Walking into the month-old Restaurant Gaig in Stanley Street, one would not have guessed that it is an offshoot of a one-Michelin-starred restaurant with the same name in Barcelona.
Unlike the elegant parent restaurant, this is a casual family-style eatery with no table cloths, a cramped dining room and a deafening din once the tables fill up. And unlike many eateries here with even a remote link to Michelin, there is no star symbol or logo of the Michelin Man to be seen.
But the food - some of the dishes, at least - is star-worthy.
Chef-owner Carles Gaig was a consultant for La Ventana, another Spanish restaurant in Dempsey Hill, until earlier this year. So, if you have dined there, you may find some of the dishes here familiar.
One of them is the must-try Gaig's Traditional Cannelloni ($15.50), based on a recipe that has been with the Gaig (pronounced "Garche") family since 1869. The chef is the fourth-generation owner of the Barcelona restaurant and his daughter Nuria runs the Singapore outlet.
The cannelloni comprises shredded roast pork and beef rolled in a smooth and soft pasta sheet drenched in a thick, truffled cream sauce. It is a small serving, but is so rich that I happily share it with my dining companion both times I order it. Sometimes, good things are best savoured in small quantities and this dish is one of them.
The rest of the menu is made up mainly of tapas, paellas, roasts and stews - many of which are typical of the Catalunya region where Barcelona is located.
16 Stanley Street, tel: 6221-2134; open: noon to 2pm and 6 to 9.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Price: Budget from $80 a person, without drinks
Among them is the Squid Ink Fideua ($29.50), which is like a paella, but with noodles instead of rice. The short pieces of vermicelli pasta are cooked with seafood such as prawn and squid, as well as squid ink, which turns the dish black. The pasta is infused with seafood sweetness as well as the distinctive smoky flavour of the ink, which reminds me of caramelised dark soya sauce.
Because vermicelli is so thin, one would expect the pasta to be soft, but it is al dente, with a very firm bite. That distinguishes the fideua from Asian noodle dishes, a feature that easily grows on me.
Those who prefer something more familiar can go for the paella. I pick the Pluma Iberico (Pork) And Mushroom Paella ($28.20) because I've not tried the rice dish with pork before, but the meat is overcooked and dry. So the Baby Calamari Paella ($32.80) might have been a better choice.
The stews are a highlight for me, especially the Stuffed Baby Squid ($24.50). The squids are more half-grown than baby and much bigger than those tiny ones you find in local seafood restaurants. They are stuffed with minced pork, beef, squid and egg, and stewed till tender in a tomato sauce that is reduced to a thick, umami-rich gravy.
Another stew, Clams With White Kidney Beans ($20.50), tastes totally different the two times I order it.
The first time, the clams are sweet and juicy, but the dish is otherwise bland - as though the cook had forgotten the salt. The result is a dish in which the various ingredients appear to have nothing to do with one another.
The second time, the dish is a little too salty, but the sauce binds everything together wonderfully. So, perhaps the cook did forget the salt the first time, but it just shows how important the seasoning is.
Among the desserts, I recommend the Orange Ice-cream Souffle ($10.20) and Our Catalan Creme Brulee ($10.20).
The former looks like an ordinary souffle but is a frozen dessert that is a cross between an ice cream and a sorbet. It has the refreshing fruitiness of oranges but also a creamy richness. If you need more acidity, there are slices of fresh orange served with the souffle.
The creme brulee is not your usual classic version either, but a concoction of ice cream and cream custard piled high in a martini glass and topped with a thin layer of caramelised sugar. Dig in and you find refreshing flavours of lime and lemon too.
While I would not say that everything at Gaig is excellent, there are moments of brilliance. And the decent prices make it easier to go back and give the dishes you are unsure of a second chance.
In the case of the stewed clams, I am glad I did.
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•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.