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Oct 28, 2012 04:41 AM

22 Ships [Hong Kong] - Jason Atherton's new restaurant

Next in our weekend of new openings we try “22 Ships” the latest in a long line of tapas bars to hit HK, or so I thought until the chef corrected me, as it is really a modern restaurant, with Spanish influences and small sharing plates: easier to say Tapas. It is Jason Atherton’s first HK venture, Jason found fame (and Michelin stars) running Maze in London for Gordon Ramsay, he then left to set up Pollen Street Social, which was one of London’s hottest openings last year. He seems to be on a bit of a roll in Asia at the moment with places in Singapore and Shanghai. I liked his food at Maze but had a mixed meal at Pollen Street.

22 Ships is a no reservation, 35 seater, in the J-Senses complex and has a good bar/window that opens to the street. We arrive and put our name down at about 7:00 and decide to order some wine and drink outside whilst we wait. After two hours it is clear they have a problem turning the tables, with most punters firmly rooted to their seats relaxing into a long evening drinking. Given the size of the places and its location they need to get on top of that, maybe a 90-minute table limit like Brick House would work. We order a couple of snacks to keep us going but are discouraged from ordering any more as they don’t have an “outside” license yet, and to be honest much of the menu isn’t finger food so wouldn’t work.

The food we have is good: great little Iberico pork and foie-gras burgers that are addictive; some very fine sweetbread empanadas with foie-gras (although not a great idea to serve them in a bowl); some lovely roast suckling pig; and what is turning into a signature dish, a bowl of Spanish breakfast.

Its early days so unfair to judge, the food is good, a bit more finger food would be nice to slake the appetite whilst waiting would be an improvement. Service is enthusiastic but marred by the inability to turn tables, which makes the wait far too long. They also need to think carefully about the waiting area - the neighbourhood hasn’t many good bars to lurk in as you wait (The Pawn is probably the only option). We will give it another go once it is settled in and hope it gets its act together.

Our final new one is Giando Italian Restaurant and Bar in a separate post.

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  1. Yawn, just what Hong Kong needs, another precious "Tapas" or modern-whatever "restaurant" opened by some chef from afar who's cashing in on the name after they deflated back home. Maze? Maze was good for about 6 months after it opened, before joining the long queue of has-been zombie restaurants that populate cities like London.

    I liked HK Magazine's take on the place: "Some restaurants are opened mediocre, some restaurants achieve mediocrity, and some restaurants have mediocrity thrust upon them."

    3 Replies
    1. re: Uncle Yabai

      Yabi - I fear you mis-quote HK Magazine., and thus change it. The full quote is:

      "The verdict: Still out
      Some restaurants are opened mediocre, some restaurants achieve mediocracy and some restaurants have mediocracy thrust upon them.
      Let's hope 22 Ships lives up to the hype."

      1. re: PhilD

        Jason Atherton seems to be everywhere these days! My biggest thrill when I was at Pollen St Social in London last Jan was not the food, but having Matt Lucas seated at the table next to mine - it *was* a Little Britain indeed :-D

        1. re: klyeoh

          In my opinion, Atherton's Esquina in Singapore can barely qualify as a restaurant, it only can seat 15 shoulder to shoulder! I have difficulty climbing up one of those high bar stools with strange saddle shaped seats.
          I like Pollen much better but I think it's a bit expensive. I haven't tried Pollen Street Social or anywhere he's cooked in London, so I can't compare. Pollen's portions are just right for me.

    2. This is my review after going yesterday. Managed to get a seat at 6pm on the dot to avoid the wait and you're right, by the time we left, there was a queue forming and we were never rushed in our meal so turning tables obviously an issue for them.

      Onto the food, I have dined at pollen street social in London and do feel that there are a lot of rip offs from the menu there which isnt too surprising. Food is generally good, my standout dish was the oyster with vietnemese dressing with ironically had the least cooking required and spanish breakfast. Couple of the fried items were a little greasy and my empanada was unfortunatley overly spiced with cumin but all in all a pleasant experience

      All in all, glad to have tried but dont think i would be willing to wait in line for a meal there. Also, like a few of you have mentioned, maybe I'm a little worn out by all the celebrity chefs trying to cash in on a restaurant in Asia

      1. OK a Saturday night return to "22 Ships". The queues are ferocious, we arrive at 6:30 to be told we have a 1.5 hour wait, so we nip around the corner for a glass of wine. We eventually get seated at 8:30 - not so bad as we expected the wait, however they could still speed the process by better table management i.e. seating a party of six when three people are not there (they arrived 30 mins later) or at least putting a time limit on tables.

        So gripe over, how was the food? Actually it was worth the wait, we had a very enjoyable meal and the team behind the counter are great.

        The croquettas are the best in HK: crispy and oozing at the same time - I could have ordered another 5 serves of these!

        An interesting Manchego sandwich with truffle and a quals egg on top: it could do with a bit more cheese ad maybe being fried rather than grilled (Bar 101 is still the grilled cheese winner).

        Deep fried squid with squid ink is OK, great squid with a light batter although squid ink sauce lacked something and was a bit bland.

        Tuna Tartare with mix your own condiments was a good rendition.

        Wagyu with Morcilla was tasty, i love Morcilla so felt the steak dominated a little.

        And the star was the pea, broad bean, goats curd, iberico ham and mint was a real winner - fresh and very vibrant.

        The bill does mount up even though they are little plates, and I think this is helped by a very pricy winelist, its got some wel selected wines but nothing that can be calleda bargain.

        The acid test: would I return? Yes, I would, I did enjoy the food, when its good its wonderful, when it misses the mark its still good (for HK).

        2 Replies
        1. re: PhilD

          Seems like Atherton can do no wrong these days, eh?

          His third and newest venture in Singapore - a very casual Keong Saik Snacks (coming after Esquina and Pollen @ Gardens by the Bay) - seemed pretty popular, with permanent queues.

          Back home, Atherton's Social Eating House opens next month in Soho. I'm planning to check it out when I'm in London early-April.

          1. re: PhilD

            Actually, I went there for lunch a couple of months back, and was pleasantly surprised. Got there early enough that we got seated right away, and had a nice selection of the stuff on offer.

          2. I had lunch there with a friend today. Arrived before their noon opening time. By noon there was a line of 8 people and the place was full by 12.20 pm. The place was cramped and the stool uncomfortable. I guess this is one effective way of turning table since lingering around is no fun!

            The two of us went wild and ordered 8 dishes!! Some food, IMO, was as good as New York's 1* Casa Mono. However, portion size, especially the main ingredients, were on the stingy side! Plate presentation was pretty sophisticated and modern.
            We had:
            - Salt Cod Brandade Ortiz anchovy and herb paste
            - Jamon Iberico Croquetas
            - A La Plancha Gambas, spring onion, corianda and lime
            - Cuttlefish, Chorizo and Broad Beans
            - Octopus, White Beans, Tomato and Fennel
            - Roasted Lamb Cutlets, Creamed Potatoes,and spiced
            Olive Sauce
            - Spiced Duck Empanada, Foie Gras and Fried Caper
            Onion Jam
            - Texturas de Chocolate

            I am going to break with tradition and give praise to the dessert first!! Its been a while since I last encounter such an artfully plated dessert. Taken from a page out of El Bulli and/or Noma, this plate of dessert was too 'cute' to eat. However, it did tasted very good with lovely 'texturas' interplay!

            As for the savory courses, the definite stand out must be those addictive little Jamon Croquettas. Super crunchy shell housing a delicious savory molten creamy centers, these morsels were one hell of a delightful finger food! The Salt Cod Brandade, though simple to look at, was super smooth and tasted fantastic. The seafood courses were surprisingly ' underpar', considering Hong Kong provides one of the largest and freshest seafood source in the world! The prawns were tasty but a bit overcooked. The cuttlefish and Octopus were a disappointment.

            However, the entrees were rescued by the smokey and tender lamb Chops. So good, it featured a very interesting sauce/glaze that tasted very complex.

            The duck empanada was very greasy and tasted nothing special. However, the large piece of Foie Gras was nicely seared and the sweet caper onion jam was a lovely match.

            Looking at how Michelin award its star, I'm not surprise if they will give 22 Ships one in their next guide?!!