Located along Jiak Chuan road(which I had never heard of prior to this visit) in Chinatown, Esquina is probably a place where you would least expect to find a Spanish tapas bar. The place is headed by Andrew Welsh, who followed Jason Atherton(Culinary director) from the UK over to Singapore to set up Esquina; Jason Atherton, incidentally, was the first British chef to complete a stage at El Bulli in 1998, its something I would list on my CV as well, but in truth, Esquina doesn’t serve up molecular cuisine, so don’t go there expecting tapas that will foam and blow up in your face.
The website states that the restaurant opens at 6:00pm, I arrived at 6:05pm, only to be told that the indoor portion of the restaurant had been completely filled out, and we would have to wait for about 1.5 hours for a seat at the bar. We could, however, dine outside if we wanted to. I did not come to a tapas bar to eat at anywhere other than the bar, so I ordered a sangria and decided to wait it out. After about 40 minutes, a waitress came out to offer us a table inside(not at the bar), but having already waited so long, we decided we would continue waiting. At the 1 hour mark, we finally managed to get a seat at the bar, albeit one right at the edge, away from all the kitchen action. The bar is very elongated and sits maybe…14 – 16 people, the chefs are saturated at the center and slightly towards one end of the bar, the other end, where I was, was where the drinks were being made.
Sangria (with sangria foam)
All the components of the meal which contained sangria (total of 3) were nicely made, it had strong hints of citrus that made the wine seem lighter than it actually was, even under the sweltering singapore heat, when my sangria was warm, it still tasted pretty good. This would be the only ‘molecular’ portion of the whole meal, but this sangria foam made sense, the foam packed quite a lot of flavor, so it wasn’t like the drink ended up having to carry the foam through. A similar concept to the ‘Gin Fizz’ aperitif served at El Bulli. My one gripe was that although the foam improved the overall aesthetic of the dish, what’s the point putting a foam on top if you’re going to provide a straw? Good
Salt and pepper squid, black ink aioli
This was easily the best dish of the night. Squid was expertly cooked, had a light crisp coat that gave way to a meaty interior with good bite, tentacles were extra crisp and provided a natural contrast in texture. The real star of the show was the black ink aioli, the perfect consistency for dipping, or in my case, dragging the squid though delicious black sludge, hitting all the right spots: the creaminess, richness from the egg yolks, the kick of garlic, the refreshing zing of lemon, the unctuous mouthfeel, with a briny taste from the black ink that always lingered in the background but never intruded on the key flavors. I could have a lot of this. Good
Scallop ceviche and radish salsa
This was touted as the best ceviche in Singapore by Appetite magazine. Although it was a good ceviche, it was nothing mind blowing like the magazine seemed to suggest. Props to the restaurant for getting using really good produce, the scallops were very fresh and had a complex natural sweetness, this balanced out well with the acidity in the vinaigrette. Contrast in textures between the soft ceviche and crunchy radish was lovely. Also liked that the dish was served at the right temperature, cold enough to be refreshing, but not too cold so that the flavors were muddled and couldn’t pop. Okay-good
Ox cheek oloroso, mash, caper, bacon, bonemarrow crumbs
The ox cheek is braised in oloroso, which is a kind of sherry. The ox cheek was a little dry on the inside and it was tough to look past that; overall the dish also needed more sauce because whatever glaze was on the ox cheek was getting pulled into the mash. It was just a dry, dry dish in general, the bonemarrow helped a little, but nothing really stood out for me. Okay
Iberico pork and foie gras burger
The foie and iberico burger was the biggest disappointment of the night. For the record, Iberico pork and foie gras are 2 of my favorite ingredients, so I was prepared to fall in love with this. The main issue I had was that I couldn’t taste the foie in the burger at all. If I’m going to consume those foie gras calories, I better damn well taste the foie gras. The iberico patty was just too strong in flavor and overpowered the foie, plus the patty wasn’t particularly juicy anyway. Ironically, the best component of the dish was the bun, which had a nice crust and soft, fluffy center. Who raves about the bun when talking about a burger? Bad
Sangria ice cream (Given free as a pre-dessert)
I had expected this to be more sorbet like, regardless, it had a strong sangria flavor and a wonderful richness from the cream. Good
Pistachio cake, sangria jam, vanilla ice cream
The pistachio cake had a good, moist consistency, but didn’t carry a very strong pistachio flavor. The vanilla ice cream was surprisingly well made, very strong vanilla flavor, nice creamy texture without being cloying on the tongue. The sangria jam worked well with the ice cream, its a pity the pistachio flavor was pushed back into the background. Okay
I quite like Esquina, the quality of food being put out is high, the chefs have a clear vision for the food and aren’t trying to do too much. I wouldn’t exactly call it “authentic” by Spanish standards, but if the food is delicious, who really cares?
Service was hit or miss during the night, because of the logistical nature of the restaurant, it can be quite difficult to flag down a waiter or waitress, plus some of them are not very attentive to begin with. The chefs do not really mingle with the customers, even those who are sitting at the counter right in front of them(which I found surprising consider that would be how many Spanish tapas bars work), so don’t expect a very personal experience from the place. Prices are high for what you are getting, most plates of food will cost approximately $25 on the average, and I’d say the average diner can finish 2-3 plates of food with dessert, and therefore the bill will easily run up to about $80. All in all, if you are willing look past all the faults I’ve listed, rest assured that the food is reliable and you’ll have a tasty meal at Esquina.