One of the things that’s really hard to find in Singapore is good tapas. My best friend lives in Spain and so I’ve had more than my fair share of great tapas and so it’s an area of cuisine that I feel has much room for improvement here in Singapore.
But slowly, the tapas trend is picking up. Last year with the opening of Sabio and La Cicala, and this year with Esquina and Salt.
For some people, great tapas should be a recreation of the tapas they have had in Spain (or perhaps what they think they should have in Spain). But there is plenty of bad tapas going even in Spain believe you me! To be honest, I’m not so concerned with recreating tapas I’ve had in the past, but more with tapas that is well executed with fresh ingredients and most importantly, not swimming in oil.
What I love about Esquina is that is breaks away from the mainstays of tapas (which are sadly often poor imitations) and gets creative with excellent ingredients and fantastic taste. If what you’re looking for is just some Abondigas then sadly you will be disappointed. Because this, my friend, is high-end tapas with a twist.
And of course that comes with a higher price tag than usual tapas. Because usual tapas this ain’t! But taking that into account, and also the fact that it can only hold 17 pax at any one time, then it’s time to perch on a seat by the tapas bar, watch the Iberico ham being sliced…
the chefs beavering away in the buzz before your eyes…
and let the tapas festivities begin.
I knew that things were off to a good start when the Marinated Olives ($6.50) arrived. Lovely juicy olives infused with flavours of star anise, cinnamon and orange rind. These were by far the best olives I’d tasted in a while. Just beautiful.
The Heritage tomato in sherry dressing ($9.50), blew our socks off when it arrived with its smell alone! It’s definitely worth lingering over the aroma for a minute. And the taste? Well…it’s rather wonderful thanks to fantastically sweet and juicy tomatoes, a couple of cucumbers thrown in the mix with lashings of fresh garlic, dollops of coriander-infused avocado puree – and of course the sherry dressing.
The BBQ mackerel ($21) was beautiful. Fresh and tender on the inside, and crispy on the outside. The beautifully rich, sweet and flavoursome Romesco sauce – a combination of roasted red pepper, garlic, almonds and tomatoes - gave this dish a wonderful meshing of flavours and textures.
As Hehzee, my dining partner for this tapas adventure, dived into the Confit pork belly ($27), she looked like she was going to explode with delight! The reason, she explained, was due to the intense yumminess she was experiencing. Cooked to perfection, the pork was fall-apart soft with bewitching smokey flavours coming through from the chorizo and paprika skin.
The Gambas ($18), a huge, single, butterflied prawn served with chili, garlic and orzo pasta was lovely and juicy, though it would have been nice if had had company in the form of another. Once you’re done with the prawn, there’s something very fulfilling about scooping up the lovely, garlicky, slightly spicy stew-like sauce.
We had almost stopped there, but decided we needed just one more to round things off. I had been eyeing the Aged rib-eye ($33) from the start, especially because it came with chimichurri dressing – a kick-ass medley heralding from Argentina which is in effect a tonne of garlic mixed in with chopped parsley, oregano, olive oil and red pepper flakes – that I’d not had the pleasure of tasting in a long time.
But at $33, I was wondering whether we should go there. Well, guess what happened? We did and sure it’s pricey, but I have to say in it’s defense it’s a pretty decent portion as far as tapas goes and the meat was juicy, flavoursome, perfectly charred with lashings of chimichurri sitting atop and bursting with flavour (just don’t breathe on anyone afterwards!) making this a delicious dish indeed.
At this point, we had to dash off but I have to say I would have loved to have stayed for dessert and tried the Black olive sorbet with strawberry gazpacho (because how amazing does that sound?!) and to have stuffed myself with beautiful Manchego and quince (because I can never ever get enough of my favourite Spanish cheese).
I have to say that I love Esquina. Some might say that the menu is small – I like to think it’s just carefully curated. Every dish delivered a taste-bud sensation, and everything was of a consistently high standard. So although the bill was somewhat high compared to other tapas encounters, I was so satisfied by the experience that actually, I didn’t really care.
Because at Esquina you’re getting great food, in a great atmosphere, and solid service with the chefs often personally serving up the goods right to your placement which is in part thanks to the fact that you are only one of a few dining there at any one time.
Oh and did I also mention that to its bow it also has the string that it is under the direction of Michelin Star Chef Jason Atherton. No? Well, I thought I’d save this snippet of information until the last so we could focus on the food and not the name-dropping.
Be warned, the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, and with limited seating get there early for the best chance of bagging a place. And I mean EARLY…as in 6.30pm. Or be prepared to wait.
Esquina is at 16 Jiak Chuan Road, 089267, Tel: +65 222 1616. Open Mondays to Fridays 12 Noon to 3 pm, 6pm to 11pm, Saturdays: 6pm to 11pm, closed on Sundays. For more information see their website here.
Written by Ms Demeanour
Meal paid for by City Nomads