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Making a bold statement on Ship Street with its distinctive blue and white Spanish tiles stacked up from sidewalk to ceiling, Jason Atherton and Yenn Wong’s Ham & Sherry is no shrinking wallflower. Originally billed as a sort of “waiting room” for patrons wishing to have a quick drink and a sit-down while anticipating a table at sister restaurant 22 Ships, this tiny tapas bar has become the first port of call in its own right – and you’ll definitely want to stay for the night. A steel bar loops around a small open kitchen where chefs carve beautiful legs of jamon and cook steaks and seafood a la plancha; a nice perch, though you will end up smelling a bit greasy by the end of the meal. There are tables too, ideal for four, and a bit of a banquette nook in the back for a slightly larger group. Despite the small space and abundance of hard surfaces (those tiles, the wooden furniture, the glass) the noise level is surprisingly bearable.
Atherton claims Ham & Sherry is the first “proper” tapas bar he’s opened in his many years, and a glance at the menu is enough to drive the point home. Spanish hams, from fatty Iberico bellota chorizo bursting with punches of paprika to rich, salty jamon Iberico de bellota aged up to two years are the headliners here, followed closely by a modest selection of “para picar” (finger foods such as classic padron peppers and croquettes) and delicious morsels on toast (“pan con”). Over our various visits, we’ve pretty much tried all of the menu, and are particularly enamoured by the satisfying combinations on nicely toasted sourdough – a fresh-yet-rich melange of creamy, tangy blue cheese with pear, bitter radicchio and walnuts say, or the simplicity of that tapas mainstay of tomato-rubbed bread, prickly with garlic and mellow with fruity olive oil. The goats’ curd and jamon croquettes are not something we’d order again, as they are more on the gluey than gooey side, though a roasted wedge of romaine lettuce draped with melba toasts and white anchovies, bright in acidity, makes for a great palate cleanser between rich bites. There’s a specials board too, featuring catches of the day – you might spy clams cooked with salty nubs of jamon and white beans (good, but only memorable for the two sandy specimens that unfortunately made it to the plate), oyster shooters or crisp seared sea bass on a frisson of salad leaves. But it’s the hams that we return for – the dark-hued jamon Iberico de bellota is HK$240 for a small platter and HK$330 for a large (and we’d recommend managing your expectations when it comes to actual sizes) but worth every dollar – deep, sweet porcine flavours that speak of the acorn-rich dehesa and its sea-salty breeze is encapsulated in just a sliver. We’d gladly have seconds in place of dessert (a deconstructed crème catalan, or chocolate mousse with candied orange), which are fine but uninteresting.
Now, the sherry. We’re not convinced Hong Kong is on the cusp of a fortified wine revolution, as the combination of PR and media would lead us to believe, but we are long-time fans of the tipple and are thrilled by Ham & Sherry’s extensive collection. For novices, the list offers good explanations of the various styles, from bone-dry fino and salty manzanilla to golden, rich oloroso and syrupy Pedro Ximenez, and each one offers at least one, more often two, options by the glass. Gonzalez Byass, one of the more commercial bodegas, dominates the list along with established names such as Lustau and La Guita, but there are interesting boutique names such as Equipo Navazos, who make stunning wines from barrels sourced from the region’s top sherry producers. We covet their palo cortado 34, yours for a neat HK$1,750 a bottle, ditto the premium selection of Osborne & Co sherries purchased from the cellars of elBulli. We particularly enjoyed the complex Don Jose Maria Very Old amontillado, which seemed to change from salty to tangy as it warmed in the glass, as well as the unique 22nd Ship, The Lost Ship palo cortado specially brewed for the bar by Gonzalez Byass. This was glossy and golden like fine caramel, with bright sparks of citrus. The Pasada Pastrana manzanilla by Javier Hidalgo is more disappointing and, despite its pedigree and lengthier aging time, a little flat on the palate. Those not ready to tackle the world of these complex, beautiful tipples can also opt for some of the quirky cocktails or carafes of wine from the selection dominated by D.O. and D.O.C Spanish labels.
We have few complaints about the service, which is attentive without being overbearing. Food and wine pairings come readily, and staff knowledge of the sherry menu is sufficient.
A session of snacking and sipping is not exactly cheap, but you get what you pay for – and some items, such as the salt and pepper chipirones with squid ink aioli, offer great value for the portions. Expect to pay at least HK$500 a head for a decent feed.