Picada

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Verdict: Authentic and congenial Latin American bites

Many a diner in Hong Kong won’t bat an eye at a new restaurant on Elgin Street. Soho is prime real estate and only big corporations with deep pockets can afford the ever steeper rent prices. Of course, a few outliers have been able to stand the test of time, but the general cycle is usually: lots of buzz, impressive opening, slowly declining quality thereafter, and then the hoardings go up for the next concept.

Picada ought to be a little different. Founded by three friends bound by their love of Latin American culture, this establishment pulses with the sincerity and warmth that is the trademark of hospitality in that region.

Located at the tail-end of Elgin Street towards Peel, the premises of Picada are small but homey. With its utilitarian style – bare concrete walls and mostly stool seating – it takes the Claroscuro’s Unamonos blasting through the speakers to bring the vibe towards more of a South American dive bar, where people gather for some drinks, food, casual conversation and music.

We kick things off with a bottle of Tempus, a craft beer from Mexico – just one of many from the restaurant’s surprisingly large drinks list. The menu is full of para picar (shared plates) with items such as ceviche, empanadas, arepas and frijoladas, all of which provide a pan-Latin American scope in the restaurant’s offerings.

We order a chimmichurri quinoa salad ($65) to get the food rolling. The tangy sauce is the backbone of the dish, with the grain and shrimp providing texture – a good start, but nothing we haven’t had before. Next up are the arepas rellenas ($85), a traditional Columbian dish, and these small meat filled-flatbreads are stellar. We can taste the gritty maize and the flavours allude to the street food of Bogata. The beef filling is tender and flavoursome but we’d prefer a bit of spice to add some kick to these pockets.

For something a bit more familiar, we opt for a serving of chicken empanadas ($85). The dumplings by themselves aren’t anything special, but when we add some of the chimmichurri-style sauce the synergistic effect is magical.

As a filler, we then go on to the frijoladas, or bean stew. Also served with plain arepas, the dish is certainly tasty. Its thick consistency proves extremely satisfying, especially when soaked with the side of bread – so much so that it takes two people to polish off the small bowl. To punctuate our meal we dive into a leche dessert ($45). Unfortunately, this is the most disappointing dish we try all evening. With only a sprinkle of cinnamon as garnish, the flan is way too sticky and gummy. It feels like an after thought hastily added to the menu, unlike the other strong recipes we sample here.

Despite having had its grand opening only a short while ago, the menu is still quite simple at Picada. There’s nothing wrong with that, and the savoury offerings we sample are authentic and tasty. But food alone cannot sustain a restaurant on competitive Elgin Street – fortunately, Picada has a strong craft beer, cocktail and wine list to satisfy any alcoholic hankerings. To be honest, we can’t predict the future, but a small, friendly establishment dishing up some earnest food with cheery service is definitely a welcome addition to the often  all too predictable Soho. Lisa Cam

Picada 16A Elgin St, Central, 2526 7538; fb.com/picadahk.

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