Restaurant Review: Making a ruckus over Argentinian tapas at Bochinche

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Aug 25, 2013

The trend of eateries here serving small plates of food takes a new turn with Bochinche, a two-week-old restaurant in Martin Road.

The concept grew out of Spanish tapas bars but has now been adopted by chefs all over the world, many of whom have come up with dishes that borrow from different cultures.

But Bochinche, which is Spanish for ruckus or melee, is the first to introduce Argentinian tapas here, courtesy of co-owner Diego Jacquet, an Argentinian chef who also owns popular restaurants Casa Malevo and Zoilo in London. The new eatery is a collaboration with the Spa Esprit beauty and restaurant group.

Most people associate Argentinian food with meat, especially beef, and the menu at Bochinche does feature a lot of it. But there is more to the cuisine, of course, so there are seafood and vegetable items as well.

Still, after dining there twice, the first time on my own and the second time as a guest, I would recommend the meat over the seafood.

The grilled octopus ($23), for example, is something I won't order again. Unlike the tender tentacles served at most tapas bars here, it is tough and chewy. Not even the delicious smoked leeks and tuna mayo in the dish can erase the impression of the octopus as providing more than a jaw workout.

The "gambas al ajo" with caramelised pork belly and chorizo ($29) also disappoints because the shrimps are overcooked and the piece of pork crackling on the plate is not crisp.

A new dish, braised squid, "salchicha parrillera" and polenta chips ($25), introduced last Wednesday, succeeds not so much because of the squid, which is chopped up and lost in the thick sauce. Rather, it is the excellent home-made salchicha parrillera, a small, spiral sausage with a spicy kick, that makes the dish memorable.

The meat dishes are generally successful, including a grilled ribeye ($55 for 300g) that, while not boasting the marbling of wagyu, has a robust flavour combined with a tenderness that makes it very appealing.

So is the beef "chimichurri" burger ($28), a juicy meat patty drenched in a piquant and aromatic chimichurri sauce made with herbs and vinegar that perk up the flavours nicely. Pair it with the house chips "provenzal" ($12), fat chips that are raised above the ordinary by being tossed with fried garlic and parsley.

The Malbec braised ox cheeks and pickled ox tongue with carrots and artichoke mash ($31) is very good too.

Most restaurants can do an equally tender braised ox cheek, so it is the pickled ox tongue that impresses here. Thinly sliced, it is melt-in-the-mouth tender and has an acidity that is a foil to its inherent fattiness.

There are two starters I want to recommend, though both are really heavy.

The braised pig head croquettes with quince jam ($15) are delightful nuggets of chopped meat in a golden, crispy shell. And the provoleta ($17), a pan of grilled provolone cheese, an Argentinian speciality, is delicious either on its own or spread over cubes of bread. Almonds and honey are added to the cheese before it is put under the grill, and the different flavours pop up intermittently as you dig into the mixture.

For something refreshing to cut through all that grease, get the grilled watermelon salad ($14).

Most of the grilled watermelon I've eaten in other places is dressed simply in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but the oblong piece of fruit here is covered with tomatoes, mozzarella and sunflower seeds, which make the flavours so much more complex and intriguing. Yet through all that, the sweet juice of the watermelon shines through, a palate cleanser that lightens the heaviness of the other dishes.

There are good desserts too. The milk cake ($14), made from fresh cream, evaporated milk and condensed milk, is light and moist at the same time. The accompanying scoop of passionfruit sorbet is a great match, its sourness tamed by the milk yet adding sparkle to the cake all the same. There is also the "dulce le leche" creme brulee and banana split ice cream ($17). The creme brulee and the ice cream work in tandem to enhance each other's strengths: the creaminess of the pudding and the aroma of bananas in the ice cream.

These are dishes worth making a ruckus over.

ahyoke@sph.com.sg

SundayLife! paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.


BOCHINCHE

22 Martin Road, Level 2, tel: 6235-4990

Open: 5.30pm to midnight (Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays), 5.30pm to 2am (Fridays and Saturdays). Closed on Mondays

Food: ***1/2

Service: ***1/2

Ambience: ****

Price: Budget from $80 a person, without drinks