If you are going to launch a new dining concept then Hong Kong with its penchant for all things ‘new and novel’ would rightly be the ripe environment to do it in. And that’s exactly what Bart Syzniec did when he decided to open a Nikkei restaurant called El Mercado in the heart of Wan Chai.
Bart hails from Poland and has had experience working in a number of leading restaurant outlets from Italy to Ireland, Poland and more recently Tokyo and Hong Kong. Embarking on his dream to run his own outlet, he looked for a concept that would cater to adventurous palates here and after a few months travelling in Peru, met El Mercado’s new Head Chef, Jose Manuel Sabrera Meza. Le Cordon Bleu trained, Chef Manuel has worked at various restaurants including Lima’s Astrid Y Gaston (ranked number 14th in the Sanpellegrino and Acqua Panna list of world’s 50 best restaurants).
Their alliance introduces a unique combination of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine to Hong Kong, uniquely called “Nikkei cuisine”. The elements of ‘Nikkei’ cuisine originate in Peru from over a century ago when Japanese immigrants first started arriving and creating a homemade cuisine by trying to recreate dishes they ate back home. Popular in Peru, the concept has over the last few years caught on with adventurous palates and evolved into a new genre in culinary hubs from Lima, to London, Hong Kong and beyond. The word El Mercado means ‘the marketplace’ in Spanish and is all about sharing small plates and bringing together the sweet and savoury in one meal.
We ventured for dinner and drinks to El Mercado to try its signature treats. My first guess for what the evening had to offer was Peruvian ceviches meet Japanese sushi and whilst I was partially right, the tasting menu we had, went far beyond my expectations. The combination of Bocados (Light Bites and Sushi), Entre Amigos (Sharing portions), Postries (Dessert) and Drinks left me with just the right amount of ‘full’ and the overall impression that El Mercado would make a great place to head to for some light bites if you want to impress a first date or if you are out with adventurous girlfriends.
I usually shun organs, offal and anything that is not familiar. So I totally surprised myself when I thought this dish was probably the best offering of the evening. Perhaps it was the pleasant dining vibe in El Mercado, the good company over dinner or maybe it was the light-hearted mood after a few sips of the Chilcano that was going around (a Peruvian alcoholic cocktail) because without thinking too much, I had popped a piece of Anticucho (or stewed meat) in my mouth, without realising what it actually was. It arrived as slivers of meat that looked like beef, bursting with flavour and went down well with the drinks. After I looked at the tasting menu, I realised that I had just enjoyed Grilled Beef Heart marinated in chili with a corn puree.
The Ostra Acevichada (Japanese Oyster with lime and squid ink foam) came next. A concoction called ‘Tigers milk” was gently poured onto the oyster to finish the presentation and set the taste. Leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk, is the Peruvian term for the citrus-based marinade and usually contains lime juice, sliced onion, chiles, salt, and pepper — along with a bit of fish juice.
If you like sushi, the next item the Nigri Del Amazonas (Seared Beef Flank with Banana Confit and Quail Egg Nigri) would be a must-order. The beef had a distinct sweet flavour that left a caramel after-taste in your mouth. It went surprisingly well paired with banana and quail eggs on sushi rice! Another item worth trying is the Machu Picchu (sea urchin with lemon granita).
We tried the Ika Ceviche (Ohnibe Fish, Leche De Tigre and Sweet Potato with Crispy Calamari Rings) which had fried and tossed coming together in terms of a tempura meets potato salad dish. The surprise element which I liked, was the distinctly sharp sour after-taste to the juices used to flavour the dish.
Suckling pig remains a big favourite with me so the Conchinillio Con Tacu Tacu (Suckling Pig, Edamame Tacu Tacu with Nikkei Chalaca) did not disappoint. The runny egg added a rich hearty flavour to the dish.
Beautifully presented, a traditional Peruvian dessert not to be missed is the Jardin de Rosa (a homemade rose ice cream served on “Three Milk” base with basil and raspberries).
El Mercado is located at 21/F, 239 Hennessy Road and is open Monday – Sunday from 6:00pm onwards. Make a Reservation at +852 23888009