Thursday 3 May 2012

Jason Atherton's Esquina, Singapore

Jason Atherton is a chef who needs little introduction but many UK diners may not have heard of his Esquina Tapas Bar, which launched in Singapore last year. Since opening it has become one of the most talked about places in town; perhaps second only to his restaurant ‘Pollen’ that is set to open within the giant ‘Flower Dome’ conservatory at Gardens by the Bay.

Jason Atherton's 'Pollen' - Garden's By The Bay
For those that don’t know Jason, he has a pretty impressive CV, having trained under Pierre Koffmann (at La Tante Claire), Nico Ladenis before joining Marco Pierre White at Harvey’s and then at Restaurant Marco Pierre White at the Hyde Park Hotel.

After stints with Stephen Terry at Coast and at Oliver Peyton’s Mash & Air in Manchester, Jason became the first British chef to complete a stage at Ferran Adrià’s three-Michelin-star El Bulli  (1998). In 2002, he joined another former Marco Pierre White protégé from Harvey’s, Gordon Ramsay as the executive chef of the Verre and Glasshouse restaurants in Dubai.

In 2005 back in London, Jason launched Maze for Ramsay, winning a Michelin star within a year of opening. Five years later, he resigned to set up Pollen Street Social – again winning a Michelin star within a year of opening.

Over the past couple of years, a lot of ‘celebrity chefs’ have been lured to Singapore; but whilst his contemporises, such as Guy Savoy, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Wolfgang Puck and Tetsuya Wakuda have all opted to open in the city’s shiny new Marina Bay Sands complex, Jason has teamed up with local businessman Loh Lik Peng (also an investor in The World’s 58th Best Restaurant: André) to revive a traditional ‘shophouse’ on the corner of the up and coming Jiak Chuan Road.

Heading up Esquina is Chef Andrew Walsh - a former Pollen Street Social executive sous chef, who also worked for Richard Corrigan and Tom Aikens. Inside the décor is a mixture of Cuban cool and essence of Lower East Side New York set around a counter-bar that seats 12 (albeit rather uncomfortably on hard metal tractor seats).

My stepson has been a regular since it opened and knew that in order to bag a seat we would have to be there as they opened at six. The venue was soon heaving. Service was slick and chef Andrew Walsh was a star in the kitchen, working with zeal and passion all night. What follows is a brief description of the dishes we shared along with my opinions:

Ibérico Bellota – ham simply does not come better than this.

Oysters and Vietnamese dressing – I love oysters and am always interested to try different dressings. The Asian flavours with a hint of smoky barbeque worked well.

Ham Croquetas – meltingly good Manchego, ham and crispy breadcrumbs = perfection.

Tomato Bread – good, simple fare.

Baked Eggs, anchovy, capers, onions and lemon – I loved this simple dish; you cannot go wrong with those flavour combinations. I remember once watching an episode of the ‘Two Fat Ladies’ when Jennifer said to her co-star, something along the lines of, “ Clarissa, I could not possibly be friends with someone who doesn’t like anchovies and capers.” – I am inclined to agree!

Gambas with chilli garlic and orzo pasta – so eager was I to tack into these beauties, unusually, I forget to take a photo of the complete dish.

Tuna Tartare with avocado and sesame – a very good dish, well conceived, well seasoned and attractively presented.

Scallop ceviche and radish salsa – rounding off a trio of super seafood dishes, the ceviche was fresh, vibrant and beautifully pepped up by the radishes.

Heritage Tomato and Sherry dressing – my favourite dish on the menu; so good we ordered another.

Toasted sourdough and aioli – not overly impressed with this; the bread was too hard and the aioli lack lustre.

Aged rib-eye and Chimmichurri dressing – I was disappointed in this dish; the meat was a little tough and the dressing tasted too string of raw spring opinion.

Confit pork belly, chorizo, white beans, paprika skin – a hearty dish like this should be packed full of flavour; I found the meat too dry and the sauce lacked the desired depth.

Baked bone marrow with snails, parsley and horseradish pesto – competing the trio of disappointing meat dishes, this was the one on paper that I was looking forward to the most. Although impressively presented, the topping was dry and stuck to the roof off the mouth and for the money the amount of marrow was miserly. The snails were however delicious and plump.

Mini cones with Sangría ice-cream – these were spot on; I could have eaten twenty!

Grilled pineapple salad, lime sorbet, coconut lime jelly – a refreshing dish with good tropical flavours and textures.

Pistachio cake, Sangría jam, vanilla ice-cream – a top notch moist pistachio cake, good ice-cream but the jam lacked ‘punch’

Chocolate mouse, sugared bread and orange – very good dish; great textures, good ‘bread’ and rich chocolaty flavour.

Watermelon salad, gazpacho, basil sorbet – the perfect dessert for that hot Singaporean climate; a wonderful dish.

Despite not being too impressed with a couple of meat dishes, the seafood and desserts were all good. The atmosphere and staff made the whole experience memorable – can’t wait to return next year and visit Pollen.

Update: I have since returned and have written a new post - see here


  1. I read your post before I went to Esquina, we had a great meal there:

  2. Great, Informative Post, like this one must be maintained so I'll put this one on my bookmark list. Thanks for this wonderful post and hoping to post more of this. Have Great Day.


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