In the second of our stories on date night in Wan Chai (see our first on upscale Korean Bib n Hops here), we head to The Optimist, a Northern Spanish restaurant that’s something in between Barcelona chic bar and traditional Asador-style grill. Since we loved the good vibe of the name, we had to ask what inspired it — and got a better-than-hoped for answer.
“The real story behind the name is quite simple,” says co-founder Christian Talpo. “When Manuel and I negotiated the site for this restaurant, we were negotiating way above our heads. We named the restaurant during the lift ride down from the meeting where our proposal was finally accepted, because optimistic was absolutely what we had to be in order to deliver what we intended to do, and we did.”
So for the start of new beginnings, what better place than The Optimist?
Best for first dates: The Optimist
Begin with drinks at the lower floor while waiting for your rendezvous. You’ll immediately feel at ease in the street-level bar buzzing with vintage details, quirky artwork and lush greenery. Regulars swear by The Optimist’s Spanish-style gin and tonics; however, we were won over by Bar Manager Sam Lebel’s new signature cocktails The Bee’s Knees — a sour-floral skinny stemmed concoction — and the whisky-based Pear Brulee.
If and when you’re ready to go up for the sit-down affair, head up the the next level where diners feast on rich Southern European flavours that surprised us with their culinary excellence. It usually begins with bread typically served with Alioli and Salmorejo (a typical Andalusian purée).
Of the small dishes, we were most impressed by the Grilled Galician octopus from that famed gastronomic region — even those of us who typically shy away from ‘Pulpo gallego’ enjoyed it. Served with potatoes, garlic, and ajada sauce, the octopus hit the right balance of smoky and tender.
The Gambas “A la plancha” — blue prawns grilled on sea salt with kimuchi sauce — were also fantastic, although a bit messy to peel unless you’re totally comfortable with your companion by this point. Otherwise, go for the melting Campfire baked Camambert cheese with almonds and strawberry jam. It’s hard to go wrong with this one.
In our opinion, The Optimist’s menu had just the right amount of options and variety. Vegetarians and pescatarians alike would appreciate the delicious fare without compromising their principles. Five of their small plates had vegetarian options, including the Croquettes which you can swap ingredients Iberian ham for Boletus mushrooms. Pescatarians can’t miss the Andalusian Cazon en adobo — the Spanish (and improved) version of British fish and chips. Fried breaded swordfish is served in a brown paper cone with lime mayonnaise on the side.
For carnivores, 100% go for the Iberian Pork Chop. It was a significant serving of sliced meat charcoal-grilled to perfection. It’s as close as you’ll get to red meat melting in your mouth, impeccably salted. Served with rustic potatoes, we almost had no room left for dessert. Almost. But before we go there, we have to say: there’s a spot on the menu left for ‘larger main courses’. We thought the main courses were well heavy, so imagining something even bigger for more than double the price is making our eyes pop (see: Porterhouse).
We could hardly eat another bite but dessert was irresistible. We can’t remember a better cheesecake we’ve had in Hong Kong than The Optimist’s Strawberry Cheesecake. It achieved that perfect middle ground of neither airy nor heavy — we were literally scraping the glass bottom of the jar it was served in. But if you’re a cheesecake denier, then you might consider La Piña of charcoal grilled pineapple with Kaffir lime caramel, coconut ice cream and pistachio crumbs.
Chances are, if you and your date are food lovers, you will both have died and gone to heaven at this point. Even if you don’t work out together, we’re sure you and the food will. Those are pretty good odds, don’t you think?
G/F, 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Sun-Thur 12:00-14:30; 18:30-22:30; Fri & Sat 12:00-14:30; 18:30-23:00. +852 2433 3324. email@example.com. www.theoptimist.hk
Fully booked? The Optimist is part of the Pirata Group. Check out their other buzzing concepts in Wan Chai:
Pirata: The flagship modern Italian kitchen with a soaring location 30 floors above ground.
30F, 235-239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. +852 2887 0270. www.pirata.hk
Text: Julienne Raboca