Singapore: Esquina

9 Mar

When I got back in December, a friend tipped me off that Jason Atherton had just opened a modern Spanish tapas bar, Eqsuina, housed in a beautiful shophouse in Chinatown. I a at Pollen Street Social, his flagship restaurant in London and had quite an enjoyable experience, hence I was curious to see if my experience could be replicated here in Singapore.

Since they don’t take reservations, it’s first come first served. Come by around 7pm if possible to guarantee a shorter wait.

Since my dinner date was caught up at work, I grabbed a ticket and chilled at the outside bar area, sipping on some Spanish sherry – very honeyed and floral Moscatel Emilin ($15). Yums. I am liking this pre-dinner drinks system that is quite prevalent overseas but has not quite caught on here.

It’s a small intimate place, about 20 seats, bar counter only – which I love. Throw in a nice buzz, romantic lighting, edgy decor, and a beautiful crowd of expats and local sophisticates (sans moi, of course) and I truly didn’t feel like I was in Singapore (more like London or New York). Helming the kitchen here is Executive Chef Andrew Walsh (I believe he’s the one second from right in the photo).

Cool recycled bicycle seats for bar stools

We enjoyed both our wines very much. His was a Portuguese medium bodied red off the menu whose name has slipped my mind.

Mine was a Spanish Albarino ($15). They also serve Estrella Damm Inedit ($42/770ml), the beer created by Ferran Adrian and the El Bulli team to pair with food but I didn’t try. Maybe next time.

Onto the food, the ham croquetas ($9.5) served piping hot, were pretty good.

Cheesy, ham-filled goodness

The scallop ceviche and radish salsa ($17) was a little bland for me, considering that both scallops and radish have very light flavours. They used both white and red radishes which I thought was quite clever. It reminded me of the scallop ceviche at El Willy in Shanghai, but that had stronger flavours and was a much bigger portion. Next time I will try the tuna tartare that was also quite popular.

Our aged rib-eye and chimichurri dressing ($24.5) was very tender and had a smokey, charred flavour that some may like, but some parts were a bit too bitter for me. I’m a fan of the Argentinian chimichurri (parsley, garlic, olive oil) sauce used here, but I wish there was more! Anyway, this actually came before the cold ceviche, which bugged me a little in terms of order. The same happened for our neighbours and since they ordered a lot of food, everything came all at one go (they had like 4 dishes sitting in front of them) – what a waste as the food would have gone cold!

The ox cheek oloroso, mash, caper, bacon, bonemarrow crumbs ($21) was an unctuous, satisfying dish. Not a big portion, but you don’t need much. Cheeks were fork tender and I loved the crispy marrow bits, silky mash, and the use of capers to cut through the richness.

We were all given complimentary red wine sangria ice cream cornets as a pre dessert. It was a lovely touch, since how often do adults get offered free alcoholic ice cream?

A couple of desserts looked interesting, but we had only space for one. So we picked the sangria poached fruits, salted almond crumble, PX custard ($12), a more gourmet Spanish version of the fruit crumble. I liked the saltiness in the crumble and the sweet Pedro Ximenez custard (a sherry) was a good substitute for ice cream. Quite lovely.

While overall I thought the dishes were pretty delish, they came a little lower than the “wow” standard I was expecting given the celebrity chef brand name. I’ve had some really good tapas overseas and had high expectations so I’m being critical here. Nevertheless, I do think Esquina’s worth a dine for its creative take on Spanish tapas and lovely vibe. It’s also fairly new (open in Dec 2011) so perhaps it’ll need some months to iron out the kinks, especially in terms of serving order/staggering food. So far, I haven’t found any other Spanish place in Singapore that I liked anyway, so I suppose this will still be my go to place. There’s no service charge here, which is surprising.

Price: $$$-$$$$ ($150 for 2 pax including some drinks)
Location: 16 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore 089267

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