El Mercado – Peruvian food in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a food paradise – the very best in Chinese, especially Cantonese, cooking abounds alongside a host of other inventive and enjoyable cuisines where eastern and western flavours collide. One such happy example is El Mercado.
Upstairs in a fairly nondescript building in Wan Chai (on Hong Kong Island), El Mercado is nominally a Peruvian restaurant, with a host of Japanese and other Asian influences. The resulting dishes are light, refreshing and a feast for the senses. The plates that came out from the kitchen were among the brightest and most attractive Greedy Girl has found on her China/HK tour.
Many of the dishes here are styled ‘Peruvian Nikkei’ – the name given to the strong Japanese influence on Peru’s food, brought about by migrant workers who arrived in South America in the latter part of the 1800s. It’s a style that has captivated a great many top chefs, including Ferran and Albert Adria and Nobu Matsuhisa.
The chef here is Ronaldo Layug and while he heads up the kitchen in Hong Kong and influences particular parts of the menu, including the suckling pig, he’s assisted by a Lima-based chef, Jose Manuel Sabrera Meza, who trained at the famed Astrid y Gaston, and conceived the Nikkei and ceviche dishes.
Another El Mercado claim to fame is its bar, noted for a range of particularly delectable cocktails. All good. Greedy Girl immediately dived into a sling mango margarita – golden deliciousness!
We were catching up with Clean Plate Club founding member FullAsAGoog who’s now based in Hong Kong. This strip of bars and restaurants is not far from her office and she had nothing but praise for the cuisine here.
So, we jumped into some food, sharing all the dishes. A few plates arrived first, including the dish featured at the top of this post, char-grilled avocado with roasted sweet corn, pico de gallo and arugula. Absolutely delicious and an incredibly vibrant and attractive plate of food. Yum.
From the ‘Tiradito’ and Nikkei menu we took the scallop tiradito, served with a yellow honey leche de tigre, coriander and sweet potato. Tiradito is the Peruvian description for raw fish; an elegantly presented dish, the sweetness of this was a bit much for Greedy Girl but still it was a very interesting combination.
We also had two dishes from the tapas menu. First up were empanadas. These delectable little parcels were filled with a beef, onion and tomato mix and served with a range of dipping sauces. Possibly the best empanadas Greedy Girl has eaten in a long time.
We also took the tuna tataki – one of Greedy Girl’s faves. This was presented with avocado, orange and soy reduction and crispy ginger chimichurri. Again, a beautiful plate of food.
We then moved to some bigger plates, which all came out within moments of each other. First up we took a mixed seafood ceviche – again a very striking plate of food and very enjoyable. The seafood mix was combined with sweet potato and a rocoto chilli leche de tigre – a type of chilli native to central and South America.
One of the signature dishes is the hot duck ceviche. This is confit duck sitting on a pool of leche de tigre sauce with charcoal cassava. Leche de tigre is the lime-based sauce that is a staple of ceviche. The dish was absolutely perfect – the confit duck was perfectly cooked and the sauce just gave the dish some zing. A triumph.
Another signature dish is the suckling pig. This is free range pig slow cooked for 48 hours and served with a bone marrow reduction, French beans and sweet potato mash. Another vibrant plate, the pork was again perfectly cooked.
And we were done. No room for dessert, we settled up and headed for the exit with very very content bellies, having enjoyed interesting and inventive food, brilliantly executed, combined with excellent service.
Greedy Girl hopes this restaurant thrives in Hong Kong – many start out with a great concept but change that as the months go by. She’d certainly like to try more from here.
239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong