The Optimist ★★★1/2

The Hong Kong dining scene is constantly evolving in the search for the next big thing. We went to The Optimist to see if its take on Northern Spanish cuisine – a new concept in Hong Kong- differentiates itself from the established competition.

The Optimist is a large space set over three floors: A bar on the ground floor, an intimate dining space on the second, while the third, where we dined, has a more lively environment with a mix of large group dining tables and the all important grill. 

At the heart of Northern Spanish cuisine is the ‘asador’ experience – meat, seafood and vegetables cooked rustically over charcoal grill or in a charcoal oven and arriving at our table we were greeted by the most wonderful aroma from the grill that set a great tone for the meal. 

The Optimist serves a menu designed for sharing so the portions are large, and a wide range of seafood, some displayed market style on ice for you to select, is all imported from Europe. It would be wrong of course to dismiss the Optimist as a seafood restaurant as there are more than enough meat and vegetable options to satisfy the most avowed carnivores and vegetarians. It will take at least a few visits to get fully acquainted with the menu.

To start we tried the Burrata & Raf Tomato which was recommended by our server.  Burrata is a cheese similar to mozzarella but with a far more creamy consistency. Sweet ripe tomato and a delicate hint of black pepper settled this dish nicely. A good start that was quickly followed by the only tapas style dish on the menu – Iberian Ham croquettes, which we couldn’t resist ordering even though it’s not a tapas restaurant.  We loved these croquettes, the wonderful creamy cheesy filling and the crispy crunchy coating balanced by the salty Iberian ham. Heaven on a plate. 

Also as a starter (we were hungry!), we had the Tudela artichokes with baby squid salad.  Served warm with sliced Iberico ham and caramelised onion, the squid was really the highlight. Perfectly cooked with a wonderfully soft texture, it was simply divine and paired the warm artichoke salad well.

For our main we opted for the Grilled Squid with a side of Charcoal Grilled Vegetables followed by the Seafood Rice “Arroz caldoso”.  Actually we ordered too much as the portion sizes are generous and we were taken back by the huge size of the squid.  Imported from Europe, it was far larger than the local squid we see in Hong Kong.  The all-important charcoal grill was used to give this a wonderfully smoky flavour. It was tender and lightly seasoned and served with a sweet onion relish, just the right combination to the savoury flavour. 

We paired this dish with the Seafood Rice as we were curious to see how different a Northern Spanish rice dish would be compared to the paella we are familiar with.  While similar, The Optimist serves its version in a mini iron pot, the rice had a slight bite to its consistency and the flavour was a savoury tomato base with wonderfully fresh seafood – mussels, clams and prawns to accompany it.

The Charcoal Grilled Vegetables was a perfect accompaniment; just the sort of dish you wish you could prepare in your oven but know that you would never be able to – a perfect balancing dish to the squid and rice.

By this point we had no room for desert though spent a long time trying to justify this though the apple tart looked full of promise for a return trip. I’m rather pleased we dined at the Optimist as it introduces you to a different dimension to Spanish cuisine, one that is worth a visit.

Address: G/F – 2/F, 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: 2433 3324

by Neil Bowen

Tudela artichokes with baby squid

Grilled squid

Seafood Rice

By Neil Bowen

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