From pa amb tomàquet to paella to gambas al ajillo to churros, there are tons of traditional specialties of Spain – plus fusion variations and modern interpretations – to be enjoyed throughout Singapore. We’ve rounded up some of the hottest Spanish spots to try across town.
20 Craig Road
6557 0547 | binomio.sgWho’s cooking: You know Binomio is the real deal in authentic cuisine when you learn that there are five Spaniards in the kitchen. Head honcho is Executive Chef Jose Alonso, who has worked with his homeland’s renowned Santi Santamaria, among other Michelin-award-winners.
What’s cooking: Frankly, everything here is top-notch, so the $88Menu Degustación (minimum two people) is a great strategic choice. Its many highlights range from favourites like jamón Ibérico (36-month cured Spanish ham) and paella (more on this below) to the linguine-looking strips of cuttlefish served in a veal vinaigrette, and simple yet sublime pan-fried crayfish wrapped in pork. If there were some global award for “best-ever croquette”, Binomio’s mushroom variety would win it every time.
I’ll be back for the wondrous-sounding Galician-style seafood pot stew, and, knowing me, probably the braised Iberian pork ribs.
Must-try: The arroz negro (squid-ink paella with clams and calamari) is served in a cast-iron pan, with a rustic wooden spoon for scraping up the socarrat, the golden, caramelised crust that can be found on the bottom of every perfect paella. Magnífico!
Need to know: The word “binomio” means “a pairing” in English, and here it refers to the restaurant’s dual concepts: the fine-dining area where I sat in my state of engorged repose, and the vibrant tapas bar at the street-front. The latter was packed on the Friday night of my visit, with happy punters (mostly Spanish) perched on stools and sampling specials such as Padrón peppers and fideuà (a Valencian seafood dish), along with traditional favourites.
– Shamus Sillar
16 Jiak Chuan Road
6222 1616 | esquina.com.sgWho’s cooking: Barcelona-born Chef Carlos Montobbio, whose first stint in Singapore was at Fairmont Singapore’s Anti:Dote where his Asian-inspired tapas menu won him a finalist nomination for Rising Chef of the Year Award by World Gourmet Summit Awards of Excellence.
What’s cooking: After taking over at Esquina last year, Chef Carlos added his own flair to the menu. Of particular note are the oyster with jalapeño ponzu, salmon roe and pickled ginger flower ($7), Spanish omelette ($6), Spanish nigiri ($6), grilled baby romaine lettuce ($12), and pigeon with forest berries ($22).
Must-try: Don’t leave without having the pickled beetroot with whipped truffle burrata, raspberries and smoked walnuts ($14). The mixture of sweet, salty, tangy flavours along with creamy, soft, crunchy textures is simply divine. The grilled Spanish octopus ($28) is another must; cooked sous vide before being lightly charred on the grill, it has just the right amount of chewiness, and is paired with a creamy Jerusalem artichoke puree. Also delicious is the rich and hearty braised beef and pork cannelloni ($28) served with foie gras, cèpes béchamel and black truffle, though it won’t leave you with much space for anything else!
Need to know: Go early, or book seats at the chef’s table. Watching the 28-year-old head chef and his team grill, fry, sauté and assemble each plate is like watching a practised orchestra that produces the most beautiful symphony, or in this case, Spanish tapas.
– Smita DeSouza
1 Rochester Park
6773 0070 | una.sgWho’s cooking: A team of clever chefs who know a thing or two about Spanish food and definitely appreciate that quality ingredients are the foundation of awesome food – no matter how simple the dish.
What’s cooking: Spanish is a cuisine well suited to outdoor dining, so UNA’s alfresco setting in front of a gorgeous black-and-white house at Rochester Park feels perfect for a casual night out: it’s relaxed, spacious, airy and green. There’s much on the menu to tempt us, and apart from a traditional bowl of green and black marinated olives ($8), we decide to go off-piste and are not disappointed with the simple but deliciously sweet Spanish peppers ($15), creamy béchamel croquette with Ibérico ham ($14) and grilled clams ($18) for starters. This is all washed down far too easily with a fruity jug of, what else, sangria ($70).
There’s a decent interval before the best-selling seafood and chicken paella ($62) is served (all good paella takes time). Top marks for presentation: two luscious king prawns top the thick rice bed with a yummy crust that defines this national dish. The friendly wait staff recommend the highly quaffable house red, a Rioja tempranillo ($18/90), which, unlike some reds, is not too heavy to drink outdoors. We probably didn’t need to have dessert, but who can say no to a serving of churros and chocolate ($14)? We also tried the panna cotta ($15), unusually topped with sherry apricot puree and a crunchy popcorn layer for good measure!
Must-try: The grilled sweet clams with sherry in a tomato and thyme broth.
Need to know: UNA is home to Asia’s first Tio Pepe sherry bar – this is a wine that deserves more attention.
– Katie Roberts
My Little Tapas Bar
42 Club Street
6223 8048 | mylittletapasbar.com.sgWho’s cooking: Founding Chef Maria Sevillano hails from Salamanca, Spain, while Executive Chef Edward Esmero is from Batangas in the Philippines. (His grandmother is half-Spanish.) Also contributing to the menu is Chef Bernat Playa from Girona in Spain, who is the Head Chef of My Little Spanish Place in Seminyak, Bali.
What’s cooking: There are some lovely main courses, but we opted for the “any seven tapas for $85” deal; you can also get a single tapa for $15, three for $42 or five for $65. First came the patatas picantonas, lightly fried potatoes in a fairly spicy tomato aioli, then, my favourite, thecroquetas de jamón– ham-stuffed creamy croquettes. The gambas picantes – succulent tiger prawns cooked in olive oil, garlic, and a secret sauce – and calamares a la Andaluza (Andalusian-style deep-fried crispy calamari) were also tasty, while the huevos al nido, a fried egg with truffle-oil fries and crispy jamón could have been a little more truffly for me. Coco de probadura is a crispy flatbread with a lovely blend of chorizo, caramelised onions, Manchego cheese and pine nuts – this one was very tasty. Last but not least was the chorizo al vino, spicy Spanish sausage cooked in red wine. They also do a great selection of jamón, proudly displayed on stands. Psst! All the tapas go well with the sangria, which is available in red, white and sparkling varieties.
Main courses are reasonably priced too – specials include baby lamb cutlets ($32) and tender beef cheeks ($26). The pastel de lava (chocolate lava cake, $14) is a must for dessert.
Must-try: The croquetas de jamón are so creamy and tasty.
Need to know: My Little Tapas Bar is situated right in the heart of buzzing Club Street; you can choose to dine alfresco or snag a table inside next to the extensive wine collection.
– Jacqui Young
What’s cooking: Traditional Spanish cuisine with all the favourites you’d expect to see on the menu, although the “Tapas Frias” section contains a few curve-balls such as tartare de salmon ($22.90), a fresh, delicious and generous dish of Norwegian salmon with avocado and cucumber.
The “Tapas Calientes” is where the more traditional Spanish fare can be found. We polished off calamares a la Andaluza ($15.90), croquetas de jamón Ibérico ($14) and the tortilla de patatas classica ($12.50), washing it all down with a bottle of classy Spanish Rioja ($115), of course.
Must-try: The secreto Ibérico ($37.50) – grilled acorn-fed Iberian black pig – is tender and naughty, and not for the health conscious!
Need to know: Daily happy hour is from 6pm to 8pm, when ladies receive a free glass of sangria, $10 house pours and complimentary pinchos (Spanish canapés). Oh, and if you’d like to try the whole roasted suckling pig, you’ll need to give 24 hours’ notice.
– Emily Finch
La Ventana by Carles Gaig
#01-0, 16A Dempsey Road
6479 0100 | laventana.com.sgWho’s cooking: It’s a family affair, with Chef Eduard Castellarnau in the kitchen daily, cooking up classic Catalan dishes, many of which have been passed down from his father-in-law, Michelin-starred Spanish Chef Carles Gaig, and, in turn, from his great-grandmother. When Barcelona-born Chef Carles is in Singapore every other month, you can find him warmly serving guests both in the eatery’s beautifully decorated dining room and out on the terrace. You can also find his daughter, Nuria, out on the floor managing the restaurant.
What’s cooking: It’s all super-authentic Catalan tapas and mains here – oh, and delicious sangria (they’ve got both red and white – we preferred the red). We loved the black cod with “pil-pil” ($38) – poached black cod with garlic and olive oil sauce – and the wonderful, sharing-sized black rice paella ($38) – squid ink-infused carnaroli rice with lobster and the fish of the day. Other popular plates include the Cardinal’s Macaroni ($26) – penne layered with acorn-fed Ibérico pork and parmesan cream – and the canelón ($12), traditional cannelloni stuffed with beef, pork and truffle cream – both recipes from the 1860s, passed down through four generations of Gaig family chefs.
For dessert, you must order the signature Catalan “crème brûlée” ($14), made with toffee ice cream – it’s divine.
Must-try: The tender, slow-roasted octopus with potatoes and Spanish smoked paprika ($32) is to die for. It’s not as chewy as you’d expect, and has a nice smoky flavour.
– Amy Greenburg
Ola Cocina del Mar
#01-06 Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3
12 Marina Boulevard
6604 7050 | olarestaurant.sgWho’s cooking: Warm, friendly and an awesome chef to boot, Daniel Chavez is the Peruvian brains behind Ola; his menu is a creative mix of non-traditional Spanish with a Peruvian twist.
What’s cooking: In five years of reviewing, Ola rates in my top five for its friendly staff, homey ambience, excellent food and overall authentic dining experience.
Seated at the counter overlooking the kitchen, we watched dishes being prepared in front of us, and seeing the ingredients on offer, selected heavily from the specials menu. For starters we took the sommelier’s recommendation to pair the Spanish house white Gaba do Xil ($14) with the tuna belly tiradito ($25); and lightly cooked hedgehog mushrooms ($35), freshly flown in from France, with onion puree, dry sherry, lardo di colonato and smoked cheese. A third dish, the Catalanian sausage with chickpeas and chorizo ($22), was from the à la carte menu.
Of four paellas listed, we opted for the utterly traditional Paella Mar y Muntanya ($45) with sausage and saffron, and savoured every last bit of those yummy crisp bits on the side of the pan. The house red, Gazur, is made from a Spanish equivalent of the tempranillo grape ($14), and was a perfect pairing with both the paella and the tender-roasted lamb saddle ($57) with hummus and red wine sauce. We couldn’t miss treating ourselves to churros ($16) for dessert, and alfajor cookies with mango ice cream ($16).
Must-try: The pisco sour ($16) and the tuna belly tiradito, a carpaccio-style Peruvian dish with Japanese influences.
Need to know: Do make a reservation at this very popular restaurant: Daniel greets regular diners like old friends – and the food is amazing.
– Katie Roberts
HOW TO MAKE OLA’S PISCO SOUR
• 60ml pisco
• 30ml lime
• 1 egg white
• Splash of sugar syrup Instructions
1. Place all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously.
2. Add ice and shake a second time.
3. Strain into a short glass and garnish with a few drops of bitters.
40 Hong Kong Street
6100 4040 | focrestaurant.comWho’s cooking: In what is now arguably the continent’s most illustrious stretch of bars – 28 Hong Kong Street having just won “Best Asian Bar” in the 2016 The World’s Best Bar Awards – Chef Jordi Noguera executes a spectacular menu devised by Michelin-starred Chef Nandu Jubany. Dario Knox is mixologist. (And with “foc” meaning “fire” in the Spanish Catalan language, the impulse to promote daily “focktails” on the chalkboard must have been irresistible.)
What’s pouring: The cool and vibey crowd is at least partly here for brilliant cocktails such as the outstanding savoury chilli, tequila-based Bloody Jordie ($16); the rum-based, lemongrass and ginger-infused Blackout in Bangkok ($13), served cunningly in a bottle; or one of umpteen other classic or innovative concoctions on an endless list. Well-priced Spanish wines by the glass include several types of cava (from $13.50).
What’s cooking: An authentic Catalan menu. Highly recommended by our friendly and enthusiastic server is the unforgettable Galician-style octopus ($22), slow-cooked, chargrilled and served on crushed potato. Equally perfect is the grilled peppers plate ($12), two different varieties with a smear of creamy tapenade; a generous bowl of garlicky prawns al ajillo ($20); braised beef-cheek sliders ($16 for two) with mustard and kimchi mayo; lamb ribs with curry yoghurt and eggplant puree ($22 for two chops); and lemon cake ($12) for a sweet finish. Focking marvellous!
Must-try: The Galician-style octopus.
Need to know: You must book. At 7.30pm on a Wednesday, the two-roomed shophouse is filled to capacity, including its full-length and festive bar.
– Verne Maree
Salt Tapas Bar & Grill
#01-22A Raffles City Shopping Centre
6837 0995 | salttapas.comWho’s cooking: The Spanish-inspired arm of the Salt brand founded by Luke Mangan, Salt Tapas & Bar is helmed by Executive Chef Ronald Li, who has also worked at such establishments as the Four Seasons Hotel Singapore and Brasserie Wolf.
What’s cooking: In addition to light nibbles such as the moreish chilli salt and pepper squid with yuzu mayo ($14), there’s a new brunch menu from 11.30am to 3pm on weekends, serving up smaller, tapas-style plates. New dishes include the cigar omelette with mushroom sauce and green onions ($15); flavoured with truffle sauce, butter and dashi, it boasts an intense, earthy flavour. We also tried the Spanish omelette with spicy sauce ($15), a mix of sautéed diced tomato, onion, potato, bell peppers, house-made chorizo and chives; not too hot, but very flavourful. Also worth the calories are the grilled sirloin with mash, watercress salad, poached egg and madeira dressing ($18) and the juicy scallops with pancetta crisp, green tomato chutney and apple and chives ($25); both dishes come expertly cooked with creative flavour combinations. You can also accompany your brunch with a little tipple like the Luke Mangan Sangria ($18 for a glass, $47 for a jug or, if you’re up for it, $125 for a punchbowl!); or, if you’re feeling more saintly, a fresh juice like the green Mr Romaine ($8) may be more up your street.
Must-try: Don’t skip dessert. The French toast with Okinawa ice cream, clotted cream and house-made mango jam ($15) is absolute heaven.
– Susannah Jaffer
You don’t have to come from a line of Spanish chefs to be passionate about Spain and its culinary specialties. Ken Lim, owner of Don Quijote restaurant, is a perfect example. Having previously worked in IT, Singaporean-born Ken transitioned to the restaurant industry nine years ago after a visit to Macau, where he stumbled upon the Don Quijote restaurant there – owned and run by a Spanish woman looking to sell the business.
Ken brought the eatery to Singapore in 2008 and, since then, has taken eight trips around Spain, falling even more in love with the country and its cuisine each time. We spoke to him about his favourite dishes, and what to try at Don Quijote.
This article first appeared in the May edition of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe
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