dbHK eats: Alzina

Warm Spanish hospitality awaited the dbHK team on a cold winter’s night at Alzina, a new Spanish outpost in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Alzina - Interior Shots (5)

The concept:  Winter in Hong Kong is an insidious beast. It plunges admittedly quite fast from 26C to 19C within a week or so, but then drops slowly down until it’s 12C and everyone is swirling about in expensive Canada Goose apparel.

Sadly un-clad in Canada Goose and in dire need of hot food on a cold, dark, windy night, we made our way over to Tsim Sha Tsui in pursuit of new-ish restaurant Alzina. Alzina means acorn in Spanish and focuses on traditional, grilled dishes, a plethora of seafood and a healthy swathe of vegetarian dishes – if anyone is that way inclined.

Google Maps presents Alzina as being on Chatham Road South but it’s actually tucked away on Hart Avenue, so you’ll need to make a left turn, lest you find yourself stuck in the domestic part of the building and sharing lifts with confused-looking residents.

Alzina is run by executive chef, Juanjo Carrillo, former owner of Barcelona’s famed Folquer restaurant and as we tramped, shivering ever nearer, I was hoping that some of Barcelona’s sunny charm would infiltrate this dark corner of Tsim Sha Tsui.

The interior: We pushed open the reassuringly heavy door to a warm hubbub of conversation, bustling waiters and the extremely agreeable sound of clinking glasses. Alzina has only been open a month or so but it was already three quarters full. Mirrors reflected bright patchwork tiles, the lighting was just right and natural stone, wood and metal all added to the conviviality.

Alzina - Spanish Barnacle (2)

Percebes: Not made from dragon

The food: Barcelona has a joyous dish, pan con tomate where you make a huge mess by smearing ripe tomatoes, olive oil and garlic on hot toasted bread, liberally sprinkling with salt and then cramming the whole thing in your mouth. As an appetiser, Alzina duly served this up (at HK$45) and saved us from making a mess by adeptly doing all the tomato-ing etc – though I would have preferred to have done it myself.

The ensuing red lobster croquettes (HK$72) were hot, soft, well-seasoned and well, croquettey and served as an exciting preview of what was to come in the form of a giant Spanish casserole of red lobster which like most things, sounds much better in Spanish, Caldoso de Bogavante. A whole fat lobster was brought out crowning a rich rice-based stock of clams, octopus, prawns, garlic, white wine and peppers which warmed us up more than any Canada Goose jacket.

Suckling pig flown in from Spain (HK$298) had the required crispy skin and tender meat and was a fairly hearty way to end the meal, though I had eyeballed the Churros dessert option already so had to desist from finishing it all.

However, the highlights were the Galician goose barnacles – percebes – poached in Cantabrico seawater for 35 seconds and eerily looking like detached claws missing their prehistoric owners. In fact, as I later found out, they’re actually known as ‘dinosaur toe’ up and down the Iberian Peninsula whence they hail.

But what I loved most about them was their quirkiness. Grabbing the hard shell and biting into the soft briny flesh injected a spritz of seawater which made eating them even more fun but also served as a surprise for we, the completely uninitiated.

The churros (HK$52) lived up their reputation, delicious and served with hot chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream, though for ardent cheese lovers, the savoury selection on offer (at HK$38 each) included Manchego, Tetilla with cow’s milk and smoked Idiazabal from the Laxta sheep who roam around the Basque country.

Alzina - Red Lobster Rice (1)

Warmer than any Canada Goose jacket

Drinks: Alzina claims an extensive Sangria menu (HK$88 per glass), including fruity combinations that I’d never heard of such as the exotic-sounding giant Kyoho grapes from Japan. The wine list was concise with about 35 references and mainly made up of Spanish wine at the wallet-friendly prices of around HK$70. Not being a particular Sangria fan, I plumped for the straightforward, warming and uncomplicated Valserrano Crianza Rioja 2012 served by the glass.

Verdict: The staff really made the evening for us and a big mention must go to Louis, our ever-helpful waiter who kept zipping over at lightning speed whenever we looked up with a furrowed brow and dealt with our tiresome requests for phone chargers, plug outlets and yet more napkins with considerable aplomb. Spanish restaurants in Hong Kong can veer from the frozen seafood and greasy tapas side of things (sadly cannot mention any names) to the extremely good but expensive (Catalunya, Fofo) but Alzina fills the well-executed but reasonably priced gap extremely well.

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