SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) Almost three years ago, Bochinche introduced local palates to Argentinian food. We learnt how strong South Americans' teeth must be to rip through hunks of solid, chewy beef served up by asadors, while we daintily cut our cubes of Matsuzaka with a butter knife. We learnt that empanadas are not the result of a failed attempt by Old Chang Kee to bring curry puffs to Buenos Aires. And chimichurri is not a distant relative of the chimichanga.
With that squared off, the challenge for Bochinche is how to keep up the interest level now that it's moved from its leafy nook in River Valley to the highly competitive, my-food-is-more-hip-than-yours fighting ground of Telok Ayer/Boon Tat/Amoy streets.
Looks-wise, it's a design magazine-worthy tribute to eclectic chic. Nothing matches yet everything seems to fit together. There's the checkerboard floor which doesn't quite blend with the geometric wallpaper. Baroque frames wrap around dramatic, frenetic art works. Stone tables and sturdy wooden chairs say that this place wasn't cheap to do up.
115 Amoy Street #01-02
Open for lunch and dinner from Mon to Fri: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm (11pm on Fri). Sat: 11am to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm. Sun: 11am to 3pm
And more than a few trees were felled to make that super long wooden counter where diners balance on high padded green chairs to watch Diego Jacquet and his team do their thing. We especially like how the place is small but the tables aren't packed within elbow space of each other, so you get some private space.
The menu seems a little more streamlined than before, although it's been some time since we ventured into its original home. There's less of a bold flag-flying approach, and more of a generic, modern European slant with just a few Argentine touches.
A salad of watermelon and feta cheese that's part of the S$27, two-course set lunch has a breezy Mediterranean feel, although chef Jacquet's version pits cubes of fresh watermelon against a lightly pickled version for an intriguing contrast. Before your lips can pucker, creamy blobs of feta mellow out the flavours while watermelon granite cools you off. Pumpkin seeds are a winning touch, while the tart sun-dried tomatoes aren't.
Watermelon and Feta Salad from Bochinche restaurant. (Photo:Bochinche )
Even if there isn't really anything that goes with bread on the menu, the house bread basket (S$9) is a must-order. You get a basket of cottony soft foccacia and corn bread, with bone marrow butter to slather on them, or perkier grated tomatoes. But what we want more of are the pao de queijo - fluffy Brazilian cheese puffs that are made with tapioca flour and taste just like chewy gougeres aka French cheese puffs.
"Our egg's mimosa" has us wondeing if other chickens have knocked on their door trying to reclaim their young. They must be really special eggs because it costs S$11 to have two served to us hard-boiled and stuffed with a mixture of mashed egg yolk and mustard. We like the scattered bits of crushed candied almonds or garrapinada, but it's still a lot to pay for an imported snack.
Egg Mimosa from Bochinche restaurant.(Photo:Bochinche )
Empanadas are the mainstay and the pastry is just as we remember it - super lightweight, flaky and buttery. We'd really like to see it stuffed with curry one day but for now the closest is a filling of handchopped beef, potatoes and olives (S$6) which give the mild-mannered beef a tangy kick.
An even puffier, flakier version of the pastry appears in the set lunch, laden with grilled onions, zucchini, peppers and mushrooms. A surfeit of onions and hardly any seasoning undermines an otherwise lovingly put together vegetarian tart.
Since we aren't quite up to the task of chewing our way through a hunk of grass-fed Argentine beef, we pick the beef and bone marrow burger (S$29) and it's the highlight of our meal that day. Moist, chunky minced beef made more juicy with the inclusion of bone marrow is served simply with grilled tomatoes and onions on a fluffy bun. Whoever's doing all the baking in this place is a keeper.
If you're a dessert masochist, by all means dig into the now-signature dulce de leche creme brulee (S$17). You get a double whammy of regular creme brulee amped up with an infusion of caramelised milk for a sugary punch.
Add to that a scoop of banana split ice cream with its faint banana flavour and heavy duty dark chocolate chips. It's heavy-going but we're always up to a task like that.
Maybe Argentinian food doesn't have the same novel appeal it had the first time round, but we get the sense that something's lost in the translation somehow. The cooking is generally sound, but for a cuisine that comes from the other end of the world, we'd really like a bit more spark.
This article was first published on July 11, 2016.
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