Un Poco Loco, a Spanish locale to go crazy about
Un Poco Loco is more than just a tapas bar as there are some items on the menu that offer a more hearty meal. Located at City Junction in Tanjung Tokong, it is the brainchild of the team behind the one Michelin star Restaurant Au Jardin. Un Poco Loco is headed by Chef Yan You (executive chef) and Chef Alex (chef de cuisine). The menu is curated by Chef Kim Hock.
Like Penangites, the Spaniards also display an intense passion for their food and time-honoured culinary traditions. In Spain, tapas is a way of life as much as a way of eating – a convivial way to fill the gap between the end of work and the beginning of the evening meal. The noun tapas is from the verb tapear (to cover), alluding to the old Andalusian habit of covering a glass of wine or sherry with a slice of coarse country bread topped with some sausage or ham. Today, tapas bars in Spain, laden with an array of bite-size offers, are hubs of socialising, frequented by both locals and tourists.
Having said that, the atmosphere at a tapas bar in Penang is rather different. Guests are seated at respective tables and socialise only within their own circle. Food is also prepared as per order and not on a lavish buffet line like at some of the tapas bars in Spain.
At Un Poco Loco, the tapas items on the menu are divided into three sections – hot, cold and canned. The hot tapas section includes gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns), champiñones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms), Serrano ham croquettes, patatas bravas (cubes of potato with a spicy, tomato sauce), empanadas of creamed onions (onions, cheese and wine parcels), steamed clams in wine and beer, deep-fried horse mackerel, mushroom soup, roasted tomato soup and baked cheese with onion marmalade.
Items under the cold tapas include red pepper parfait with chicharrones, potato tortilla, pan con boquerones (bread topped with anchovies and capsicum jam), Caesar salad (cos lettuce, eggs, anchovies and cashew ice cream), Serrano ham with melon and rockets, potato tortilla with sour cream, ensaladilla Rusa (Russian potato salad with tuna), roasted broccoli and tuna salad, fresh burrata cheese with rockets, fig balsamic granita, tomatoes, figs and pesto as well as ceviche with lime sorbet, jalapeño and sour cream.
There are also five canned food items to consider, definitely not available at your local grocery shops. These designer gourmet wonders are specially prepared and sealed in cans for a nouveau presentation. They include cured Norwegian mackerel with capers in burnt butter, fresh chorizo with caramelised onions, squid eggs in garlic butter, beef short plate stew and highland vegetable stew (mushrooms and stem vegetables stewed in yeast extract). Sans preservatives, these canned items are also for sale at the restaurant.
If you enjoy fresh oysters, order some of the succulent molluscs to sample. They are delivered weekly to ensure quality. Freshly shucked, oysters are served on ice with lemon wedges and Tabasco sauce on the side – the best way to appreciate their full flavour.
"On the grill" items include grilled chicken thigh (served with a rocket salad), Iberico pork jowl (served with fresh greens and mustard), grilled Norwegian mackerel, octopus tentacles (served with pico de gallo, a refreshing salsa) and beef short-ribs (served with pickled cabbage).
Paella, a popular rice dish from Valencia, actually has no seafood in its original version. Formerly called arroz a la Valenciana (Valencian rice), the dish has a strong Moorish influence, carrying many local ingredients including local vegetables, eel from the stream, chicken, rabbit, snails and occasionally, duck meat. In fact, the Spanish word for rice is "arroz", which is derived from Arabic, not Latin like most Castilian Spanish.
Here at Un Poco Loco, you are offered two options – arroz negre (black/inked rice) and paella roja (the classic version). The traditional version cooked with an array of seafood and slices of chorizo sausages. You would enjoy the dish, right down to the crispy crust at the bottom of the pan.
There is nothing better than ending a Spanish feast with some sweet treats. For desserts, try the "unconventional churros" (mochi textured served with two dips – cacao as well as rum and butterscotch), crema catalana (a Spanish version of creme brûlée), fried milk (dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla ice cream), ice cream sandwich (with pistachios and rose water sorbet, vanilla sponge and roselle jam) and butterscotch apple tart (infused with rum and crème pâtissière, served with vanilla ice cream).
For drinks, opted for either the white and red sangrias. The zesty red sangria was flavoured with orange, lime and lemon. The white sangria had a slice of star fruit, kaffir lime leaf, fresh sea coconut and attap chee (nipah palm seeds). Both are equally refreshing and lovely.
I was there recently with friends celebrating my birthday and we had a truly enjoyable evening. The delicate flavours of each dish were intriguing and delectable, carefully curated by Chef Kim Hock. He was a master at balancing flavours and creative in presenting them. Chef Yan You and Chef Alex were at hand to ensure quality. The service team was very attentive. This is certainly a restaurant I would return to sample more of its enticing offerings.
Many thanks to Dr. Leong and Chee Kong for the wonderful treat. Also a big thank you to Madam Leong for baking a fabulous cheesecake with an Oreo cookie crust topped with blueberries. Its creamy, rich and smooth texture was a little taste of heaven in every bite.
PS: I love the quirkiness of the alpacas that decorate the menu and the interior of the restaurant. Their bulging eyes and crazy-looking appearance strike a playful tone illustrating the name of the restaurant "Un Poco Loco", Spanish for "a bit crazy". Well, the food is something I am crazy about!
Un Poco Loco
2-3-6, City Junction (Level 3 Atrium B), Persiaran Lengkuas 2, 10470 Tanjung Tokong, Penang.
Tel: +6016-214 7591
Opening hours: 11.30am-3.30am, 5.30pm-8.30pm except Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
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4 January 2023