The owners were right to name it as they did. There is much to be optimistic about when visiting this establishment in Wan Chai, not least their panache in dealing with gluten intolerant guests.
There is a great vibe about this place, helped by the attractive ambiance. Even on the stairs they have sourced eye-catching photographs including one of an elephant trying to get into a car and of zebras pulling a cart. Arresting details such as this lend the feeling that someone has enjoyed designing this restaurant.
We arrived early which allowed me to photograph it before it quickly filled. It was soon buzzing even although it was lunch time in the middle of the week when we visited it.
A quick look at the menu and I knew the semi-buffet arrangement might mean compromises. To my admiration, without the least hesitation or fuss the waiter offered to bring something separate that would be fine for me to eat. Clearly he understood that buffets can present hidden problems for the gluten intolerant.
Unless you are the first to arrive it is impossible to know which spoons fellow diners have used to help themselves. In that situation it is easy for one dish to pick up traces of another; if it contains gluten unfortunately less than a crumb of gluten is enough to cause serious after-effects for a coeliac. Certainly, it is enough of a risk that I was prepared to forgo the starter altogether. Starting from that mindset, it felt like a bonus that they were able to offer something separate.
It transpired that the dishes the waiter brought to us didn’t represent any compromise from the market salads, Spanish charcuterie and Pintxos advertised on the menu. It was a delightful surprise to be presented with a dish of freshly sliced tomatoes and toasted basil leaves with buffalo mozzarella accompanied by Spanish omelette skewered with a bamboo stick together with slices of cheese and ham.
There are a wide range of mains at three different price points. I chose the Atlantic cod “en salsa verde” which was a wonderful concoction of fish, clams, garlic, parsley and white wine which was light and flavourful. It is definitely a dish I would chose again.
As we were in Spanish territory I opted for the flan for dessert. It normally comes with an almond crunch but here again no fuss was made, it was simply removed before it appeared. In many restaurants the communication between front of house and the kitchen isn’t as good as this. In my view the flan really didn’t need the addition of cream and was a perfectly good authentic flan, appreciated all the more as it was gluten-free.
In our view, it is the mark of a good restaurant much more generally if they are able to take food intolerances in their stride. This restaurant definitely did this with grace and aplomb and the minimum of fuss; for those reasons it goes into our collection of top restaurants. As for the lack of an automatic service charge, as happy customers, we were more than happy to leave a generous tip at the end.
Whist we ate in the restaurant, dining with a simpler menu is possible on the ground floor, which is otherwise a very attractive bar area, until 6:00pm each evening. It is clear that they also have occasional guest chef appearances such as a Peruvian inspired on offer over the next couple of weeks. These are among the reasons to return; we will definitely be back!
The Optimist, G/F 239 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong.
Tel: 2433 3324 www.theoptimist.hk