The tapas bar 22 Ships in Wanchai is in a busy area full of restaurants and bars, and has clearly established itself well since Jason Atherton, in partnership with local entrepreneur Yenn Wong, opened it in October 2012. There are no reservations, and there appears to be a perpetual queue of diners; apparently the wait time on weekends can exceed two hours. There is an open kitchen with bar stools arrayed around a counter, plus further closely packed tables. The term "buzzing" does not do justice to the lively atmosphere. The chef since March 2014 is Nate Green, who formerly trained with Tom Aikens. Sorry for the poor photos, but the lighting in the room was so low and cast so many shadows that it would have worked well as a set for a 1930s German Expressionist film.
The menu was printed on a paper placemat, supplemented by some blackboard specials. Iberico pork, avocado and foie gras mini-burgers (HK$ 158) were very enjoyable, with rich flavour and tender meat, pickled cucumbers adding some much-needed bite (14/20). Iberico pork also featured in a special of pork cheek with vegetable crisps (HK$ 125), the meat slow cooked and soft in texture, again with plenty of piggy flavour (14/20). Not every dish worked: sea bass (HK$ 148) was cooked all right yet was oddly tasteless, its sauce of red pepper tomato and black olive having a rather metallic note (11/20).
Seared scallops (HK$ 138) came with chicory, orange and chives, the shellfish cooked properly but lacking inherent sweetness, though the accompanying bitterness of the chicory and acidity of the orange was a logical pairing (12/20). Cauliflower, mushroom, parsley and walnut pesto salad (HK$ 78) worked quite well, the pesto livening up the dish (13/20). This was one of very few vegetarian options on the menu, though the new chef plans to enhance the menu in this aspect soon.
Mackerel with sea pearls and pickled cucumber (HK$ 158) was a pleasant combination, the pickle a good pairing for the inherently oily fish (13/20). Jamon, quail egg, Manchego and truffle toastie (HK$ 68) was an enjoyably comforting dish (13/20). Hamachi, beetroot, pickled turnips and wasabi (HK 138) was a logical collection of flavours, though the hamachi seemed rather lost amidst the other strong tastes (12/20). Service was very friendly, and the bill with some pleasant Spanish wine came to HK$ 2,026 for three people, which works out at £52 a head.
Overall, 22 Ships delivers a successful formula of crowd pleasing tapas and lively atmosphere, and is clearly a major commercial hit. They have recently expanded the operation with a further bar in the same street called Ham and Sherry.