Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Esquina : Spanish Tapas or Dimsum?


The well-acclaimed Esquina, opened by Michelin Chef James Atherton who has worked under Gordon Ramsay, has been on my must-visit-places-before-I-fly-off list.
 
 Currently headed by executive chef Andrew Walsh, the place offers quite a unique dining experience where you can watch the preparation of the food in front of a stretch of 12 indoor bar seats and the chef will briefly explain what the food is when they serve them.
 

The visit left me with mixed feelings as I realized that dining here with The Folks here could be a complicated issue. Admittedly, the portions here are small for the price and they could afford to be more generous. 

For instance, the Miso Grilled Mackerel, with wasabi avocado, lime & cucumber relish was a thin flat slice of fish that is much smaller than the average one from Japanese restaurants but the lime relish was refreshingly crunchy and it curbed the savouriness of the fish as the umami from the miso was quite heavy. However, this is not recommended as the freshness of the fish was not guaranteed. 
 
The Oysters with Vietnamnese dressing (7each).
Freshly shucked in front of your eyes.
 
The Roasted Padron Peppers with Chilli Garlic & Salt  
Nothing exciting about this and one may perhaps spend it on other dishes.
 
 
Roasted Pork Belly on Coriander Seaweed Salad, poured with Bacon Onion Dashi Broth. 
The meat was tender and coriander seaweed salad at the bottom was soft and sweetened by the broth. The clear soup was full of umami but did not dilute the taste of the meat. This dish of simple looking pork belly is unique as most would serve it as it is with sauce or mash potatoes.


Spanish Breakfast Slow cooked egg with bravas sauce , potato cubes and crispy Iberico ham

I thought this dish would be super greasy and would burst the calorie-meter but it did not. This breakfast was transformed with an elegant touch with a pool of bravas sauce (spicy tangy tomatoes) that is more of a rich thick salsa. It was interesting to watch how this dish was prepared as the egg was placed on top and cooked with heat coming from the above. The cubes of oil-fried potatoes were no more than five but were fragrant. Mix the beautiful egg yolk up with the rest for the maximum taste in a spoonful.
 
A dish from the festive menu is this Roasted Guinea Fowl in Empanadas with Cranberry with Seared Foie Gras.
The pastry and the filling did not impress but what did was the well-seared Foie Gras with sweet slightly sautéed sweet cranberries instead of simply sweet fruit jam. The two mini slabs of foie gras on top of the pastry was crispy dark brown on the outside and the thickness was just right so it was not too rich for those who usually shun Foie Gras.
It reminded The Folks of curry puff or more appropriately chicken mushroom puff and I would not deny. However, it is actually a traditional stuffed bread from the Latin America either baked or fried.
It is understandable why the Ham Croquettes have been raved by many.
 
There was no sight of mashed potatoes like Japanese croquettes but the entire ball was just rich sticky rich cheese with iberico ham which doubled the saltiness. Guessed this tapas must have gone well with beer or sangria. It has made me look forward to try out more Spanish croquettes in future.
 


For the desserts, the limited festive Rompope-Spiced Eggnog with Pedro Ximenez foam was full of alcohol kick and highly recommended for any alcohol lovers. It was more of a drink rather than a dessert though it was covered with the white grape wine foam. Be surprised by the salty taste coming from the crushed almonds stuck around the brim of the cup.
 
The Japanese Green Tea Cake with Sake Blueberries, Calamansi Curd and Fennel Seed Ice Cream sounds very cultured but did not translate well onto plates.
 The two small squares of matcha cake were dry though the fennel seed ice cream was quite special. The taste did not leave lasting memories as the tiny portions of the various components did not paint a complete picture. It was perplexing to have a dessert that only covered 20% of the plate.
Fortunately, the Cookies & Cream did help to salvage the meal a little by appealing to everyone’s inner child. Indeed as the name Cookies & Cream suggest, the first way of eating is via the condensed milk ice cream that was mixed with cookies crumbs and topped with air chocolate.
The second and more direct way is sip the vanilla-infused milk in the glass bottle and have a bite of the chocolate chip cookie. It is a dessert divided into two separate plates. Sweet endings but something was still lacking. The salted hazelnut paste was either missing or too little to be detected.   
 
The Complimentary Sangria Ice Cream from Chef
Some have said that one should arrive early to get a seat especially on Fri/Sat or be prepared to queue. This was because they do not they any reservations. Ironically, we promptly arrive at 6pm but it was only ready for service after 15minutes. The place was about 80% full and the service was insincere.
Foodwise, it was acceptable to me and I enjoyed experimenting with the new combinations of flavours but not for The Folks who commented that they had no idea what they were eating that night. Perhaps Spanish tapas might not be the cup of tea for everyone but I shall still continue to search for one that will be comfortable not only to the tastebuds but also to our stomachs and pocket.
 
Esquina
16 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore 089267
Monday-Saturday hours 12:00 pm–3:00 pm, 6:00 pm–11:00 pm 
 

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