Tonito, Jewel: Unexpectedly, One of the Best Restaurants This Year

The service at Tonito at Jewel Changi Airport needs improving. When we were queuing for the Latin American casual restaurant, a passerby said, “Huh? 这个也要排队??” People queue for this unknown restaurant?? 

Actually, as you can see from the photo, there were many empty tables (I counted 5 empty tables when I was in the queue), so I am not sure why they did not sit customers promptly. I understand that they might not be able to handle the orders, but letting customers wait while sitting is better than letting customers wait standing.

Since I’m talking about the service, they put a water bottle on our table and did not pour it into our glasses. There were 4 serving plates on the table; the waitress picked up two and I thought she wanted to place them in front of us, but she just took them away. Another waitress came and took away our cutlery basket; not to place on another table, but to keep the basket on a shelf, and I needed a serviette from the basket later during the meal. When there was still a huge heap of fries on the plate, the waitress asked if she could clear it. Why rush us? (We weren’t chatting much; we did not take a long time to eat. And there were empty tables around. There was no reason to rush us.)

I understand that they might be busy, but I don’t understand why they did not do the things they should do, but did extra things that they didn’t have to do. If they were busy, I don’t mind not having “proper” service–I am happy to pour my own water–but they should not have done extra things like taking away the cutlery basket and serving plates. Just leave them and take the effort to serve other guests.

But when the food came, it was so spectacular that everything was forgotten.

The passerby was wrong: Tonito is not an unknown restaurant. It’s managed by the same people at Ola Cocina and Tono Cevicheria, which are both reviewed highly by us. Peruvian Chef Daniel Chavez, protege of 3 Michelin-starred deceased Santi Santamaria, overlooks the restaurant but when we were there, chef Kelvin Khok held the fort.

Different from the atas Ola and Tono, the food here is affordable and casual, with a selection from Mexican “Tacos and Quesadillas”, Peruvian “Anticuchos” (skewers), Latin American sandwiches like Argentinian “Choripanes” and Venezuelan ” Pepitos.”

Chilli Con Carne ($10)

From the “Appetisers” section, the chilli con carne ($10) was the best thing we ate that night. Usually the bean stew has a starchy texture, but this one is nicely thick but doesn’t come across as starchy. It is topped with conja cheese, corn, and chimichurri (I think). It is super complex with great depths: pungent, tangy, very slightly sweet. The well-marinated beef pieces bolster the dish, making it very intense. It’s a must-order here.

Beef Anticuchos ($16)

We did not order anything from the “Soup & Salad” section, nor from the Mexican “Tacos” and “Quesadillas.” We did order the Peruvian anticuchos, which is a name for skewers. It is so smart of them to put the skewers on fries so that the delicious juices can flow on the fries. And the fries are super tasty; they have a seafood-y flavour.

The beef skewers come across as slightly chewy at first, but the flavours with chimichurri, a pepper sauce (I think), and lots of onions make the dish dance.

Peruvian pan con chicharron ($22)

From the “Latino sandwiches” section, the pork belly chicharron sandwich is amazing. Instead of little sliced pieces of pork belly, it comes as a whole slab, half-inch thick, which creates a fantastic mouthbite. The pork is not gamy and super flavourful, tender, slightly sweet. It’s topped with strips of sweet potato which give the sandwich a really nice crunch. Even the bun is of a high quality.

Tres Leches ($8)

Tres Leches is a sponge cake soaked in three types of milk: evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream. It sounds heavy but Tonito’s version is very light, drizzled with a tangy passionfruit compote to undercut the sweetness, and sprinkled with coconut flakes to provide texture. It is this sort of thoughtfulness in conceptualising the dishes—a wide variety of contrasting flavours and textures in every dish–that makes this restaurant so great.

As you can see from the photo of the restaurant, the clientele at Tonito is very different from Ola and Tono. Ola and Tono have working executives with a high spending power, whereas Tonito seems to be more of a family restaurant. And I really appreciate bringing such tasty Latin American food to a wider group of people. We paid $70 for two persons and we were very, very full. Highly recommended.

Jewel Changi Airport, 78 Airport Boulevard #02-248, Singapore 819666
tel: +65 6904 3975
10am-3pm, 5pm – 9pm, open daily

Service: 5.5/10
Food: 8/10
Decor / Ambience: 6.25/10
Price / Value: 6.25/10

You may be interested in…
Papi’s Tacos, Seah Street: Damn Happening and Authentic Mexican Joint
The Lime Truck @ Pasarbella Suntec: Tex-Mex Tacos at its Best
LES45, Singapore Land Tower: Delicious, Affordable Mexican Food with a Beautiful View
Chimichanga, Dunlop Street: Affordable Mexican Food at a Hipster Joint

Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.

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