Reviews

Rustico: is their new seafood special worth the trip to Lai Chi Kok?

I threw in an apologetic emoji, the one with a sweat drop over an open-mouth smiley, at the end of the text. “It’s in Lai Chi Kok,” I typed, to my last-minute plus one. (My original pick for a two-person dinner messaged in sick.) 

She was willing, thankfully, to go the distance with me, leaving the Island with its rotating roster of openings and reliable ol’ favourites for a sampling of seasonal seafood in Lai Chi Kok. The destination was Rustico, a Spanish tapas bar across the street from the MTR.

It was a Monday evening and, while the restaurant wasn’t full, the air was buzzing. The dining room, awash in deep red wood, furnished with black fixtures and low-hanging yellow lights, lent a homey – shall we say rustic? – vibe. 

My only qualm were the densely arranged tables, optimised for maximum seating in what would otherwise feel like generous dining space. If you can, request tables by the windows, overlooking the sidewalk outside; the views aren’t much, but it’d feel less cramped. 

Our menu for the night was Rustico’s seafood special, mixed in with other signature items. The tasting was complimentary; reviewed here are the dishes we were served. 

We started off with ‘Chef Style’ broken egg, crispy potatoes and spicy Spanish chorizo. The dish reminded me a little of Pik-nik, those crisp fries-like snack in a tin, this time heaped on a bed of chorizo. After pictures, our server proceeded to fork the egg and mix the crisps, resulting in softened – not soggy – fries, filling and savoury with the ground meat. Comfort food for a cold evening. Good news: it’s part of the regular menu.

Sea snails boiled in Mediterranean sea water, with black pepper and bay leaves, followed, along with Atlantic Venus clams in Albariño white wine. The sea snails were chewy and clean on the mouth, while the lemon drizzle and dressing added a nice, tart zing. The clams, equally fresh, amplified the whiff of the ocean.

Because they’d run out of langoustines, we were served slow-cooked roast suckling pig with ‘Panadera’ instead, with a side of baked potatoes and port wine sauce. Also a menu regular, the meat was incredibly tender. I would’ve preferred more crisp on the skin, and – counterintuitively – less fat and more meat, so this probably wasn’t for me. My companion loved it however. The potatoes, on the other hand, were well done and a little addicting to munch on.

Pan-seared Spanish sea cucumber ‘espardeñas’ with creamy potato, sautéed artichokes, and parsley pesto Catalonia-style came after - another comfort food. The potatoes were so creamy, easily mistaken for sauce; the artichokes, though a bit salty, added a nice charred contrast.

The evening ended with traditional juicy crab rice ‘Arroz de Centolla’, Northern Spain Basque-style, and my favourite among the night’s dishes. Served on a piping hot plate, the crabs were ginormous and, true to its name on the menu, super juicy, generous with meat. The soup, filled with rice, was fragrant, and just a dab bitter from the crab; served hot and fresh, it’s the perfect dish to complement the chilly weather.

There’s more on Rustico’s special seafood menu, available till mid-December. If I were to redo our meal, I would vary the dishes a bit, as having sea snails, mussels, and sea cucumbers in one sitting kept things chewy on the palate (unless that’s to your liking). Perhaps having the Atlantic Ocean langoustines flambéed with Cognac, or Basque-style pan-seared Spanish whole turbot, would bring a nice break in texture, in between. The crab rice is a must-try for sure. 

With the nice wintery chill coinciding with thanksgiving, year-end get-togethers and impending Christimas dinners, Rustico’s Spanish seafood menu makes a timely venue option. It may be some 20, 30 minutes out of the way by train, but if authentic, well done cuisine and the privacy of a low-key location is what you’re after, the trip to Rustico – to Lai Chi Kok – is worth considering.

Satisfied close-eyed emoji. 

Johna Baylon

Restaurant Details
Shop G01, D2 Place  Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong
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