With the explosion of tapas bars five years ago, Spanish cuisine has already carved a niche in Singapore's dining scene. And in Spain, Asianinspired dishes are now regarded as "cool".
El Celler de Can Roca's chef de cuisine Nacho Baucells, 31, says in a mix of Spanish and English: "Three years ago, it was all about Peruvian cuisine. Now, everyone is interested in Asia. People like ingredients such as kimchi, gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) and miso. It may not be the same as what you get in Asia, but it is readily available and not too expensive back home."
The acclaimed El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, is No. 2 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list and also has three Michelin stars to its name. The 30-year-old restaurant is run by the three Roca brothers - chefs Joan, Josep and Jordi.
Esquina's head chef Carlos Montobbio, 29, adds that even notable chefs such as David Munoz of the three-Michelin-starred DiverXO in Madrid does a Singapore-style chilli crab, cooked in a wok but with a Spanish twist of amontillado (a type of sherry) and paprika.
BOOK IT / ESQUINA'S FIFTH ANNIVERSARY TASTING MENU
WHERE: Esquina, 16 Jiak Chuan Road
WHEN: Till Jan 31, noon to 2.30pm (Tuesdays to Thursdays), 6 to 10.30pm (Mondays to Thursdays)
INFO: Call 6222-1616 or go to www.esquina.com.sg
Baucells is in town to collaborate with Montobbio for a two-nightonly dinner at Esquina today and tomorrow for the restaurant's fifth anniversary celebrations.
Highlights include Baucells' foie gras with Ratafia liqueur, dried plums and walnuts; and a cocktail sphere made with his housemade vermouth, orange and cocoa butter. The Bombetas dessert gets an Asian twist with gula melaka, coconut and mango sauce, instead of the French version using vanilla and raisins.
This is the second instalment of the Amigos de Esquina dinners, a series of collaboration dinners spread over five months. It kicked off with chef-owner Han Liguang of Labyrinth restaurant at Esplanade last month.
Upcoming editions will feature modern Korean restaurant Meta's head chef Sun Kim (March 1); chef-patron Diego Jacquet (March 23) of modern Argentinian restaurant Bochinche in Amoy Street and Zoilo in London; and chef Julien Royer (April 26) of two-Michelin-starred Odette at the National Gallery Singapore. They will work with Montobbio for dinners at Esquina. Reservations for each dinner will open a month in advance on the restaurant's website.
The dinners featuring Baucells are sold out, but diners can still try Esquina's five-course fifth anniversary tasting menu ($55++), which is available until Jan 31. The tasting menu showcases signature dishes such as the Spanish nigiri, grilled Spanish octopus and BBC, which features different textures of banana, beer ice cream and warm salted caramel sauce.
Baucells and Montobbio call their collaboration an "homage" to their days of attending the Hofmann School of Hospitality in Barcelona 12 years ago.
"It is where we learnt our basics and it taught us to work as a team," says Baucells, who regards Montobbio - also an alumnus of El Celler de Can Roca - as his "younger brother".
Baucells has worked with the late chef Santi Santamaria at the now-defunct El Raco de Can Fabes and first apprenticed at El Celler de Can Roca from 2008 to 2009. He then worked at the now-defunct Sergi Arola Gastro before returning to El Celler de Can Roca in 2011.
Since then, Baucells has been instrumental in coming up with new dishes for the restaurant, as well as coordinating La Gira, a gastronomic tour for the 40-strong restaurant staff sponsored by Spanish banking group Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria.
The frequent flier brought two suitcases of food, drink and ingredients for the dinners at Esquina. He often does this for overseas events, he says.
This is his second time in Singapore - his first was in December 2015 for part of his honeymoon - and he plans to fill his suitcases with ingredients he finds here when he heads home on Friday.
He says: "I'm used to travelling with food. I put it in the freezer before I fly and it is still cold when I reach.
"Working with the Roca brothers is a great opportunity for me to do what I want and learn new things."
•Follow Eunice Quek on Twitter @STEuniceQ
•For more food stories, go to straitstimesfood.com