The Ships’ return.
As one of Hong Kong’s favourite tapas restaurants, 22 Ships is back in the neighbourhood with a fresh look and new chef in tow, Madrid-native Antonio Oviedo, who presents a fresher and more honest take on Spanish flavours. The bustling tapas bar sits in the same space of Wan Chai’s Ship Street and remains casual and convivial as it always was. What has changed is the brand new menu, and the way in which chef has brought the flavours and spirit of Spain to our city, saving you a trip to Madrid altogether.
The restaurant’s revamp gives the old haunt a whole new vibe, while maintaining that easy-going 22 Ships charm we’ve loved all these years. The best seat in the house is still the open kitchen counter, which is in clear view of the team in action. Now, it’s topped with a pale pink marble top, which feels fresher and brighter while the rest of the interior shows off painted brick walls with dark bottle green tiles, warmed by light peachy coral. A large greenboard at the back showcases the menu, with specials handwritten on the daily, and a semi al fresco element with wooden frame panels opens up the space further, echoing the best of Spain’s tapas bars.
Chef Antonio Oviedo has worked with some of Spain’s top chefs including Catalan chef Santi Santamaria and the collective genius of the Roca Brothers. At 22 Ships, he has created a menu filled with timeless, yet modern, multi-regional tapas alongside premium chacinas (cold cuts) and quesos (cheeses). All ingredients are directly sourced from small-scale producers in Spain where possible and chosen for their quality. The menu is paired with a robust drink menu that features Spanish wines, sangrias and street-social style drinks, such as sherry or (my own personal favourite) vermouth mingled with homemade sodas, flavours and seasonings. During the buzz of the restaurant’s comeback, we took a moment to chat with Oviedo to find out how he’s steering the ship and what we can expect.
Why did you decide to come to Hong Kong after spending most of your time as a chef in Madrid and Singapore?
To work in Asia is a dream for any chef; when I had the opportunity to move to Singapore I didn’t have any doubt about it. After five years in Singapore, I developed a few different Spanish concepts and gained a lot of knowledge in Asian cuisine during my time at [Singapore’s fine dining establishment] Iggy’s, so I was more than ready to explore a new city in Asia. I decided to come to Hong Kong as I was attracted by the city’s modern, yet authentic and classic style. This is one of the cities with the highest density of restaurants, as well as an amazing dining scene surrounded by wild nature. The place I’ve always wanted to be .
What are you bringing to Hong Kong ?
I’m bringing the bar vibes that you can find in places such as Chamberi, La Latina, and Huertas, among other neighbourhoods in Madrid where a bar opens in a street and makes it famous — attracting other tapas bars and bodegas, which is exactly what 22 Ships did for Wan Chai’s restaurant scene.
Have you had to adapt your menu for Hong Kong?
Not really. I try to cook real Spanish cuisine at 22 Ships. We use local products and Hong Kong favourites such as Hokkaido sea urchin. But I think people appreciate authenticity, and when customers say that your food just brought them back to Spain, it is the best compliment you can ever receive.
What do you love about tapas?
What I like about tapas is the variety and the sharing concept behind it. My background is more fine dining than traditional, but nowadays, the concept of fine dining is a bit distorted. At 22 Ships, people order their own tasting menus and choose different drink pairing for each tapa.
Any favourite dishes to highlight?
I encourage people to come and try our dishes to help them to decide which ones can be our signatures as we are having a lot of good feedback for all of them. I guess the Burnt basque cheesecake is still the winner, for now. However, if I have to highlight something it will be our chalkboard, since we don’t have a printed menu, which always has a bunch of specials on it and is changing everyday.
On the subject of highlights, I took it upon myself to see what’s on the menu and found a few favourites of my own.
To start, I recommend to snack on pintxos such as the Gilda skewer with deeply flavoured smoked sardines and piquant piparras, or Vermut gordal olives which pair the large green globes with a vermouth gel, brightened with fresh lemon zest. Then indulge in the Rusa and sea urchin on toast which may seem like an unlikely match, but work seamlessly on the palate, bringing sweetness and umami atop a crispy toast. Another worthy try is the Sardines in Ajoblanco, a chilled almond and garlic soup, topped with grapes which is perfect for summer.
For larger platos, which are great to share, the Blue lobster salmorreta paella is my first pick. Packed full of flavour with perfectly cooked bomba rice and a whole lobster on top, it’s certainly a crowd-pleaser. Meanwhile, traditionalists will likely order and almost definitely enjoy the Roasted suckling pig, where a classic recipe sees the hog slow-cooked for 24 hours before roasting, ensuring tender meat that falls off the bone.
Finally, desserts such as Apricot and Palo Cortado sherry, with clarified coffee ice cream will pique interests, while a luscious little Idiazabal Basque cheesecake ends on a smooth and velvety note.
The new 22 Ships will continue to offer a no reservation and no service charge policy to encourage spontaneity. Overall, the Ships’ return is a very welcome one and I can’t wait to visit again soon, even if I have to wait.