UPDATE: Tapeo is *SOB* now closed.
If I had to name my favourite restaurants in HK, Tapeo would come fairly high in the list. So imagine my excitement on learning that another branch of the tapas joint (run by Concept Creations, who also own Belgian eaterie, Frites) had opened nearer my neck of the woods in Sai Wan Ho, even if I was a little nonplussed at the idea. The Chai Wan side of the Island seems to have an air of unloved cousin about it compared to the high-end, gweilo-filled Central side and Tapeo’s other location is right at the beating heart of the desirable Soho area in Central.
However, once I got there, it made perfect sense. Located next to stunning harbour-side views with some clever tables that are actually windows too, it feels totally fitting for Spanish cuisine – what could be more Mediterranean than a fun casual dinner followed by a stroll along the harbour to walk off those calories after?
In fact, I prefer the Sai Wan Ho Tapeo to the one in Central, where it’s all bar seating (all of about 20 seats – and I’m being generous) and the mood often feels set more to ‘hip bar’ than ‘fine dining’, which is a shame as the food definitely justifies the latter tag. The Sai Wan Ho branch actually has tables (gasp!) and lighting that (heavens above!) actually allows you to see what you’re eating (as well as appreciate the skill that goes into it at the open kitchen). And thanks to those open windows and more generous seating arrangements, it’s an altogether less cramped and more comfortable dining experience than in Central – so take that, Soho!
Nevertheless, the food is the reason I love Tapeo and after my Sai Wan Ho visit, the food is still the reason that I love Tapeo. In the UK, I never bothered with tapas, largely because the main Spanish chain in England, La Tasca, is basically a bit crap. Tapeo changed all that. The Sai Wan Ho menu sees a few dishes gone AWOL or modified slightly, paellas added and wine a few bucks cheaper, but otherwise it’s pretty similar to Central – and thank God for that, because I need my manchego cheese and honey. It’s becoming an addiction.
Last time, I managed to put away two platters of manchego cheese and honey by spuriously branding one serving as ‘dessert’. The combination of flavours and textures is just incredible – delicious creamy cheese and lashings of sticky sweet gooey honey atop dry crispy toast.
Having visited Tapeo many a time, the boyfriend and I basically have our dream menu down pat. The squid a la plancha is another Tapeo speciality – and perennial Rach favourite! It’s simply the most tender juicy squid I’ve had in Hong Kong, swimming in spicy, salty, garlicky juices. Just delicious.
The boyfriend needs chips to feature on the menu of any Western restaurat we visit; well, patatas bravas are basically the tapas equivalent of chips and we both love ’em. Crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and seasoned perfectly; these little golden nuggets are hella addictive.
We’re still on the “Small Bites” section of the menu yet I also need to tell you how partial I am to Tapeo’s Pan Con Tomate – basically, because their tomato paste is so deliciously garlicky. Order one of their cold meat platters to go along with it and create your very own ultimate bruschetta/sandwich/bread-based mountain of salty finger-licking wonder. SO good.
I tried the marinated lamb skewers for the first time and these were also lush. The lamb was succulent, sweet and cooked to perfection and whatever it was marinated in brought out its flavours even more. The chunks of lamb were interspersed with baby tomatoes – little bursts of juicy flavour that really complemented it.
The pork belly with quince aioli ($62) is (yet another!) Tapeo favourite. The pork belly was crispy yet still dreamily tender and flavoursome whilst the quince is an inspired choice. It would have been easy to pair pork with some obvious apple-based goo but the quince has a more delicate, zesty flavour and goes wonderfully with the pork. I simply adore this dish.
Guilt normally forces me into ordering a vegetable dish – but at Tapeo, they’re too tasty for me to begrudge it. I’m a big fan of the chickpeas, spinach and bacon (wonderfully salty but wholesome brownie points for pulses) but the asparagus, jamon and egg is a bit more photogenic and equally good, so I’ve shown you that instead. It’s a totally classic combination for a reason and Tapeo’s rendition, complete with obligatory yolk porn, does not disappoint.
Finally, ham croquettes. By this stage, I was already full but kept seeing people ordering these and they looked too good to resist. Little golden balls coated in breadcrumbs and filled with soft mashed potato and smoky ham, these were very tasty but a little heavy for that stage of the meal! These are included for balance as they’re basically the only thing in this review that isn’t a total must-order (and truth be told, Isono’s cod version is much yummier).
I know it’s a bit tourist-y of me, but I always feel the urge to drink sangria with tapas. I was a bit disappointed with the lack of actual fruit in my glass (seemingly just sliced grapes!) but it was a fruity, appetising and most importantly, icy-cool accompaniment to our meal.
Service was attentive and friendly, with food arriving within five minutes of us ordering. The beauty of Tapeo is the open kitchen, which gives the place a real buzz and a chance to watch your food being cooked up right before your eyes. Being sat right by the open kitchen, I can also attest to the chef having a great sense of humour! Depending on how much you eat (I’m nearly always greedy and usually require being rolled back home along Sai Wan Ho Promenade), it can be anywhere between $250-400 a head.
Tapas is a cuisine perfectly suited to the HK style of dining – sharing, picking over your food and chatting just as much as consuming – and I can think of no better place to enjoy it than Tapeo Sai Wan Ho. Expect me to become a regular… I’ll be the one surrounded by platters of manchego cheese!
Tapeo locations in Hong Kong:
– GA01-03 G/F Lei King Wan, Site A 55 Tai Hong Street, Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong, 2513 0199
– UGF, Shop A, Au’s Building, 15-19 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, 3171 1989
A version of this review appears on Sassy Hong Kong