Esquina Tapas Bar
Tucked away in a quiet corner shop house in Teck Lim Road, maybe about ten minutes’ walk from Chinatown MRT is Esquina, a recently opened tapas bar. I must say that this is something like a hidden gastronomic gem.
Tapas are a variety of snacks in Spanish cuisine. In Spain, it is very common for the locals to bar-hop different tapas bar trying out the various tapas offerings to form a full meal.
I visited the place with my wife a few days ago and the place is real tight; there’re maybe around 12 seats along the bar counter (I didn’t really count) with a few tables outside. There’s some standing room just right behind the bar with counters along the wall for placing your drinks. However, Esquina Tapas Bar only serve food for seated guests. Meaning – be prepared to wait for seats to eat. (By the way, I waited for half an hour to get a seat.)
While waiting, I could see the vibrancy of the place. Chefs behind the bar counter were cutting and cooking furiously, while floor staffs were scurrying around with drinks and food. There’s a lot of energy going on there.
Esquina Tapas Bar – Helmed by Jason Atherton
The bar is helmed by Jason Atherton. In case you’re wondering who the hell he is? Well, he was the first British chef to complete a stage at El Bulli. Once known as the most imaginative and creative gastronomy Mecca in the culinary world, El Bulli restaurant was rated number one in the world for a few consecutive years, and to get a reservation there was almost next to impossible.
He was also the protégé of Gordon Ramsay, having work for him for 9 years. Ramsay is that celebrity chef on TV most famously known for his colourful language in “Hell’s Kitchen” with the f-word spilling out from his mouth every two to three sentences. And yes, he’s also that same guy that relishes throwing out unruly customers out of his michelin-starred restaurants.
Just weeks old, Esquina Tapas Bar had earned quite a few regulars. I could tell that it will not be your typical food place; something special is going on there.
Esquina Tapas Bar – The Food
The menu is printed on an A3 size paper which also serves as a table mat. The varieties of tapas offered were quite okay as they also feature ‘Produce of the Day’ on top of the standard menu.
Prices are very fair. A pint of Saint Miguel beer cost me only twelve bucks. I would say dirt cheap compared to the recent price of eighteen bucks that I paid for a small glass of orange juice which wasn’t even completely filled.
Seeing that we were standing for quite some time waiting for those prized seats at the bar counter, a very friendly staff gave us some complimentary spiced nuts. A very nice gesture, kudos to that!
I love “sotong”, so naturally I ordered the Salt & Pepper Baby Squid with Squid Ink Aioli. The most important thing in cooking squid is not to overcook it, otherwise it will be just like chewing a piece of rubber band. The baby squids were tender and flavourful. A very nice dish.
I love eggs and am fascinated by the myriads of ways to prepare them. Quite obviously, I ordered the “Slow-cooked egg, bravas sauce, potato & crispy iberico” to see Chef Jason Atherton’s interpretation of slow-cooked eggs. It was a delicious dish with all the classic winning combinations of eggs, potatoes, and bacon.
I saw the chef cooking a huge prawn in front of me and asked if that’s the local gambas that selling for $15 for five pieces.
“Oh no, this is big. It’s the Madagascar,” Chef Jason replied cheerfully. “Would you like to try some?”
I answered, “Yes, please.”
Of course I need to try it, ha-ha. The large size prawn was called the “Madagascar” and was selling for $8 per piece. Price was okay compared to what they charge you for a jumbo prawn at Newton. The sauce was a tasty reduction of prawn jus with chillies and garlic, topped with a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Very Asian flavours which are what the chef was known for during his time at Maze restaurant.
Next to come were the “Pork cheek, (beans on toast), morcilla sausages, and mushroom ketchup.” Meat was braised till fork-tender and goes very well with the beans. Toast was there to mop up that delicious sauce. Hmmmm… Yummy!
By now, I was feeling as high as a goddamn kite from all those awesome stuffs. From where I was seated, I could see one of the chefs cooking some lamb chops in the fiery hot charcoal oven.
“That should be mine,” I salivated at the mere thought of it.
My “Lamb chop, wet polenta, smoked anchovy, and black olive” soon arrived. Flavours compliment beautifully, with the anchovies providing that salty explosion and umami hit. The meat was nicely done; still juicy and pinkish. My only complain was that the charred was a little too much for me. It tasted slightly bitter.
I ordered the Santiago tart but was informed that it was sold out. The waiter recommended me the “Crèma Catalan, truffle honey, and raspberries” instead, saying it was his favourite dessert. I went along with his recommendation and was not disappointed. This dessert is rich creamy custard, not unlike crème brulée. But what made it so special was the truffle honey that was drizzled on top of it. The aroma of the truffle honey brought this ordinary dessert to a new dimension. The acidity of the berries also provided a nice contrast to the rich creamy custard. Very delicious indeed.
Esquina Tapas Bar – My Review
The experience is definitely worth a try. Service was warm and friendly. And where else can you get such quality food cooked right in front of you by a Michelin-starred chef at ordinary cafe prices?
Now that this hidden culinary gem is let out of the bag, be prepared to wait for seats at Esquina Tapas Bar.