If you Google “pica pica” you will learn (as did I) that it is the common name of the Eurasian Magpie, one of the most prevalent and intelligent birds found in continental Europe. Preparing myself for a bird-based explanation on the name behind Pica Pica — the newly opened Spanish tapas bar across from Western Market in Sheung Wan — I learned, instead, that pica pica also refers to a meal, consisting of many dishes in small portions. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that.
The restaurant’s head chef — who is also culinary director for Spanish Concepts at Epicurean Group — said that these are the types of meals that his grandmother used to make when he was growing up, just outside of Barcelona.
Chef Sanuy wanted to bring the authentic tastes of Spanish tapas to Hong Kong in a setting that mirrors how you might eat them in Barcelona or Madrid. Thus, Pica Pica is ground level, street side, with large windows, and a long bar where diners can walk in without the need for a booking — although I wouldn’t be surprised if soon enough, the walk-in requires a wait. Pica Pica also has floor space for tables that can be booked in advance.
I spoke with Chef Sanuy and sampled a number of the tapas at a recent tasting on site. We began with the most traditional of starters from the Chef’s hometown region: pintxo gilda (HKD25 per piece) and tomato bread with extra virgin olive oil (HKD30). A pintxo is a dish that is even smaller than a tapas, think “tidbit” or “canapé”. At Pica Pica, the pintxo gilda — which according to Chef Sanuy is probably the most common pintxo in Spain — consists of two pitted green olives, cured anchovy, and one spicy pickled pepper on a small stick drizzled with olive oil. The spice and sour of this one bite morsel helps wake up the taste buds in anticipation of the heartier dishes to follow.
Tomato bread is a typical bread served at tapas restaurants in Spain. The concept is simple enough, some combination of bread, fresh tomato, olive oil, garlic and seasoning. The version at Pica Pica was delicious — thick, chewy bread, blanketed with a healthy serving of well-seasoned diced tomato drenched with an ample amount of high quality Arbequina olive oil, which is cultivated from an olive primarily grown in Catalonia.
The next two dishes I tried were the cured fish assortment (HKD190) and the padron peppers (HKD55). An array of “blue” fishes, including anchovy, sardine and swordfish, had been flown in from Spain (some, from Japan) and cured under the watchful eye of Chef Sanuy. As an alternative, or addition to, a typical plate of cold cuts, this is highly recommendable. The oily fish is smooth on the tongue and tastes great. I am also a fan of padron peppers, and these were good, but finished a bit oilier than I recall from my travels in Spain, with less of the light burnt, smoky taste that might have provided a bit more balance.
From the seafood tapas selection, I tried the signature red prawn hot dog with Josper grilled prawn head (HKD120 per piece). This is not a hot dog at all; rather, think mini lobster roll with the lobster replaced by a medium-sized red prawn. The head is separated and grilled in the charcoal-fired Josper oven (a piece of equipment that’s beloved among today’s Spanish chefs) and served aside the shrimp roll so that its juices can be squeezed onto the prawn roll as a sauce. The result is an intense burst of seafood flavor that is rich and satisfying, though unlike most of the other items on the menu, it is not really suitable for sharing.
From the meat selection, I tried the lazy omelette with morcilla and chorizo (HKD65) and the suckling pig (HKD165). The omelet is “lazy” as it’s not flipped, and the ingredients sit on top of the egg. The result is delicious: Well-cooked minced onion and potato form a slender bed for spicy thin slices of chorizo and a rich cut of the Spanish blood sausage called morcilla to rest. This is another signature of Pica Pica and a must-try.
The suckling pig at Pica Pica is de-boned and served with a sweet potato purée. The skin is crispy, but doesn’t crackle like you might get when eating suckling pig in the traditional way — say, in Segovia, where whole suckling pigs are roasted to a crisp in large ovens. The meat is tender with a mild taste, but the highlight of the dish was the smooth dollop of almost tangy sweet potato puree on the side.
To finish the meal, I opted for the Catalan cream foam with vanilla ice cream (HKD50) in lieu of the signature chocolate with olive oil and salt dessert. Crème catalan is similar to crème brulee, and the idea of the foamed version was intriguing. When it arrived, it was as if someone had emptied the contents of a ramekin of crème catalan, blown it up with air, and layered it on top of a scoop of delicious homemade vanilla ice cream. The dessert was light and airy without sacrificing flavor, and the light texture of the foam was an excellent contrast with the frozen cream below. I would definitely order this again and again.
All of which is to say, I certainly plan to come back. I enjoyed a couple of glasses from Pica Pica’s solid selection of Spanish wines, but didn’t try their own aged sangria, or many of the other dishes I had been curious about. A pica pica might be a type of magpie, but this tapas bar certainly isn’t for the birds.
Pica Pica is at 323 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan
Reservations: +852 2811 9880 (bar seating, walk-in only)
Mon-Sat, 6pm to midnight, closed Sunday
MTR: Sheung Wan (approx. 5 min walk)
About the Hungry Lawyer: Marc Rubinstein, born in Baltimore, USA, has been in Asia for 22 years, 16 of those in Hong Kong. He has split his career between banks and law firms, and is currently the general counsel of an Asia-based real estate and alternative energy investor. Marc is a co-founder and co-chair of the Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Attorneys Network. In addition to being a hungry lawyer, he has run three marathons, nine half-marathons, completed the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker and won the U.S. National Debate Tournament way back in 1991.
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