BEST FOOD IN 2012 SO FAR
Gordon Ramsey, the infamous foul-mouthed chef with 13 Michelin stars on tv shows such Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef, had a major fallout with his star protege Jason Atherton. Atherton went on to open Pollen Street Social, which won him a Michelin star. Pollen Street Social is coming to Singapore in June!! (can’t wait!!) but in the meantime, Atherton has opened Esquina (meaning: “the corner” in Spanish) in Singapore!!!
Decor: Situated at the back-alley of Chinatown, the hole-in-the-wall tapas bar has a very underground, gritty vibe to it. Cement floors and old stuff, such as the metal stool fashioned from a manhole cover. It’s a very narrow bar with an open kitchen that you’d expect artists, writers, stage actors (the serious kind, not the film actors) to come. Very rowdy. But make no mistake, the price only allows a clientele of rich people, which means they are above 30 years old to about 50 years old. This phenomenon of having edgy bars that only rich people can afford is very interesting because the bars give the illusion to the rich that they are rebels when they are, in fact, the people who toe the line, work hard, are successful in their careers and are against rebels. Struggling artists can’t afford this place.
The chairs are designed to be uncomfortable so that people won’t linger. Eat and leave. High customer turnover rate=high profits. Still, we stood by the bar, had drinks and waited 45 minutes for a proper seat.
While this is a tapas bar, the drinks are not the focus. Mr NGFL got a Spanish beer, Mahou 5 stars ($10) and said, “Beer is beer, so-so lor.” My first drink is a sherry Moscatel Emilin ($15). Comes in a very small flute glass so you can smell the sweet fragrance of cherries. Very deliciously sweet that the sweetness masks the high alcohol percentage–you can get drunk very quickly.
My second drink is sangria ($12), which many people were drinking. The uniqueness is that instead of fruits being mixed into the red wine, a layer of berry foam lies on top of the wine for you to stir in. Very delicious!
Tapas is Spanish dim sum, comes in small portions. I repeat and warn you: these portions are tiny. Each person should order 2 to 4 dishes, and each dish costs about $25.
MUST ORDER the bite-sized Iberico pork & foie gras burger ($23.5) that comes with pickles and a strange sauce tasting like a mix of guacamole and jalapenos by the side. Add the sauce to the burger yourself. When I bit into it, I jizzed in my pants. It was truly WOW WOW WOW. ONE OF THE BEST FOOD I HAVE EATEN IN MY LIFE. I was in a bad mood but when I ate this, I immediately felt like I was in heaven. It is so juicy and the taste is extremely complex, ineffable and indescribable. I am stingy but I would pay $23.50 for these two mini burgers. They are worth every cent.
Scallop ceviche and radish salsa ($19.5) has four very fresh scallops drizzled with sesame oil. There is a sweet undertone to the slightly peppery radish. The first bite is amazing, almost but not as orgasmic as the burger. Because you will always take different proportion of radish on your fork, the taste is ever changing and ungraspable, making this an exciting dish.
Ox cheek oloroso with mash and caper, bacon, bonemarrow crumbs ($26). The ox cheek is very tender but that’s about it. The amazing part comes from the–believe it or not–mash. The mash itself is dry and ordinary but you must eat it together with the crumbs. There are different things in the crumbs–caper, bacon or bonemarrow–so if you eat with the mash, there are different tastes ranging from the vinegar (caper), salty (bacon) and rich and fat (bone marrow). Each mouthful is a surprise. A very good dish but we still liked the burger better.
If there is a dish that can rival the burger, it is this veal sweetbread & foie gras empanada with caramelized onion and caper jam ($26). Empanada is Spanish curry pok. How do you eat this? I believe that a good chef always balances his or her ingredients so that you must have a bit of every ingredient in each bite. That’s how I ate it. I used my hand, bit into the curry pok, with a bit of foie gras and caramelized onions. It is absolutely heavenly!! So many things happening in my tongue the taste blows me out of my sense. Again, the taste is indescribable. It is buttery, sweet, crispy, soft, and everything else. MUST ORDER.
Sangria ice cream is complimentary from the chef so make sure you sit long enough to receive a complimentary dish! And even complimentary food is so FANTASTIC!!! One of the best ice creams I have in my life.
Grilled pineapple salad, lime sorbet and coconut jelly (with lime zest?) ($12). AMAZING dessert, very refreshing. The lime sorbet may be a bit too sweet for me (Mr NGFL likes it sweet). But as a whole, this is refreshing with varying textures and is unique and excellent.
When the Pistachio cake, sangria jam and vanilla ice cream ($13), we exclaimed, “OMG, this is so huge! It is the biggest thing on the menu and one of the cheapest too.” Hahaha. While we like the pistachio cake–it tastes of real pistachio, not diluted or artificially flavored–and while we like the sangria jam (yums!) and while we like the inhouse-made vanilla ice cream (soooo rich and creamy!), we don’t know if they work well together. In other words, we like everything on the dish individually, but the flavors don’t really enhance each other.
Service: People have complained about the service but when we were there, the service was outstanding. Service was a bit slow but there were so many people and the servers always remembered our requests. For example, we requested for water and although we waited some time for it, it still came in the end. The servers are also very friendly. We were so pleased with the service that we tipped them.
The fault, we discussed about this, lies with the management; the management must hire more people to handle the crowd. In fact, the kitchen was way too busy too. None of the cooks rested, their hands were like shadow hands–faster than Jet Li’s–for four entire hours. The management must hire more service and kitchen staff.
We paid $168 and–because there is no service charge–tipped the servers $20, a total of $188 for two persons. Having visited a few Michelin-starred restaurants before, Esquina is as memorable or if not, more memorable than them. The food always comes hot from the kitchen, none of your rubbish at posh restaurants where they chill the food before serving to prevent lawsuits. Every dish is perfect and some dishes have the WOW factor, the out-of-this-world factor. The brillance of Esquina is that the food is so complex that it defies descriptions: you have to taste it to know it. Hence, the money is well-spent. In fact, I’d say Esquina is among the top five eateries in Singapore. While the food is spectacular, we are troubled over gimmicky location and decor. We love the location and rundown decor very much but they give an underground, revolutionary vibe, which is incongruous to the affluent clientele. It seems illusional, no? Regardless, the mind-blowing, jaw-dropping food trumps all marketing shticks. It’s a MUST VISIT! We want to return to try all the dishes.
Esquina Tapas Bar
16 Jiak Chuan Rd
T: 6222 1616
Closed on Sunday
Rating: 4.577/5 stars
PS: Thanks Mr NGFL for the treat!