Quemo, a tapas bar, is a collaboration between Elite Concepts and Quim Marquez, the owner of the eponymous El Quim de la Boqueria in Barcelona. However, anyone expecting Quemo to be a replica of his tiny, tiny tapas bar in Barcelona will be surprised by the space at QRE Building in Wan Chai. A huge room with Spanish tiles that match the light brown furniture and pale blue walls, a long tapas bar runs down the back of the restaurant, while plain veneer tables also provide a dining area for those who dislike dining on high seats. With an outdoor patio and a private dining room, Quemo provides a casual yet buzzing atmosphere.
When we visited Barcelona last year, one of the things that really stuck out was the amount of salt the Spanish ingested. Being food critics, we already have a palate that is used to a lot of salt, but it still came as a shock. As mentioned, Quemo is opened by the chef behind El Quim de la Boqueria - a tapas bar in the famous Boqueria food market in Barcelona – and we had mentally prepared our senses for another salt assault. But it appears that the chefs must have over-adjusted for the local palate, as we found a number of dishes significantly under-seasoned. The “grandma” croquetas, for example, served at a slightly tepid temperature with chicken and pork filling, was a particularly bland disappointment. Similarly, the cod ravioli with a cream sauce would have been one of our favourite dishes of the night, if it were properly seasoned. Two square packets garnished with deep-fried leek and charred red pepper, the texture of the silky pasta enveloping the cod were perfect. But the cured fish itself surprisingly yielded absolutely no saltiness: we asked for a salt shaker and only then did it become apparent just how the dish could have sung. Moving onto more successful dishes, the fried egg with prawns was absolutely delicious. Yes, it is very oily and probably not designed to be eaten daily, but the shrimps were fresh, and the egg itself elevated with a hint of spice and garlic. Another standout was the Mediterranean seafood rice. The paella is served in a huge pan and although not crispy enough on the bottom for our liking, the flavours were spot on. The highlight of the dish, however, was the side of clams that came with it. Not overly garlicky, the flavours of the shellfish were clean and fresh. We also tried the oyster and foie gras burger: the filling is an inspired combination, and we love how the textures of the liver and mollusc melded together, but we were not such a fan of the sweet potato bun, which as a bit too heavy and thick. Finally, for dessert, we tried the liquid bombons, a soft dumpling filled with hot, liquid chocolate, and served with hazelnut ice cream, a satisfying end to an almost excellent meal.
Bottles of wine on open shelves and a wine fridge on another wall, Quemo offers exclusively Spanish wines, from more famous regions such as Rioja and Ribera del Duero, to less well-known areas such as Jumilla and Bierzo. Prices are reasonable (under HK$100 per glass) and the staff is happy to recommend wine pairings and offer tastings. The premium sangria (HK$50 per glass) was also delicious, with a strong tinge of cinnamon.
We did not have the best first impression of Quemo, as we had made our bookings a week in advance and were still given the worst seats in the house, at the very end of the long tapas bar, overlooking the coffee machine and service sink. However, our mood slowly improved as the convivial chefs walked around, making conversation and recommendations to customers. We were also impressed by our waitress, who was both knowledgeable about the food, as well as friendly and efficient.
A filling meal for two with wine comes to about HK$1,500. While this is not cheap, Quemo offers some of the more authentic Spanish flavours in Hong Kong (minus the salt issue, which we hope will be ironed out as the chefs gain a better understanding of the local palate); as such, we would be willing to pay the same price again.