Friday, November 20, 2015

From Spain to Vietnam

I was intrigued when I saw the press release about an upcoming dinner event featuring a collaboration between two relatively new casual restaurants in town, La Paloma in Sai Ying Pun and Viet Kitchen in Central. A special menu will be available for 2 nights only - one at each restaurant - in the last week of November, with the joint effort to blend the food and cooking of Spanish and Vietnamese cuisine for a series of unique dishes.

And better yet, soon I got an invitation from the restaurants for a sneak preview a week before the menu is launched. It's something hard to say no to, especially when I found out I am not available on both nights of the actual event. 

The crossover menu features a number of new dishes served tapas style, all designed with a touch of both Spanish and Vietnamese cooking and ingredients. Both restaurants serve the same order of dishes, even though the individual versions looked slightly different based on their own chefs' different interpretation and personal styles. We tried the dishes at La Paloma on a weeknight, just a few days after we were at the same place for brunch with a totally different menu.

We started with a few appetizer dishes served family-style. The mini Banh Mi - about one-third of the regular size - was easily a crowd pleaser. This Vietnamese street-food sandwich was given a facelift and filled with thin slices of jamon iberico, manchego cheese, pickles and a big chunk of deep-fried squid. I especially loved the chillies and the generous squeeze of Sriracha mayo, keeping alive the spirit of a true Banh Mi with the familiar spicy kick, though I wish there's more of the pate inside and the bread less-toasted for a softer texture.

The ricepaper rolls looked simple - with just red prawns rolled inside fresh ricepaper with deep-fried bean vermicelli and cilantro, but the red coral sauce served on the side made the dish intensely flavorful. I felt like I was taking the whole prawn head in without any of the shells. The Calamares Rellenos - or stuffed squid - was great too. The baby squid was stuffed with diced iberico pork, lemongrass, black tree ear mushrooms and vermicelli for a perfect rendition of Spanish tapas with a touch of Vietnamese influence.

We just had the suckling pig during the weekend brunch here and loved it, so we were looking forward to this special version, with the suckling pig roasted the same way, and served with salad and meat jus, kaffir lime, lemongrass and chillies served on the side as garnishes. The pork retained the same rich taste with a crispy skin, and the inclusion of Vietnamese herbs was interesting and gave the dish an exotic twist. It's definitely more like Cochinillo Asado than Thit Nuong, but the combination worked very well together.

In between there were a couple more dishes too, including the seafood salad as well as the pan-fried "cha ca" seabass, both of which were quite decent. Our last savory dish was a clever attempt to bring together two of the better-known rice dishes - the Spanish paella and Vietnamese com tam. It's cooked to a firm texture and the flavor well-infused into the "broken jasmine rice", though I couldn't taste much of the bits of crabs. Maybe I just got the part of the pan without a lot of crab meat, but I still quite enjoyed the dish.

Our dessert was a interesting combination of toasted coconut icecream with caramelized banana and passionfruit coulis. I thought the banana could be made a bit crispier - either by more caramelization or even deep-fried with batter - but I like the combination of the sharp passionfruit sauce with the sweet icecream.  

Good job to the teams at La Paloma and Viet Kitchen for this unique collaborative effort. Thanks for the kind dinner treat and for saving me from having to miss this because of my schedule challenge. Wonder what else they can do together next time - Banh Xeo with Pulpo Gallego maybe?

When? November 18 2015
Where? La Paloma, First Floor, 189 Queen's Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Menu Highlights? Calamares Rellenos - baby squids stuffed with iberico pork, lemongrass, black tree ear mushrooms, cellophane noodles.
Drinks? Vietnamese-style Sangria
La Paloma:
Viet Kitchen:

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