(THE BUSINESS TIMES) - The ground level of Tanjong Pagar Centre feels like a theme park in the middle of the financial district. It reminds us of those factory outlets overseas, where different brands beckon from their respective buildings with different signage and decor, squashed like sore thumbs sticking out in an artificial village, all selling the same things except in different shapes and colours.
In this concrete F&B village stands a number of cookie-cutter units that all look similar from the outside but woo you from within.
Dainty sandwiches, cakes and train information draw you into the cute Japan Rail Cafe; ramen and katsudon call out to you from one end; coffee and cake from another.
What pulls you into Pura Brasa is the colourful cow at the entrance and the video of Barcelona's Boqueria market that keeps replaying scenes of its famous tapas stalls and colourful spoils from land and sea. It is cheesy and it knows it, but it is so unabashedly cheerful that you just sit back and go with the flow.
Think of it as a Spanish Denny's with its casual and vibrant decor, although it does not muck about when it comes to the food.
That is partly because this is apparently a franchise of a string of Pura Brasas in Spain that are run by Josper, the famed Spanish brand of charcoal-burning ovens. Hence Pura Brasa is tops when it comes to cooking anything on the grill, but it is also a dab hand at Spanish tapas.
We are encouraged by the yielding texture of smoky, paprika-infused grilled octopus chunks sitting in a mini casserole on a bed of potato puree. The Spanish are so good at cooking potatoes that all the tubers of the world should move to their country and start a new republic. These are creamy with enough chunky bits for texture and olive oil for a smooth finish.
A bowl of mussels ($22) is simply put on the grill with just enough heat to cook the shellfish in their own juices and aided with a splash of wine - fresh and plump and needing nothing else.
The Spanish omelette ($15) looks like a round slab of baked French toast, but is a gutsy mixture of egg and potato with a golden exterior and topped with a dollop of garlic aioli. Get a platter of crystal bread ($6) - thin crusty bread smothered with crushed tomatoes and olive oil - and you are set.
Less exciting are the passable chicken wings ($15) dressed up in a paper cone and accompanied by a motherlode of shoestring fries and aioli. And rather overrated are the half-metre-long pork ribs ($35) cooked at low temperature for 20 hours such that they enjoy a fall-off-the-bone texture, but also an inevitable dryness. But it looks impressive with its nice char from the oven and dipping the meat into the accompanying sauces helps.
We would rather put our money on the paella ($28) - slightly wet but still enjoyable al dente grains of rice cooked in a full-bodied broth with little bits of mixed seafood and peas, topped with fresh mussels.
For dessert, chewy light profiteroles stuffed with chocolate cream ($8) beat the dense traditional creme catalan ($8) with its overly thick, shatterproof sugar crust.
It is theme park food, but it is gutsy, tasty and does not stretch the intellect or pocket. It is a crowd-pleaser and, judging by how full it is at lunch, it is a formula that works.
01-16 Tanjong Pagar Centre, 5 Wallich Street, tel: 6386-9678; open: 11am to 11pm daily
We have come across restaurants that are stingy with their bread or pretend not to notice your empty water glass, but we have never understood those that scrimp on their own names.
What is a few extra vowels between a pronounceable name and one that sounds like your muffled cry on a constipated morning? Don't make your guests work so hard. It is so much easier to say "Wine Revolution" than to remember how to spell it so you can pick out the right letters to make "RVLT".
Fortunately, this new wine bar is otherwise a very nice chill-out place to enjoy a range of natural wines and interesting sharing plates by Spanish chef Manel Valero. This long-time resident of Singapore used to work at now-defunct tapas bar Foodbar Dada and was at Moosehead and Kilo before ending up in Wine RVLT, where he serves a small menu of original dishes that pull together all his previous cooking experiences.
There are occasional Spanish influences in an otherwise eclectic menu, such as a smoky paprika-enhanced adobo of garlic and shallots that makes an addictive dip for the delicious housemade potato focaccia ($8). Fermented potato gives the dough a fluffy yet bouncy texture even as the surface gets a lovely crunchy bite.
Home-cured duck prosciutto ($8) is tender but gamey, simply served in wafer-thin slices. Beef tartare ($18) is a little more elaborate - a refreshing mixture of clean-tasting fresh chopped beef seasoned with lemon juice, mayonnaise, fresh herbs and spinach leaves, and crunchy crouton bits.
A piping-hot bowl of creamy leek soup ($16) is worth the calories, with fermented potato adding extra depth while pickled shallots cut through the richness. Regular lettuce and sea lettuce (a seaweed) make it less sinful.
We are in two minds about the burnt cabbage and puffed grains ($16) - an interesting combination of tender grilled cabbage, crunchy quinoa and barley that you scoop up with anchovy-enhanced salsa verde which gets monotonous very quickly.
Harissa chicken ($18), in turn, is a tender, boneless chicken leg that gets overwhelmed by a salty gravy of olives, onions and red peppers.
If you are planning on putting yourself into a self-induced sugar coma, then sink into the depths of the pillowy sticky date and oloroso cake ($8) - it is supremely sweet, mitigated slightly by the dollop of cream, and subsequently negated by the toffee-like sauce drizzled over it.
Wine RVLT may scrimp on its name, but it packs a lot of cosiness in its hospitality and an unpretentious vibe into its compact space. It is not exactly a revolution but sometimes, a nice familiar place is all you really need.
01-01, 38 Carpenter Street, tel: 9388-1436; open: 6pm to midnight (Mondays to Saturdays)