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Catalan late-night cuisine, reinterpreted and relocated to HK

HONG KONG--If ever there is a city that never sleeps, it is Barcelona. Alongside the Spanish tradition of dining for three or four hours every evening, the city has countless bars with delicious tapas that tempt folks to postpone the dinner hour until well into the night.

I really have no idea if anyone ever goes home in that city, since I saw coffee bars packed with office workers grabbing their morning coffee at 7 or 8 a.m. Maybe it's the olive oil that keeps them going.

Alain Devahive Tolosa and Pol Perello bring some of that Catalan party spirit to Hong Kong. After opening Catalunya in Singapore last summer, they found a quiet corner in between Wanchai and Causeway Bay to make their debut in a town they consider a foodie's heaven.

Catalunya may be the most hyped restaurant opening of the year. The reason: Tolosa's pedigree includes a decade at elBulli, considered the world's best restaurant when it was still alive and kicking.

Acting as group executive chef with Perello as group general manager, Tolosa's experience, drawn from the best kitchens in Spain, is evident in his homey yet elegant fare.

Catalunya now has two seatings at dinner and is open for lunch as well as Sunday brunch. With a dining room of 460 square meters and a bar of 280 square meters, that's a lot of tapas disappearing into bellies.

The interiors were designed by the New York City head office of AvroKO. Its signature flourishes can be seen in the red leather upholstery and creative use of metal such as the giant brass and glass chandelier centrally suspended above the main dining room.

We had a table on the sunny Spanish-tiled front part of the restaurant. Its full-height glass set within Gaudi-inspired decorative frames can be opened to mimic a balmy Iberian night.

As expected, the wine list was dominated by Spanish labels, thoughtfully categorized by regions. There were many choices of reds, with some exclusively available at Catalunya, and more than a dozen Cavas, the bright effervescent that I feel best goes with the fun nature of tapas.

After settling on a Raventos Blanc de Nit 2010 Rose priced at HK$120 (US$15) per glass, I sat back and welcomed the parade of small plates that began to arrive. As we didn't have enough people to try the suckling pig, we had to forego one of Catalunya's signature dishes.

We started with crusty tomato bread fragrant with a rubbing of garlic and drizzled with olive oil, a colorful collection of pickled vegetables and thinly sliced Iberico jamon. The bread and pickles were delightfully crunchy, while the ham was tender and provided a nice counterpoint with its salty robustness.

Anchovies are one of my favorite fish, and the anchovies at Catalunya are long, meaty and drenched in olive oil. I found the simplicity immensely appealing, and it turned out to be one of the standout tapas of the bunch due to its no-nonsense directness.

Tomato tartare was another standout. Served with wafer-thin slices of toast, it resembled fresh steak and is accompanied with a side of foam scattered with edible flower petals. I liked the sweetness of the sun-ripened fruit flavored with an assortment of Mediterranean herbs. It elevates the often-pedestrian tomato to a whole new level.

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