Before my recent trip to LA, I stopped in Hong Kong for a few days to catch up with some old friends. I hadn’t explored much of Hong Kong’s non-Asian restaurants (airport Popeye’s excluded), so Becca and Karim had a very well-timed suggestion for 22 Ships, a tapas (inspired?) restaurant and bar named after its address on a crooked side street off of Queens Road East in Wan Chai. I say ‘inspired’ largely because the consulting chef is British and hails from the Gordon Ramsay group.
The small space, which has a sidewalk-adjacent bench basically open to the street, was designed by interior design acolytes Neri & Hu, which seems to have stamped that industrial chic, reclaimed wood aesthetic on a variety of signature restaurants across Asia. The street view (on a relatively nice day) was a nice touch, a grounding of sorts to the neighborhood that I hadn’t really experienced outside of streetside wonton noodle shops in more local stretches of town.
Becca, Karim, and I managed to grab a few spots before the lunch rush really hit. I nursed a latte while we waited for our first set of small(er) plates: salt & pepper calamari with black ink aioli, manchego & iberico ham sammiches, and roasted Padron peppers.
I didn’t pay too much attention to the rest of the space, but without exaggerating the effect too much, 22 Ships’ paper menus (and in particular the red font) helped say “Spanish tapas” better than the space itself. Partially because, unlike other great tapas joints outside of Spain (a la Casa Mono in NYC or Barrafina in London), there wasn’t an immediately visible open kitchen that captured your attention and rooted your senses and expectations. So in the same way that Pizzeria Mozza’s paper place-setting helps put you in the mood (I mean that in every way), the menus and typography at 22 Ships went a long way to let me know that this wasn’t the funny seafood station that I originally thought it might be.
But anyway, the hits kept coming: baked smoked bone marrow with onion jam, sourdough, and Gentleman’s relish butter; Iberico pork and foie gras burgers; and suckling pig with roasted apple with spices and piquillo peppers.
I really enjoyed eating with Becca and Karim, notably for their enthusiasm for the food and for knowledgeable commentary. I don’t come to expect a lot out of waiters in Asia these days; nobody out here really says, “oh, try the [insert dish name] with a bit of [insert something else], it’ll blow your mind.” Okay, to be fair, nobody really says “it’ll blow your mind,” but hopefully you get my point.
But my co-captains in decadence were all about it. “That one’s really good, but it’s missing a bit of acidity.” Case in point, the goat cheese sorbet with honeycomb. It did in fact lack acidity. Karim suggested pairing it with the blueberry sorbet from one of our other desserts. Improvised delicious, something I can appreciate. Overall, 22 Ships was delicious enough to not need our culinary whimsy to make it worthwhile, but it offered us some fun, unique dishes with which to practice some tastebud witchcraft.22 Ships
22 Ship Street
Wanchai, Hong Kong