SINGAPORE - (THE BUSINESS TIMES) Disclaimer: I dislike no-reservations policies and counter-seating in non-Japanese restaurants. Never could understand the concept of queueing to be cool, no more than I can understand the need to queue for a queue number to ask a question at a telco shop.
Nor do I fathom how one restaurant manages to squeeze different sizes of human backsides into one petite-size-fits-all metal bar stools.
The lines to get into Esquina are now a thing of the past (you can actually make online reservations now) even if the bar stools are still the same. While head chef Andrew Walsh has gone on to spearhead other business ventures, owner Loh Lik Peng has lost no time installing Robert Daniels behind the counter - Chef Daniels will be cooking here until he's called back to Sydney where he's slated to head the upcoming Kensington Street Social in Loh's newest hotel venture.
Until then, it looks like Esquina is in pretty safe hands, as Chef Daniels delivers a short and sweet menu, albeit in some of the most uncomfortable dining surroundings ever.
6 Jiak Chuan Road
Tel: 6222 1616
Open for lunch and dinner Mon to Fri: 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 10.30pm. Sat: 6pm to 10.30pm
Despite asking to sit at a proper table upstairs, we're stuffed into a corner by the ground floor counter, perched on high chairs and trying to eat off a table the size of a serving tray. Maybe none of the servers feels like climbing the stairs so early in their shift.
Still, we're appeased by a steady flow of straightforward but confident cooking, starting with the fluffy and flaky thyme scented bread ($10) - shaped like an upright croissant with layers that peel off easily to spread with bone marrow butter and sweet caramelised onions.
The truffled ham and cheese toastie (S$12) is gooey crisp jamon and cheese between crisp bread and topped with fried quail's eggs. Off-the-menu special octopus is tender and not mushy, given a good shake in the pan with olive oil, chilli and leeks for a pan-Asian twist.
Roasted Coral trout (S$20) is moist, the flesh yielding tender flakes and crisp skin, in a mild caper and anchovy sauce, with grilled fennel wedges.
The suckling pig takes the longest to come and is the priciest dish at S$65, but the meat is fall-apart tender, licked with a sweet sherry vinegar glaze. The skin doesn't crisp up the way we prefer and it's pretty cloying overall, but still nicely done.
There's still nothing Spanish about Esquina - if anything the food feels more Australian - and it feels a little worn around the edges now that its cool factor has been mitigated by Loh's other new concepts. But the food has gotten more down-to-earth - which may run counter to its hipster leanings, but we don't think that's such a bad thing.
This article was first published on June 1, 2015.
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