Delicious small dishes with a Spanish twist
When I think of Spain, I think of pigs. In any shape or form: Iberico ham, chorizo, Serrano ham, cold cuts. And The Optimist, in the heart of Wan Chai, did not disappoint in offering up exactly that on their brand spankin’ new bar lunch menu, available from 11.30am-6pm each day. Sassy Girl Surmayee and I went to give it a whirl, and we made sure to go hungry. Very hungry.
Thankfully, our hunger pangs were satiated. Full of Spanish and Mediterranean favourites, from “small plates” (as opposed to “tapas”?!), salads, sandwiches and eggs, The Optimist fuses a range of flavours together. This isn’t your typical or traditional Spanish fare, it’s hearty lunch and brunch food that will have you going back for seconds… if you have room in your belly.
In a cosy booth right by the entrance, with the pitter patter of Hong Kong’s notorious rain against the bay windows, the resto looks out on to busy Hennessy Road. With a long bar tucked under the stairs, and chic wooden and leather tables and chairs, it’s a great atmosphere for post-work drinks or for a special date night with the hubs.
On the drinks menu is a cacophony of smoothies and mocktails, including the to-die-for Oreo time ($60), which Surmayee tried… and of which I, of course, had to taste too. Loaded with Oreo biscuits, vanilla, coconut milk and cream, this is a lighter take on an Oreo milkshake – and definitely didn’t feel as calorie-laden as others. Surmayee says it was “the bomb, without the heaviness of ice cream”.
With my lactose-intolerant belly, I also felt safe knowing there was no regular milk or ice cream in this. It also meant there was room to properly indulge in the food (and I could continue to gorge on all the cheese) without filling your tummy with a heavy drink. There’s also a selection of coffee and teas on the drinks menu, if you’re so inclined.
We pored over the menu, looking forward to eating as much pork and cheese as we possibly could, starting with a mix of the Ham ($100) and the Mushroom Croquettes ($90). I expected the Ham Croquettes to be a tad on the salty side, but they were melt-in-your-mouth delicious and not overpowering at all. The texture inside the Mushroom Croquettes was firmer and flavourful, so don’t prod it and wait for all the cheese to ooze out. Both of these will be a sure hit if you’re going with the littles!
Following the croquettes, we tried the Crostini and Vegetable Crudites ($85), which came with hummus, white bean and feta dip and a smoked aubergine dip. Out of the three, the smoked aubergine was my favourite, but overall this was underwhelming, perhaps because we were distracted…
…by the Eggplant Fries ($80). I’d go back for those fries multiple times over, especially when dipped in that garlic-kimchi sauce. It also came with a small pot of honey, an odd addition to a savoury appetiser. This appetiser comes with a warning: it’s deep-fried yet totally worth it.
With the veggies from the crudités forgotten (what were we thinking ordering healthy veg when we could have eaten more cheese and ham?!), we went on to some mains. The stand out, the main event, the pièce de résistance, the focal point, the reason we came (do I have your attention yet?!) was the “Huevos rotos”, the Broken Eggs with Iberico ham, chorizo, potato and eggs ($80). Casually slipped into their “Eggs” section on the menu, this was by far my favourite part of lunch. It’s the pimped-up, sophisticated version of a fry-up, and I savoured each bite. The combination of the ham and the chorizo made it a tad salty, but I’d still eat it… over and over again!
We also split the Serrano ham and Manchego cheese Ciabatta ($80). This is quite carb-heavy, but it does offer a quick and simple solution for lunch. This reminds me of winters at university in England, where I’d eat some version of a ham and cheese toastie as a hot and easy-to-make-yet-warming lunch. The Ciabatta sandwich is far more refined and grown-up than that!
Throw the diet out the window when eating here, Sassy Girls, as The Optimist is somewhere you go when it’s cheat day, when you’re looking for comfort food… and when you’re looking for Spanish ham. Lots of it.
The Optimist, G/F-2/F, 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 2433 3324, www.theoptimist.hk