Esquina may be a little overshadowed these days by new tapas bars, but a change of executive chef is bringing this four-year-old eatery back in the news.
Chef Andrew Walsh left recently to open his own restaurant, Cure, in Keong Saik Road just a short walk away. Taking his place is Barcelona-born Carlos Montobbio, former chef at Antidote in Fairmont Singapore.
With a new man helming the kitchen, the menu has been updated to include Montobbio's creations - although some old favourites, such as crispy baby squid, chilli coriander, squid ink aioli ($14) and Iberico pork and foie gras burgers, pulled pork, avocado mayonnaise ($28), have been kept.
You should check out the new dishes, though, because there are some gems there.
I am most impressed by the chef's take on the Spanish omelette. Unlike the traditional version, which is a heavy mix of eggs, potato and onion cooked in a deep pan, Esquina's Spanish omelette ($6 each) looks like a tiny pancake, but is the fluffiest - and smallest - omelette I've eaten.
16 Jiak Chuan Road, Tel: 6222-1616
Open: Noon to 2.30pm (Monday to Friday), 6 to 10.30pm (Monday to Saturday). Closed on Sunday
Food: 3.5 stars
Service: 4 stars
Ambience: 4 stars
Price: Budget about $90 a person
It is served on a thin slice of toast that adds a delightful crunch. A dollop of confit onion and beads of olive oil on the omelette round out the flavours nicely.
Another winning innovation is the Spanish Nigiri ($6 a piece). It can easily pass off as a tuna sushi under the eatery's dim light, but the "rice" is a lump of bacalao brandade - salted cod and potato cooked into a thick paste. On top is a piece of roasted bell pepper. Served lightly chilled, the sweetness of the pepper complements the salt in the cod well and makes it a refreshing appetiser.
The saffron paella ($24) is not what I expect, either. For one, it does not come in a paella pan, but in a bowl. And there is very little rice. Instead, you get a big piece of pan-roasted red snapper, as well as a generous amount of sliced chorizo. It is delicious, but I like the rice in a paella because it is so tasty and I wish there is more of it here.
The wagyu beef intercostals ($26) are a treat for me because they boast the good flavour of wagyu with a little less fat than what you find in cuts such as ribeye. Intercostals are strips of meat between the ribs and are a bit chewy - though being wagyu, these are already a bit more tender than ordinary beef. Still, if you are expecting melt-in-the-mouth wagyu, you may not like this.
Some other dishes do not impress as much. The grilled Spanish octopus ($28) is thick but tender. However, there isn't anything in the accompanying Jerusalem artichoke, burnt onion and oyster leaf to lift the flavours and it comes across rather flat.
A more pronounced smokiness from the Josper grill may perhaps make it more appealing.
The roasted cauliflower ($16) is also surprisingly bland when it should be sweet. The accompanying cauliflower couscous is a nice idea, but does not add any sweetness either. Even the Manchego cheese and bits of serrano ham do not help much.
When Esquina opened in 2011, it was a squeeze to get in because there was just a row of counter seats and a few small tables outside. And one had to stand in line to wait for a seat.
Today, there is a second floor with proper dining tables, although sitting there means you miss the action in the kitchen below.
The eatery now takes reservations, so you no longer have to queue outside - something you would not want to do, with the choking haze these days.
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