Nestled inside a two-storey shophouse on a quiet corner just a few strides away from the flurry of Keong Saik Road’s recent restaurant openings, four-year tapas bar veteran Esquina, welcomes Carlos Montobbio as its new executive chef.
Formerly of Fairmont Singapore’s Anti:dote bar, Barcelona-born Carlos is on a mission to showcase the versatility of Spanish food in Singapore with an emphasis on creativity, quality and authenticity, inspired by his fondest memories of home.
Esquina offers a rustic interior and a nightly bustle reminiscent of the vibrant, buzzing atmosphere found in Spain. The ground floor open-kitchen concept and communal seating presents guests with a full view of the chefs in action while the second floor offers a more intimate setting, perfect for private and group dinners.
You’ll be forgiven for thinking you had stepped into a sushi bar with the first new appetiser on the menu, a delectable Spanish nigiri (S$6) presented creatively much like a tuna nigiri, with roasted bell peppers arranged on bacalao brandade or cured salt cod. We would have preferred a stronger kick from the jalapeño ponzu oysters (SG$7) but thoroughly enjoyed the chorizo iberico croquettes (S$12).
The star of the ‘Snacks’ menu, was Chef Carlos’ take on the traditional tortilla Española or Spanish omelette (S$6) which is simply divine. He uses confit onion and a potato puree for a softer, more delicate mouthful served on crispy sourdough bread and finished with a few olive oil caviar. We only wished it were bigger but we won’t lie – we just ordered a second portion.
From the larger tapas section of the menu, dubbed “Soil, Sea and Land,” we tried the beetroot (S$12) pickled for five minutes and served with a whipped truffle burrata, smoked walnuts and raspberries followed by sardines (S$16) with an innovative hot-and-cold version of Samfaina creating a mixture of textures with grilled zucchini, roasted bell pepper sorbet, eggplant caviar and sweet dabs of onion jam.
Four new additions on the menu were definite highlights — the Spanish octopus (S$28), the salted cod “Alkorta” (SG$28), the Australian wagyu beef intercostals (S$26) and the pigeon (S$22). The octopus was beautifully tender – first sous vide and then grilled with a dash of bacon oil and a sprinkle of sweet smoked paprika, plated with a light Jerusalem artichoke puree, pickled seaweed and burnt onion. The salted cod “Alkorta” is known to be one of the best in the world and was prepared with a drizzle of garlic oil, resting on a bed of iberico and tomato chickpeas with a fermented black garlic paste from “Las Pedroneras.”
The beef intercostals were slightly undercooked for our liking but still wonderfully flavoured with a generous scoop of spicy romesco complemented by charred leeks. Finally, the robust yet intricate pigeon, with a deep forest berries escabeche served atop a bed of polenta made with burnt rosemary infused milk, definitely led to some happy sighs.
You wouldn’t do justice to the meal without trying at least one of the three desserts on the menu. We loved the lightly charred marshmallows (S$13) arranged with strawberries, small dollops of olive and vanilla chantilly topped with a refreshing basil sorbet but for richer options, both the “PBJ” peanut butter parfait (S$15) and warm chocolate fondant (S$15) are not to be missed.
Since its inception in late 2011, Esquina has proudly lived up to the Jason Atherton brand, offering some of the best tapas in town. Combine that with a new head chef who, at only 28 years of age, has 10 years of culinary experience and spent time at the most highly recognised and prestigious Michelin starred restaurants, we weren’t surprised that the gastronomic art pieces of the new menu were so delicious. Naturally, we look forward to seeing what else Chef Montobbio will share from his Spanish roots.
Esquina, 16 Jiak Chuan Rd, Singapore 089267, esquina.com.sg