Date of review: October 22, 2015 | Reviewed by: Wilson Fok
Opened and operated by Christia Talpo and Manuel Palacio, the same team that opened Pirata earlier this year, The Optimist operates with much similarity to its kin located at the top of 239 Hennessy Road. With a buzz (link to opening news) surrounding its opening, the new restaurant space opens with a well-stocked bar on the ground floor, a private dining space on the first floor and the live-grilling space shared with a private dining area on the second floor. With the interiors designed by Spanish designer, Rocio Martinez, the spacious restaurant takes on an understated shade of teal with themed paintings on the walls. The extensive use of dark wood and metallic furnishings is coherent throughout the entire restaurant. The bar features a few banquettes, which may be comfortable to sink into with a cocktail in hand, while the main dining area upstairs brings well-spaced tables with a more intimate ambiance.
The Optimist prides itself on an asador-inspired menu where guests can choose desired items from the selection to be grilled and served in front of them. The live cooking takes place only on the second floor. The appetizer selections hold little surprise, although clams with salsa verde and grilled octopus caught our eye. The clams are tossed in a rich garlic and herb sauce perfect for soaking up with pieces of baguette served on the side. The grilled octopus is tender but it was the chunks of creamy and caramelised potatoes on the side that stole the show.
We ordered the whole grilled turbot as a main course. The fish arrived piping hot despite served on a cold plate, the flesh was buttery and rich. The baked potatoes on the side were forgettable compared to the ones from the grilled octopus earlier.
With the txuleta out of the selection, we opted for the Spanish fillet steak. Served medium rare the meat was juicy and set atop a pancetta and potato cake that was crispy on the outside and creamy within. We would, however, prefer the steak to have more colour and crust on the outside.
The grill options extend to carbs as well, as shown in our charcoal grilled rice with Iberian meats, made with a rich Iberico secreto and Spanish hams. Served on a small cast iron skillet we would expect the grilling to help develop a crust underneath. The rice was creamy throughout with the rich meat essence in every bite, but the crust was nowhere to be found.
Dessert selections are rather modest and safe. The flan was firm and rich, while the signature torrija brioche with coffee ice cream was creamy. The sugar-crusted brioche offered by contrast a textural crunch against the ice cream. However, the signature apple tart was disappointing, with an under baked puff pastry with fanned apple slices on the dry side and a custard sauce that was too thick to pour. We would love to see the kitchen team prepare a dessert or two with the grill as well.
At the time of our visit, the Optimist has yet to receive a valid liquor licence. The restaurant’s wine list will feature 60% Spanish labels with the rest from old and new world. Wines are priced between HK$350 to HK$800 per bottle.
The service staff were friendly and attentive, as we could see them making an effort to introduce the restaurant’s concept to us. However they were not particularly familiar with the menu’s offerings and failed to make recommendations to guests.
A three-course meal for two with service will come to around HK$1,500 without wine. While the grill menu options are promising, the execution of dishes service requires much improvement.