interesting and very expensive food in chinatown. so esquina is part of a spate of celebrity-chef openings in singapore (which I think have been a reason for the rising prices of dining out) – and more interestingly it has been set up by jason atherton, of british and pollen-street-social fame. there has been such hype about this restaurant, about how this tiny place of a bar has been racking up hour-and-more waits with fantastic ground-breaking food that I went with high expectations, waited an hour, and really just to let you know up front: I left with exactly the same sense of being underwhelmed as I did after pollen street.
this place has a cool vibe, with a long bar and very little standing space, high chairs and an open kitchen where you can see the chefs and sous-chefs pattering about. it’s pretty much organised chaos in the kitchen area, with the sous-chefs prepping things for the head chef to arrange artistically on platters – but there was one guy in there who seemed to just be in charge of slicing the iberico thinly. they were cool though, and very friendly to us two girls. the waiters mostly knew what they were on about, and were brilliant. the people made the experience, really, so kudos for training good staff.
we started off with a platter of iberico bellota – very pretty pork with tasty pork fat. this was pretty expensive, but it was very good ham. it went wonderfully also with our order of tomato bread – I had expected some sort of tomato-tasting foccaccia but it was toast with a concasse of tomatoes atop. tasty, but simple things.
the first of our interesting courses was the slow-cooked egg with bravas sauce, and iberico ham fried up to be like bacon. this was a very breakfasty dish, and pretty tasty if nothing ground-breaking. it was an oozy egg with a few cubes of potato on top of tasty tomato sauce.
the fries came with a chorizo ketchup, but we didn’t really taste much of the rosemary garlic salt, or any salt at all. this required quite a bit more salting on our part, and I felt almost like I was breaking a silent don’t-insult-the-chef-law by asking for salt and pepper grinders. they did give it to me without any issues, and that chorizo ketchup was a dream. very tasty – we asked for more of the ketchup and got it!
the rest of the mains came quickly: the bone marrow with snails and pesto, the ox cheek on yellow mash and a mackerel that was on the daily special’s board. the bone marrow was pretty alright, but required salting, as did the mackerel which was seared and pretty plain. the ox cheek I thought was very good, especially with that strong taste of cumin (though the presence of the spice put my companion off) – it was tender, fell apart easily, and was remarkably tasty and comforting with the mash. this was the level of cooking I had been hoping for in the entire meal, and I have to say it is probably the only dish that I would reorder if I went back.
they ran out of the gambas that night (we started ordering at 2030 so fair enough) so we went with the squid. this was salt-and-pepper baby squid on a bed of squid ink aioli (that I didn’t discover until the end since it was at the bottom). we were anticipating this quite a lot, but it wasn’t that great – the squid wasn’t bad by any means, but I think some cze-char stores probably have better salt-and-pepper squid with fleshier pieces. that aioli was also a little musty – swiping the squid through it made me feel a little like I was eating something out of an old cupboard so I smeared it all off, and those tiny pieces of squid went down quick enough.
our last order was the iberico-foie-gras burger. now I don’t eat foie gras, but my companion let me know that the bun was toasty and tasty, but the patty itself wasn’t that great.
I was happy enough to move onto dessert, at this point really a bit fuller than I would have expected. there was a complimentary amuse-bouche of a berry-sangria ice cream in a tiny cone – very icy and not-quite-smooth, almost as though the ice cream hadn’t been churned well enough and had too-large crystals. we ordered the grilled pineapple salad as well as the chocolate mousse with olive oil jelly. the first came with a marvellous coconut-lychee jelly. the pineapple was done in the josper grill – which you could see in action from the bar – and came darkly caramelised and sliced very thinly – fantastically refreshing. the second dessert was pretty good, with a rich chocolate mousse on bits of yellow olive oil jelly (that reminded me of vaseline) – interesting but maybe not so much to my taste. we heard the creme brulee is very good, but we were at our limits that night so perhaps you could and let me know how you like it.
so we spent more than three hundred that night between the two of us – and this tab was easy enough to build with most dishes costing more than twenty and each plate coming decorated but really small. very expensive, and really this was an uncomfortable sort of deja vu as with the meal at dinner by heston. I would go back for the ox cheek, to try the creme brulee, and for the good service from the staff, but with such prices and at least an hour’s wait (no reservations taken) for dinner, I’m not entirely sure when that would be.
p.s. I’m sorry this ended up being nearly essay-like, but I thought we had traversed a good bit of the menu and you might be interested in how it went!
Agree on your point about Esquina being severely overpriced, even though I didn’t pay anywhere near as much as you. I thought the food was overall pretty decent for Singapore standards though
I did think the food pretty interesting – but yes it was overpriced, and it makes me ever-wary of eating out at celebrity restaurants in singapore, which I think haven’t lived up to the hype or the astronomical prices they charge!
Fine dining in Singapore is generally overpriced, just compare our Robuchon prices with HK/Macau or even Tokyo, not to mention Waku Ghin being more expensive than Tetsuya’s. I dont know if you’ve heard, but Atherton has a new place, its casual food, but not casual enough considering he still manages to charge $18 for a hotdog. I dont think I’ve ever been truly satisfied after eating at a ‘hyped’ restaurant in Singapore, except maybe Catalunya. Tiong Bahru bakery is probably the worst, Iggy’s the most disappointing
Do you suppose it’s because locally we attribute quite a lot to being cool and in-the-know? I used to really want to visit Iggy’s – until I went to London and then came back to news that standards had dropped. I don’t think I’ll visit another Atherton – I haven’t had good results there.
Also I truly enjoy your writing! Your photos make me want to go to Catalunya – have been thinking about it for a couple of months now
I think alot of Singaporeans, especially food bloggers, are too eager to jump on bandwagons, anything that is new or hyped needs to be visited ASAP, I guess these are the restaurants that will get you hits on your blog; but just after opening is one of the worst times to visit a restaurant because there’s still a lot of unforeseen issues that the restaurant will have to deal with, it’s a constant trial and error process until they iron things out
I don’t know what to say about iggys. It should not be as highly ranked as it is, and it has been steadily going up the Worlds 50 best list, plus it has topped the Miele guide for years and years now, I’ve heard rumors that the ranking is due to Ignatius’s influence as a businessman, I wouldn’t discount that possibility. If I had that kind of cash now, i would probably go to Andre or Tippling club
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