Few would deny that 239 Hennessy Road is becoming increasingly popular with many of Hong Kong’s more discerning food aficionados, frequently sought out for its many and varied dining establishments. One of the more recent additions is The Optimist. Set over three floors of the building, this is the latest offering from Christian Talpo and Manuel Palacio, the duo that so memorably established Pirata, one of the city’s leading Italian eateries.

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The story behind The Optimist, a chic street level Barcelona-style bar, is told in its 24-page leather-bound menu. Thankfully, there is also space for the restaurant to list its impressive array of Spanish-style gin and tonics, as well as its range of Scottish, American and Japanese whiskies, and its delicious hand-crafted cocktails. Each drink comes blessed with an intriguing name and is presented supurbly.

Heading the list is the French Kiss, a signature cocktail distinctively blending gin, lychee juice, blackberry marmalade and liquor, a truly exotic, sweet and tangy creation. Coming a close second is the Strawberry Letter, a mocktail prepared using fresh strawberries, basil and lemonade, fetchingly served in a maison jar which is truly fruity and refreshing.

Its first and second level is dominated by an Asador-inspired, northern Spanish restaurant. The first floor features wall-set sofa seating, with a large window looking out over the main road, a view easily enjoyed from the neatly arranged tables. By contrast, the second level is given over to an open kitchen, with the diner given the chance make their own choice of the fresh seafood and prime cuts on offer on its daily-updated blackboards and market displays. One of the most striking features of this kitchen is its distinctive charcoal grill and oven. This upper level also boasts two high tables and circular booth style seating, as well as the restaurant’s private dining room, which easily accommodates up to eight people.

In total, the first level can seat 85, while the second has space for another 60. Its authentic Barcelona-inspired interiors and unique detailing instantly puts you in mind of the outdoor garden pavilion designed by Rocío Martínez as part of his first project in Hong Kong. Its brass lamps, gold railings and studded brown leather upholstery, as well as its lush canopy of hanging plants and peacock-green tiles all chime together to evoke a truly rich and classy ambience.

Moving on to the dining proposition proper, the restaurant’s à la carte menu offers a massive selection of appetisers, small dishes, main courses, sides and salads, as well as larger portions and seafood towers suitable for larger groups. Most of the entrées also come with the option of being served in full or half-sized portions. It is worth remembering, though, the half-size portion served here is still quite generous compared with the size of the tapas served in many other contemporary Spanish establishments. In order to try and cater to all, an impressive range of vegetarian dishes are also on offer.

Sitting down to eat, the ham croquettes, lovingly served over a bed of julienne crispy chips, came with perfectly golden exteriors, and were creamy and ham-packed within. Be wary, though, this hot and tasty filling has a tendency to ooze out from its crisp shell.

The croquettes were accompanied by the tuna tataki, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. The slices of tuna came neatly twirled, presented over a thick creamy almond sauce and with a final garnish of whole almonds and spicy ito togarashi. The tuna was soft and light, yet flavourful, but its pairing with almonds was rather on the unusual side. It’s fair to say that this is quite different from any traditional Tuna Tataki you’ve ever tasted.

It was then on to the mains, with most of the servings more than enough for two to share. We opted to try the pork ribs with barbecue sauce and grilled corn, all prepared on the restaurant’s charcoal grill. This six-piece rib rack was deliciously tender and eminently palatable, with the corn sweet, luscious and charred to perfection.

Next up was the Mediterranean whole seabass à la espalda, a whole fish butterfly cut with head and tail intact, beautifully drizzled with olive oil and topped with sliced garlic and minced herbs. The fish had a truly flawless golden sheen, and was visually alluring and wholly mouthwatering. The whole dish was fresh, firm fleshed, delicate in flavour and aptly enhanced by the nutty flavour and depth of its roasted garlic slices, with perhaps the only drawback being something of a surfeit of bones. While the grilled rice paella certainly seemed popular with many of the guests around us, we demured as we were already approaching the overly-full mark.

The dessert menu, however, proved just so tempting that we really couldn’t resist. We were particularly enamoured with the strawberry cheesecake, a signature dessert served in a novel glass jar, complete with strawberry coulis and blueberry slices. Enticingly, the biscuits were roughly crumbled, and randomly layered between the creamy white cheesecake filling.

It is fair to say that the strawberry coulis, in combination with the cheesecake, offered a truly divine sweet-sour taste. The chocolate brownie, meanwhile, came drenched in hot chocolate fudge and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and crushed chocolate crisps. The brownie, composed of bitter dark chocolate, also came sprinkled with chopped walnuts.

The staff were remarkably attentive, with each table assigned an individual server. Despite the restaurant being at almost 70 percent capacity, the service was never less than friendly, attentive and highly approachable.

At present, The Optimist is open everyday of the week. It offers a set lunch – consisting of a semi-buffet station, a main course and dessert – available from 12pm to 2.30pm, with prices ranging from $178 to $268 depending on the choice of mains. An à la carte dinner service begins at 6pm and runs until 10.30pm from Sunday to Thursday and to 11pm on Friday and Saturday.

Address: G/F, 239 Hennessy Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Reservation: (852) 2433 3324
Website: www.theoptimist.hk
Food: 7/10
Drinks: 9/10
Ambience: 8/10

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