In their best moments, Spaniards are the most skilled rice cooks on the planet, capable of teasing from a simple starch untold depths of flavor and texture, studding it with all manner of aquatic life and cooking it to the al dente ideal of a perfect paella. But as trial and error have shown us, it’s fairly obvious that very few know how to cook paella in this city.
Hola Espana, however, begs to differ. Housed in Xingsheng Lu’s Spanish outpost, in what was previously El Espanol and Gaudi, it appears that they’re dancing to a different flamenco beat. Soft wooden tables, grayscale walls, a generous bar counter and two semi-intimate private rooms on the second floor brim with a warm, appetite-inducing ambiente, especially when the first thing that beckons you is a 20-pound dry-cured leg of Jamon Serrano. At the kitchen’s helm is the imposing but particularly artistic Pedro Gines, a Madrid native who used to work in a two-star Michelin restaurant.
It’s easy to see why he’s so proud and passionate about his art: the paella marisco (RMB59) – succulent shrimp, nuggets of chewy squid, green-lipped mussels, a crab clad in full crustacean armor – is sweet and briny, the seasoning spot on and, most importantly, the rice first rate. Plump and swollen with seafood stock, it comes with the gentlest bite at its starchy core.
The expertly prepared tortilla (RM45) is comfort food par excellence, as a couple of humble ingredients are transformed into a smooth, moist slice. The mixed toast tapas (RMB74) is almost too attractive to eat, but it’s impossible to resist the crusty beds, each crowned with hearty brushes of salmorejo, a creamy tomato puree that transcends seasons and lends richness to the flavorful toppings of blue fin tuna, jamon, creamy tuna salad and angulas (tiny baby eels).
Pair the meal with a jug of the restaurant’s quietly deadly sangria, which adds a splash of Martini Rosso to the classic recipe, and round it all off with the beautifully presented Rubik’s Cube (RMB68), evenly stacked pieces of fresh watermelon, kiwi and feta cheese squares.
Hola Espana is clearly doing things right; taking the time to buy excellent, imported products, simmering stocks to create depth of flavor and presenting a bona fide tapas experience with the greatest of pizzazz. Now if only they had some churros…
// No. 112, 9 Xingsheng Lu, Zhujiang Xincheng, Tianhe District 天河区珠江新城兴盛路9号112铺 (3802 0171)