North Spanish cuisinary The Optimist serves up generous portions in a generous space

The first thing that makes The Optimist stand out is its abundance of space. Set across three sprawling floors in the middle of ever-busy Wan Chai, it’s a remarkable change from the hidey-hole eateries and self-styled speakeasies that are typical of Hong Kong.

The Optimist
The Optimist’s interiors

This feeling of capriciousness pervades the interiors and even the menu at The Optimist, which boasts Northern Spanish cuisine. On their website, they proudly proclaim that they “grill things”.  And if our recent tasting at the restaurant was any indication, they do a darn good job of that. We started with the appetisers in the form of Mushroom Croquettes. Served on a bed of black mushroom sauce, the bite-sized croquettes that were rich and creamy on the inside and just perfectly crunchy on the outside.

The next star of the evening was indubitably the Gambas “Al Ajillo”. A typical Northern Spanish dish, it is rendered even more authentic by the tender king prawns that are imported all the way from Spain. Cooked in extra-virgin olive oil with garlic and chili, the sweetness of the prawns is enhanced even more by the fresh paprika and chives that are sprinkled on top.

The Optimist
The classic Patatas Bravas gets a culinary twist at The Optimist

Another popular dish from Spain to come tablewards was the Patatas Bravas, but the chef and his team at The Optimist has added a new twist to this classic dish by making layers of the potatoes, with paprika, served with the bravas sauce which has just the right amount of bite to make the dish mildly spicy.

Enokitake rice

If the Patatas Bravas were all about innovative techniques, the next dish, Enokitake rice, was the very quintessence of comfort food. Served with three kinds of mushroom – white truffle base with Shimeji mushrooms for garnishing and black summer truffle – it was nourishing and creamy, making us reach out for seconds as if by reflex.

Chateaubriand, Spanish beef fillets

But it’s wise to leave some space for the Chateaubriand, the true star of the evening, that features Spanish beef fillet (which we ordered medium rare) with potatoes, spinach and beef jus. Interestingly, the beef fillets were served with baked potato gratin instead of plain potatoes which makes the experience more layered. While the beef is falling-apart-from-the-fork kind of tender, it’s the beef jus, which is reduced overnight, that gives it a unique rich texture, and ties the whole dish together.

The Optimist
La pina, a signature dessert

Of the desserts, it’s the La Pina that caught our fancy, especially the grilled pineapples that paired quite well with the ice-cream. It was just the right kind of end to a wholly satisfying meal, one that makes The Optimist a perfect venue for a midweek date or a place to catch up with colleagues after office.

Text: Suchetana Mukhopadhyay