Hong Kong boasts one of the most dynamic dining scenes on the planet, filled with culinarians and tastemakers galore. In our Cheat Day column, we spotlight some of the top players in the kitchen and behind the bar, delving into their personal favourites during their days off.
Despite a year of pandemic disarray, if there’s one thing we can count on in this city, it’s the promise of new openings and good food — so much good food. One opening we’ve got our eyes on in particular is the refresh of Woolly Pig’s ex-Big Sur venue: MAJO Tapas Paella Bar, a Spanish bodega that’s set to be the next go-to alfresco venue.
Helmed by Executive Chef Alberto Sancassani, the eatery boasts an extensive tapas and paella menu, topped off with a welcoming Mediterranean vibe.
Let’s start at the beginning: walk us through a bit of your background.
I studied architecture and worked in an architecture firm for three years, but I very quickly realised that my passion was cooking. So, I decided to make some changes by moving to a new country to learn a new language and make a career change. 15 years later, I still love every moment of being a chef and cooking for people. Not only do I get to work for some of the most popular restaurants across Spain, from Valencia to Ibiza, but also in Berlin, Singapore, Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur.
I had travelled to Hong Kong three years ago and immediately fell in love with this fantastic city. I guess I was always looking for an opportunity to work here, so when I heard that Woolly Pig Hong Kong was looking to hire a chef for Spanish cuisine and paella, I reached out to them immediately.
What is the founding philosophy of MAJO?
MAJO Tapas Paella Bar is all about bringing the tapas culture in a friendly form to pair well with a diverse beverage program, no matter the time of day. It is casual, inviting and with an alfresco seating option, making it very easy access by everyone in the neighbourhood. The delectable paella menu, which features up to six versions of rice dishes, has been very popular among the guests since we opened.
You love paella. What does the dish represent to you?
I really love paella and am certainly very passionate about it. It is an ultimate comfort dish to bring everyone together. I worked in Valencia (the city that created paella) for eight years. It is a very nostalgic dish for me, and I enjoy cooking it very much.
We think we know the answer to this already, but what is your signature dish at Majo? Tell us about it.
Well, I like every item on the menu, so it is hard for me to choose! For me, it is such an honour to have the opportunity to bring the authentic flavours of Spanish cuisine to Hong Kong. However, if I have to choose one dish, it will be the iconic Paella Valenciana. It’s a dish that was recently given protected cultural status on the grounds that a proper paella celebrates the “art of unity and sharing” by the government of Valencia. This paella is made with chicken, rabbit, French beans, white beans, snails and rosemary and is served with lemon wedges. Delicious and authentic!
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
“When you are in the kitchen, work hard as if the restaurant is yours.”
Which are your five go-to dishes/drinks in restaurants or bars in Hong Kong?
When I’m off, I usually explore and enjoy the food that brings me comfort while catching up with my friends. LucAle Italian restaurant in Sai Ying Pun is one of my favourite places to go when I’m missing home; they have some great and authentic pasta dishes.
ICHU Restaurant & Terrace in Central is a great place to grab a few bites and drinks; especially as I am a big fan of Peruvian cuisine. Sing Kee Dai Pai Dong on Stanley Street is a great place to experience the street food culture! The fried rice and the eggplant with minced pork both are my favourites. Ciao Chow in Lan Kwai Fong is an easy place for a good pizza while grabbing a few drinks, too.
Last but not least, any places that serve a bowl of good wonton and dumplings, I’m there!
MAJO Tapas Paella Bar, G/F, Soho Central, 22 Staunton Street