Tag Archives: tapas

Salt Tapas & Bar

Dukkah crusted Tasmanian trout with Israeli couscous in a cucumber, tomato and dill broth

Salt Tapas & Bar at Raffles City is a place to sit back and relax and enjoy lots of little (or larger) plates of tapas with a modern Australian influence. They have a lunch menu on weekdays – where you have a selection of entrees, larger plates and sides.

I started with slow-cooked octopus with celeriac, apple, saffron rouille and dried black olive. The octopus was sweet and tender with no hint of toughness that can sometimes come with octopus (I watched a Greek cooking show where they tenderise the octopus first by bashing it repeatedly on a rock until its “soapiness” is released on the rock. Apparently in commercial kitchens they do this in a cement mixer !). The celeriac and apple were finely julienned and provided a crisp freshness to the rich saffron rouille.

Slow-cooked octopus with celeriac, apple, saffron rouille and dried black olive

For my main I had dukkah crusted Tasmanian trout, Israeli couscous, cucumber, tomato and dill broth. This is the first time I’ve had Israeli couscous and it’s delicious. It has a very satisfying springy, chewy texture that I equated to the tapioca balls in the Taiwanese “bubble teas”.

The trout was perfectly cooked so it was still pink in the centre and that broth it came swimming in – absolutely divine. It really brought that entire dish together with the acidity from the tomatoes and was so fragrant from the dill. And the dukkah crust on the trout gave the dish a lovely nutty flavour and texture.

You can also order a la carte during lunch but I was in a “can’t decide” mood and the only thing I ordered off the lunch menu was a side order of Jamon Iberico. Not because I felt I needed it because the portion sizes are pretty generous here. Just because I could.

Salt Tapas and Bar
#01-22A, Raffles City Shopping Centre
No 252, North Bridge Road

Tel: +65 6837 0995

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Restaurant Cal Pep, Barcelona

Assorted fried seafood – crispy deliciousness

An absolute must-go for tapas when in Barcelona. Get to Cal Pep early – you can’t book, and the word is out – the 20 stools in the front room were full as soon as the doors opened for lunch at 1.

We chatted to the waiter at the counter, asked for our favourites (pimentos, clams) and then left it to him to recommend, based on what produce they had that day. There didn’t seem to be an enormous range – the waiter explaining that ingredients are kept to a minimum, with the emphasis on freshness. Just the way we like it.

Every dish was a stunner. Josep Manubens Figueres, the chef and owner (“Pep” is a common Catalan nickname for Josep), ensures the seafood at his tapas bar is the freshest that is available every morning at the fish auctions along the nearby Costa Brava every morning.

Cooks wait patiently until the first order comes in, and then they come in flying, thick and fast, with no reprieve, and what I can only describe as “organised chaos” ensues.

Chick peas with fried spinach and jamon

The dish of deep-fried seafood – lightly floured small fish, squid, calamari rings and small prawns – came out crispy and tasted of each individual piece of seafood, not just randomly of oil. The chick peas and vibrantly green spinach (not at all overcooked or gloppy) had bits of fried jamon, imparting the dish with its flavour and providing a nice contrast in texture.

There was just one meat dish – a speciality of the house – botifarra de porc amb foie d’ànec fresc, pork sausage with foie gras and port wine, served in inch-long slices over white beans.

Saffron milk cap mushrooms cooked on the grill

We also tried for the first time some mushrooms we saw at the Boqueria, the saffron milk cap. Bright orange in colour with deep green stains (which apparently appear when the mushrooms have been handled) – the flavour is mild and the texture is almost “crunchy”.

Simplicity is the key to the beauty of each dish – with every plate, there was nothing that didn’t absolutely have to be there.

Remember to get there early – or be prepared to stand impatiently behind diners like us. Their schedule is complicated, so check their website to find when they are open.

Cal Pep
Plaça de les Olles, 8, Barcelona
Tel: 011-34-93-310-7961


Bar Alfalfa, Seville, Spain

Provolone al horno – molten baked cheese

Seville is a compact town where walking around is feasible, and for us, preferable, as you get to appreciate and soak in the atmosphere of new cities faster. As we walked to and from our gorgeous hotel AlmaSevilla – Hotel Palacio de Villapanés to the sights around Seville, we passed by many, many tapas bars, of which one was always full, with people spilling out on to the street late into the night (which was probably just normal for the Spanish as they really do eat late).

Chicharrón – deep-fried pork rinds

On the corner of Alfalfa and Candilejo, and with the easy-to-remember name, it was easy to see just to be there.

In Bar Alfalfa we found a few dishes which we hadn’t seen as often in other bars. A Moroccan-inspired pork belly stew with apricots and raisins, artery-clogging (and of course delicious) chicharrón – seasoned and deep fried pork rinds, and a simple dish of marinated sardines on toast, dressed with a good glug of olive oil. And the amazing Provolone al horno – baked cheese.

Marinated sardines on toast

Add funky tunes and ice-cold beer and sherry and that was a happy afternoon spent in Seville.

Bar Alfalfa
Corner of Calles Alfalfa and Candilejo
Seville, Spain

Open: around lunchtime till late


El Rinconcillo, Seville, Spain

Hand-carved Jamon Iberico Bellota and our tapas bill in chalk on the counter

So last year’s European trip for D and I was Spain.  We have heard so much about this country – and when we started doing some research into where we wanted to go, the first thing I realised was how much I underestimated the size of this country.  With just two weeks we decided to eat our way through just three cities, Seville, Grenada and Barcelona.

Coquinas – small clams cooked on the grill with garlic and flat-leaf parsley

My previous experience of Spanish food has of course been tapas, of which there seem to be many, and if you think about the basics of tapas, shouldn’t really be that difficult – good produce, simply cooked. But similar to my experiences of tapas outside of Spain, even in Spain, there’s a clear divide. If it’s good, then it’s GREAT. If it’s not, well then it’s pretty disappointing – there wasn’t really any inbetween.

We started in Seville. The city where there are over 4,000 tapas bars. Home of sherry and from where apparently tapas originated. Our first night we went on a recommendation of a friend to visit El Rinconcillo – the oldest tapas bar in the region. The tavern is packed to the gills with tourists and locals. Family-run, the men that run the bar (and I assume those in the kitchen – all we saw were hands) are ultra efficient – turnover is the key to this place. Not a lot of smiling goes on here – this is serious business. The interior is dimly lit, lots of dark wood and barrels for people to gather around, and the ubiquitous legs of Iberico ham hanging from the ceiling. We were lucky to score some space at the counter, and there, as each of your order is served, they write the cost down on the counter in chalk.

Slow-cooked pork cheek

Guidebooks tell you that you should go from tapas bar to tapas bar, sampling different things at each, as each will specialise in one or two things. We had so much fun at El Rinconcillo that we racked up a ridiculously long tab, what with all the food we kept ordering while the ice-cold cerveza (beer) and fino (sherry) kept flowing.

Bacalao – battered salt cod

Our favourites ? Coquinas – small clams, simply cooked a la plancha (on the grill) with lashings of garlic and flat-leaf parsley, slow-cooked pork cheek, bacalao – salt cod with a crispy light batter and of course, hand-carved jamon Iberico bellota. This is the best ham in the world, made from free-range pigs which feed on black acorns, cured for five years, giving it a deep, rich, intense flavour that seems to get better the more you chew it.

Definitely a recommendation if you want to get a true experience of Spanish tapas – the atmosphere, service and of course, the food here is excellent.

El Rinconcillo
40, Gerona St. and 2, Alhóndiga St. 41003 SEVILLE.
Tel: +34 954 223 183.
Email: info@elrinconcillo.es

Open: 1 p.m. to 1.30 a.m daily


Pinotxo Bar, Barcelona

Really ? I am quite horrified that I am writing about a bar I went to in OCTOBER LAST YEAR, when we are almost at the end of February ! No excuses, just happy that I finally am finding the time to update my blog.

Barcelona was one of the cities we visited in our Spanish escapade. It was actually after visiting Seville, which is the informal “home of tapas”, so we took a risk with tapas in the super-touristy (but still sublime) Mercat de la Boqueria just off the Ramblas.

But how could we go there and not visit the 14-stool Pinotxo (pee-no cho) – an establishment in the Market. Pinotxo’s nephew, chef Albert Asin, mans the tiny stove in the tiny kitchen. There is a menu, although it’s just easier to look at the produce they have behind the counter, and order what looks good and takes your fancy. (Ok, it was also because everything on the menu was Spanish and they don’t understand me when I speak Spanish). But with the bar inside a foodie’s delight of a market – how much fresher can your produce get ?

Of course we had to start with the requisite Spanish peppers – padron – and crusty bread rubbed with fresh tomato. That was just to whet our appetites, along with icy cold beers.

Some gorgeously plump and red langoustines were cooked a la plancha, with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt at the end and a thick fillet of codfish, also straight on the grill, with a bowl placed over it to steam.

One of the waiters was sitting next to me having his lunch and he was eating a simple pasta, which of course meant that I had to have what he was having ! Penne with a simple ragu sauce. Again delicious.

How they manage to get the food cooked so perfectly, at such a pace, in that tiny space, is beyond me. But then that’s why Pinotxo as been around for almost 100 years now.

Pinotxo Bar
Plaza de la Boqueria
Ramblas, Barcelona


Catalunya

Jamón ibérico “Gran Reserva” served with crusty bread topped with crushed tomatoes and olive oil

I’ve been waiting with much anticipation for Catalunya to open. Excited about the prospect of enjoying dishes created by a crack team with executive chef Alain Devahive Tolosa – who has worked in the wonderfully creative El Bulli – and eating them in the incredible floating restaurant in One Fullerton, was a way of us to experience a bit of El Bulli, especially since we were unable to visit before it closed.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What you get, is a very simple, traditional Spanish menu, including snacks, cold and hot tapas, meat and seafood.

Realising that we were about to do our usual and order everything off the menu (our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs), we agreed that in order to enjoy the food, we would stick to either tapas or mains. Tapas won the toss.

We started with Jamón ibérico “Gran Reserva” – cured Iberian ham, along with the recommended bread with tomato and olive oil. The ham was delicious (it always is!), beautifully paired with the crusty bread with a refreshing topping of crushed tomatoes and olive oil.

Tomato salad with tuna belly and basil

Second to the table was a tomato salad with tuna belly and basil. Perhaps my love of Japanese food influenced my order here – I read “tuna belly” and thought “toro” sashimi – with its delicate fresh flavour of the sea. What was served was cooked tuna belly, which, with toro on my mind, made me think of tinned tuna. What a waste of such a prized piece of fish to cook it completely through. The wonderful creaminess of the tuna belly was completely lost and what we got was flakes of cooked tuna in a tomato salad. Even the sweetness of the tomato salad couldn’t redeem this dish for me.

We then were served calamari, andalucian style, served with mayonnaise. Sadly, this dish was also a disappointment. The batter was light, but greasy and also lacking in seasoning, so it ended up tasting very bland, even with the mayonnaise.

Suckling pig with lemon purée

Redemption came in the form of roasted sucking pig with lemon purée. Suckling pig is obviously a Spanish speciality, and  the chefs at Catalunya executed this perfectly. Roasting slowly for over 12 hours means tender and juicy meat, with perfectly crisp skin. Suckling pig is a very rich dish, and the lemon puree adds fresh dimension that brings this dish alive in your mouth as well as balancing the richness. Our waiter explained that the puree was potato based, and the flavour of the lemon came from the white pith. There was such a zingy lemon flavour that I would have thought it was from lemon oil or the rind and there was absolutely no bitterness that I associate with the pith. Gorgeous dish.

Estrallados – eggs with fries and chorizo iberico

The last savoury dish we ordered was estrallados, eggs with fries and chorizo iberico. This was served to us exactly as it was described – scrambled eggs with fried slices of potato, topped with thin slices of chorizo. This was tasty, although I felt like I should have had that for breakfast, or at least while the sun was still out.

Torrija – fried milk bread with spices with smoked milk ice-cream

The final dish was a great way to finish the evening – torrija – fried milk bread with spices with smoked milk ice-cream. It seemed really odd on paper, it was really odd in real life, but my goodness, how that oddness worked ! I tried the smoked milk ice-cream first – an explosion of smokiness in a mouthful of cold milky ice-cream. And then the fried milk bread – dense and chewy and intensely sweet, the two apart were almost too much for my senses, together, perfectly balanced.

The restaurant is stunning from the outside – a floating dome of glass floating on top of the waters at Marina Bay, and from the inside it is luxurious and comfortable, with an equally stunning panoramic view of Marina Bay Sands across the water. Attentive and competent staff round out the experience of dining at this chic restaurant. Dress to impress !

Catalunya
The Fullerton Pavilion
82 Collyer Quay
Singapore
Tel: 6534 0886

Open daily: 12 noon to 2am


Oenotheque by Wine Universe

Potatoes roasted with garlic, thyme & smoked paprika and aioli dip

I was lucky enough to score some drinking time with my friend C, and as I was around Suntec, we decided to go to Oenotheque by Wine Universe, a modern French and Swiss wine bar/restaurant. Part-owned by Mag of Mag’s Wine Kitchen on Circular Road, I had the pleasure of attending their opening in 2009, and D and I have eaten there a few times, but it has been a while since I’ve been, so it was good to know that it’s still as stellar as I remembered it to be.

We started with an Alsace Pinot Gris which was suspiciously rosé coloured and came in a frosted riesling bottle – which screamed sweet and sticky to us, but it was a lovely refreshingly light and crisp wine that went down a treat in the heat of the evening. We then moved on to a Pinot Blanc, although I have to admit that by that stage I didn’t pay much attention to the label or where it was from 🙂

We ordered from the snack menu (although it’s referred to as tapas menu, which I thought confusing as to the type of cuisine you get there) and all the recommendations from the friendly staff made C and I ‘exclaim’ a lot about just how yummy they were.

The three dishes we snacked on were potatoes roasted with garlic, thyme and smoked paprika that was served with a mild aioli dip, parma-ham wrapped asparagus and enoki, and tiger prawns baked with spinach and raclette cheese.

Unfortunately the photos that I took from my iPhone in the dim lighting didn’t do the food any justice at all, which is a shame, because the asparagus and prawns were both outstanding. Asparagus, mushrooms and ham are a great combination and they were cooked to perfect crunchiness (for the asparagus), squishy juiciness (for the enoki) and salty crispiness (for the parma-ham). The prawns were served four on a plate with spinach, and with four squares of raclette cheese grilled on top (so that the plate was searingly hot). The melted cheese made them look almost like translucent ravioli on the plate and the delicate flavours of the spinach and prawns complemented the strong raclette cheese.

Wine Universe is located at Millenia Walk, and although it’s a large restaurant on a corner, it’s understated decor means it’s easy to miss – although I am sure it gets tons of business from the Suntec area.  Which is fab because we want it to stick around for as long as Mag’s !

Oneotheque byWine Universe
9 Raffles Boulevard #01-109, Millenia Walk
Tel: 63380717


Bilbao – the sequel

Marinated olives

Keen to check out the restaurant that let brought me Iberico ham from a supermarket, D and I went to visit Bilbao at TripleOne Somerset.

It’s a strange location in a strange shopping centre. There is indoor dining in airconditioned comfort but open to part of the shopping centre, so I think lacks ambience, or outdoor dining, which D and I just can’t do in the current heat of Singapore, but is enclosed and I think would be a much more authentic dining experience.

Iberico ham with fresh tomato puree 

The menu looked fantastic though.  We were feeling indecisive so opted for the tapas which allowed us to sample lots of dishes on the menu, thinking if they were good, we could always come back to try the main courses.

We ordered marinated olives, mixed paella, chorizo, sliced Iberico ham, Cochinillo and calamares.

The paella was really bland and the chorizo came sliced and fried, and I think it was meant to be cooked in white wine, but really it tasted like someone had just splashed white wine over the cooked chorizo before serving.

Cochinillo – rolled suckling pig

Even the Iberico ham didn’t have the depth of colour or flavour as the one that I was able to purchase in the supermarket. It was as if it was not aged as long, but the tomato puree that was served with it, along with toasted bread was absolutely delicious.  Light and refreshing and sweet to complement the saltiness of the ham.

The Cochinillo – a roll of tender suckling pig wrapped in crispy skin and deep fried was lovely, served with a drizzle of vinaigrette.  To be fair though, deep fried suckling pig would be good any which way.

It was quite disappointing to have all those dishes and to have the standout being the side condiment on another dish.  I think for tapas, Tapas Y Bodega is still our favourite in Singapore.

Bibao 
111 Somerset Road #02-16 Singapore (formerly known as the PUB building)
Tel: 6737 0150


Terrific Tapas in Tanglin

Calamares – lightly floured and deep fried squid rings

Well, it’s not officially in Tanglin, but Orchard Road didn’t sound as good 🙂

Good tapas seems to be very hit and miss.  Which surprises me because the preparation of the dishes is relatively simple – tapas relies on good produce to speak for itself.  The few places we’ve tried in Singapore are more for convenience – like Que Pasa, because it’s a lovely place to have a bottle of wine rather than because of the food (although the food there is certainly passable).

Marinated mixed olives

Trying to find a restaurant that was open on the second day of Chinese New Year seemed to be a problem, and we were thrilled that Bodega Y Tapas on Orchard Road was a) open and b) had space for us.  It was busy when we got there, which it always seems to be when I pass it, and we were quickly ushered to our lounge chairs to have our dinner indoors.  The space indoors doesn’t allow for larger groups but it’s a nice intimate area to have dinner for two or maybe three people.

The tapas menu is extensive, which made choosing difficult, but one of the benefits of tapas is that you can sample lots of little dishes.

A generous bowl of marinaded mixed olives started the meal, which worked wonderfully with the sangria that I ordered.

jamon iberico de bellota

Then came 80g of jamon iberico de bellota – ham made from free-range pigs fed exclusively on black acorns and aged for 36 months.  I love that it was hand-carved from the actual leg of the ham – it adds a certain rustic feel to the ham and I swear it makes it taste better than the machine-sliced iberico ham that you get in the hotel buffets.  Although, to be fair, serve it to me any way and I love this stuff.  It’s the sort of ham that you chew and chew and almost don’t want to swallow so that you can savour the intense flavour of the ham (including the fat) in your mouth.  I recall a very good tip from Chef Ryan Clift of Tippling Club, which was the longer you chewed jamon Iberico, the better the flavour, as it “excites” all the different taste bud sensations on your tongue.

Cold cut meat platter

We also ordered a platter of cold cuts – the waitress was a bit vague on exactly what was on the plate but we had two types of pork sausage (one with and the other without chilli), air-dried beef (sort of like bresaola but with a more jerky appearance, served with a drizzle of olive oil and slivered almonds) and a dried sliced pork loin.  Also on this dish were baguette slices that had a dollop of delicious finely chopped tomato salsa that you could almost serve as gazpacho.  It was light and refreshing and absolutely worked with the cured meat.

Lightly floured and deep fried anchoview

For warm food we had chorizo – simply fried, and calamari and anchovies, both lightly floured and deep fried, which, for me, were the winners of the evening.  The calamari was soft and tender – not overcooked or tough, and served with a garlic mayonnaise – quite standard, but probably the best I’ve had in a while, and the anchovies just needed a squeeze of lemon juice over them to be eaten whole.  Again, I love anchovies, and these reminded me of the fantastic ones we had at Valentinos.

All in all, this is a brilliant find for D and I and if our dinner last night was anything to judge the rest of the food there by, I know we’ll be back again to work our way through that menu.

Bodega Y Tapas
Orchard Hotel
442 Orchard Road
Tel: 6735 3476