Friday, May 09, 2014

Hong Kong Hype, Part 2: Catalunya

On the other end of the hyped Hong Kong dining scene spectrum (Hong Kong Hype, Part 1) is the highly revered Catalunya.  We came here just after New Years for a special night with Chef Albert Adria who flew in from Barcelona via Singapore.  Coming fresh from Spain just a few months prior to this evening, we were blown away with the casual fun eating at Tickets.  Technically executed modern and traditional Spanish tapas by one of the famous Adria brothers.  Tickets became sole reason to want to revisit Barcelona (as I favor the other Spanish cities like San Sebastian, Madrid, etc.).  Now the food and the chef were flown in for this special evening in Hong Kong.

I've been curious about Catalunya since it's opening, as the number of articles and reviews highly praise the food and staff, many of whom trained with the Adria brothers at the former El Bulli.  Coming from my family's roadtrip in Spain and eating in a number of restaurants from the Adria-trained chefs, we had expectations and excitement for the night.

...And it turned into one of those highly anticipated nights that became a complete disaster.  This has to be one of the biggest letdown meals I've ever experienced.  First of all, the meal was over $450 per person inclusive of wine pairing, all pre-paid weeks prior to the meal.  With that price, you just naturally expect a flawless night.  After being seated and given the menu, expectations continued to excite and rise.

The first courses came out and looked great.  All these small bites for a fun start.  The server lacked details of describing what we were getting.  Okay, fine, that loosely passed me.  After the "snacks" a traditional course of jamon and pan con tomate came out.  This was high quality, melt in your mouth jamon.  So quality, so good, and only found in Spain.  After savoring the slices, we saw that one of the obnoxiously loud tables next to us were onto their next courses and did not touch the jamon plate.  Whaat?  We kept eyeing the plate all night, and it was not touched.  How can you go to a Spanish restaurant and not appreciate the jamon??  What kind of customers are they?  As we saw some of the servers nearby gush over these customers, it was clear these people were just here to be seen and not the eat the meal.

Because of whoever these people were at the tables next to us, our table was completely forgotten.  Between courses we did not get a change of plate or utensils.  You might think that is too much to ask, but for a meal this costly it's the least you expect from the service.  Our food was getting served without any explanation.  You can tell the servers were overwhelmed with the crowd, but this is a restaurant that's always fully booked.  Shouldn't they be ready for this kind of rush?

We also had to remind our server that we had the wine pairing.  When the sommelier came to our table he told us were were just a part of a handful of people who paid for the wine pairing.  He explained to us how it's completely ridiculous to have a wine pairing for this kind of meal.  Too many flavors and how can you possibly pair wine with that.  Seriously?!  You're a sommelier - first of all, it's your job, and second, with Spanish wines it's very possible.  Spanish wines were made for tapas and its multitude of flavors.  He was just not into the task at hand.  So much so by the second courses, he completely forgot about us and we had to ask our server to take care of our wines.  By the third course we voiced out our annoyance, and were given unlimited pours of the wines.  That might have worked 5 or so years ago, but my liver is too aged and experienced to gush at free alcohol from a douchey guy.

To make matters worse - and this is the real icing on the cake - before pouring a new wine, we were given new glasses.  Or so we thought.  The counter next to us had new plates, glasses, cutlery, etc.  The shelf on the bottom of the counter had all the used things waiting for the servers to take it to the kitchen.  My mom had a clear line of sight of this counter.  The server gave us two glasses on the top counter, and was scrambling to look for a third glass for our table.  It was taken from the bottom shelf.  Yes, the used glasses.  Not even realizing it, it was served to our table.  My mom asked for a new glass because of what she witnessed.  Gross, right?  You know what's grosser?  The server kept getting glasses from that used shelf and serving it to other tables, including Chef Adria's family table!  We could not close our mouths from the shock.  Unbelievable.

We couldn't stand it at this point and started to show in our faces we were not having a good meal.  When the managers approached us, we voiced our complaints and even told them about the used glass incident since we finally had their attention, and they used the excuse that they weren't ready for the rush.  I just can't buy that.  When they realized we were real food fans and well traveled to know that we were just in Spain, they began acting faster with us.  We weren't complaining about the servers being slow.  A couple of them were actually nice and tried their best.  It's how they were taught and the attitude of the managers and that sommelier.  It's like they think just because they came from El Bulli they don't have to try anymore.  In Spain, I was expecting some stiffness from the higher end restaurants.  Not at all.  They were all so relaxed and friendly like we were in a neighborhood restaurant.  There was none of that genuine friendliness here.

To appease us, they gave us desserts to take home, El Bulli books, and had Chef Adria (who we had already met in Barcelona at his Tickets) greet us at the end of our meal.  Was all that enough to make us come back to Catalunya?  Sadly, no because you can't change attitudes that fast, and when you carelessly give tables used glasses that's a huge no turning back for me.  If people are still flocking to them because they want to tell others they ate here, I can't imagine them getting their heads out of the clouds and being humble.  The restaurant is successful because of the social scene wanting to the seen.  Not because of the whole package experience of food AND service.

Menu for the night at Cataluyna

Course by course.
Reads beautifully, and anticipates a phenomenal night ahead

So far so good with the starters
But lacking the explanation of each dish from the servers

Jamon Iberico flown in from Spain
Melted wonderfully like butter in your mouth.
And completely ignored at the tables nearby.

Spanish sandwich.
Made in Tickets, which was my favorite at the restaurant.
Here it was made overly doused with soy sauce.

Treats from the chef.

Picture with Chef Albert Adria

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