Travel

El Willy, A Spanish Gem on The Bund in Shanghai

Another throwback to my travels overseas this year takes me to a Spanish restaurant in Shanghai called El Willy, nestled in a prestigious location on the Bund along the river. My sister who lived in the city at the time brought me here, having known that I'm a big fan of tapas and any kind of food that exudes creativity.

el willy shanghai

It was late afternoon and my sister and I just finished having tea and oysters on a rooftop patio over some pleasant conversation. We then hopped in a cab towards El Willy about 12 minutes away, and entered one of the buildings that could pass off as a replica of a historical late 1800s building from France. We were instantly greeted by the host as we entered the 'Happy Spanish restaurant', appropriately titled for its vibrant and colourful space. It was dimly lit inside with dark wooden floors and tables. Across the room are large windows through which you'll see a stunning view of the Pudong skyline.

We both went to town on the menu, our eager eyes bigger than our stomachs ordering everything from traditional tapas to seafood and meat. For one, I thought the plateware was adorable; every decorative touch brought out the playful and happy style of chef Willy Trullas Moreno. 

How cute is this?

How cute is this?

Bruschetta and fresh olives (complimentary)

Bruschetta and fresh olives (complimentary)

Organic eggs cooked at 65 degrees with seared foie gras and truffle

Organic eggs cooked at 65 degrees with seared foie gras and truffle

Scallop ceviche, avocado and crispy shallots

Scallop ceviche, avocado and crispy shallots

I absolutely loved El Willy's modern take on traditional tapas. All the dishes were incredibly unique and full of personality. I was particularly fond of the cooling scallop ceviche, the comforting cheese broth in the medley of vegetables, and the lightly crisped Spanish pancake with chorizo. The Australian lamb was tender and liberal of tomato jam and spiced relish that complemented it surprisingly well.

Vegetarian feast of seasonal vegetables, herbs, wild mushrooms and flowers on a lightly smoked cheese broth

Vegetarian feast of seasonal vegetables, herbs, wild mushrooms and flowers on a lightly smoked cheese broth

Spanish omelette with Iberian chorizo

Spanish omelette with Iberian chorizo

L: Beef cheeks cooked for 5 hours with banana and passion fruit R: Australian grain-fed lamb cooked for 24 hours with charred eggplant, fresh oregano, tomato jam, and lightly spiced relish

L: Beef cheeks cooked for 5 hours with banana and passion fruit
R: Australian grain-fed lamb cooked for 24 hours with charred eggplant, fresh oregano, tomato jam, and lightly spiced relish

BBQ Wagwu "entraña" Manchego, truffle and marrow bone

BBQ Wagwu "entraña" Manchego, truffle and marrow bone

As I think back to this when we happily conversed over great food, the experience is what made it one of my best moments of 2014. For a foodie who's dubbed the role of suggesting where to go in my hometown, it's refreshing to have someone else take you to a restaurant suited to your liking in a city halfway around the world. The opportunity to see my sister only comes once in a blue moon now that she's living in a different country. But when it does come, I cherish the times we spend together and it's meals like these that I'll always remember.

El Willy
22 Zhong Shan East 2nd Rd 5th floor
Huangpu District, Shanghai, China

Tim Ho Wan, the Cheapest Michelin Star Dim Sum in Hong Kong

If you ever feel like indulging in dim sum when you're in Hong Kong (you'd be crazy not to), I'd highly recommend a stop at the Michelin-star restaurant Tim Ho Wan. These self-proclaimed dim sum specialists have much-deserved hype surrounding the establishment which has grown immensely since it first opened in 2008 in Mong Kok.

Tim Ho Wan is always packed regardless of the time and day, whether you're the enthusiastic early riser who eats dim sum for breakfast, or the late bird who happens to show up during off-peak hours. But, I can seriously have dim sum at any time during the day. One time a friend of mine told me about a time she had dim sum spontaneously in the wee hours of midnight. 

Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong
Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong

I arrived at the Olympian City location with three guests just before 10:30am on a scorching day in October, and already there was a large line out the front door. We were extremely lucky to get a table within 30 minutes, considering it's customary to wait for hours at a time at a restaurant that takes no bookings in advance.

Steamed chicken feet in black bean sauce

Steamed chicken feet in black bean sauce

Pan fried turnip cake

Pan fried turnip cake

Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong

Tim Ho Wan offers the "cheapest Michelin star dim sum" à la carte in Hong Kong, with dishes priced at HK$10 upwards of HK$24 (which, if you think about it in Canadian dollars, stretches to about $1.50 to $3.60 CAD each). We ate until we were so full we couldn't get out of our seats, by wolfing down a combined total of $35 CAD worth of food between the four of us.

Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong
Siu Mai (steamed pork & shrimp dumplings)

Siu Mai (steamed pork & shrimp dumplings)

All the dishes are notably fresh and unparalleled in quality. You simply can't go wrong with the usuals: the Har Gow shrimp dumplings (my all-time fave),  Siu Mai (pork and shrimp dumplings), and the vermicelli roll stuffed with beef or shrimp.

Deep fried dumplings with meat

Deep fried dumplings with meat

Tim Ho Wan Hong Kong

I absolutely loved the steamed egg cake which is spongy and light like angel cake, with a predominant but not overpowering caramelized taste. It deserves a spot on the must-eat list for Tim Ho Wan. 

Baked BBQ pork buns

Baked BBQ pork buns

My favourite by far is the baked BBQ pork buns which are, hands down, a piece of heaven. Yes folks, these are baked to crispy, crumbly perfection with a flawless combination of sweet and savoury inside. I'll be honest though, after having these it's almost painful for me to go back to ordinary BBQ pork buns.

Steamed egg custard buns, delightfully sweet inside a fluffy bun

Steamed egg custard buns, delightfully sweet inside a fluffy bun

Steamed beef balls with bean curd skin

Steamed beef balls with bean curd skin

Glutinous rice dumpling (lor mei gai) - steamed chicken and shiitake mushrooms with sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf

Glutinous rice dumpling (lor mei gai) - steamed chicken and shiitake mushrooms with sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf

So ladies, gents. You all know how big of a deal a Michelin star is. Tim Ho Wan brings some serious game to the dim sum world and you'd be hard pressed to find baked BBQ pork buns anywhere else in the world. Tim Ho Wan has six locations throughout Hong Kong and has already expanded to Singapore. When you do swing by, whether it's your first time in Hong Kong or the fifth time, go before opening hours and grab a number for a table.

Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2
18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui
Olympian City Mall, Hong Kong, China (Mong Kok)