK$160) was not the traditional version of shrimp with garlic oil. The three sweet, heads-on red prawns came in a bowl that also held a creamy, light and garlicky sauce, crisp pork belly and fried garlic.

For the main course, we shared the lobster rice (HK$480). While the lobster itself was fine, the star of the show was the rice, which was toothsome and deeply seafoody. The side dish of roasted pineapple (HK$70) would have gone better with meats, rather than the lobster rice, but I couldn't resist ordering it. The pineapple, roasted with spices such as star anise, cinnamon stick and pink peppercorns, was wonderfully intense.

For dessert, the seasonal fruit (HK$70) sounds simple but it's much more than the sliced fruits served after a Chinese meal. Served on crushed ice, the large chunks of fruit included watermelon, pear and pineapple, and each had been infused with a different herb or spice such as clove (or perhaps star anise) and mint.

susan.jung@scmp.com

 

Catalunya, Guardian House, 32 Oi Kwan Road, Wan Chai. Tel: 2866 7900. Open: nightly from 6.30pm-10.30pm (last order); Sunday noon-4pm. About HK$475 without drinks or the service charge

 

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