Esquina, on Jiak Chuan Road, is one of Singapore’s most hip and happening eateries in the burgeoning Bukit Pasoh Conversation Area. The area now boasts the likes of: the acclaimed Restaurant Andre on Bukit Pasoh Road (here); Lucha Loco on Duxton Hill; Keong Saik Snacks on Keong Saik Road (here) and The Cufflink Club (also on Jiak Chuan Road.)
These restaurants and bars and many more like them are reviving the former red light district’s fortunes by making great use of the heritage ‘shophouses’. Whilst André Chiang arguably serves the finest ‘fine dining’ food in the area; it could be said that Esquina is the best of its casual dining venues.
This has to be because it is overseen by Michelin Starred ‘Culinary Director – Jason Atherton’ and created by ‘Executive Chef – Andrew Walsh.’
Jason, a former employee of Pierre Koffman, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis, Ferran Adrià, Stephen Terry and Gordon Ramsay (for whom he secured a Michelin star at Maze), currently holds a star at London’s Pollen Street Social and operates ‘Table no. 1’ in Shanghai, ’22 Ships’ in Hong Kong as well as ‘Snacks’ and ‘Pollen’ also in Singapore.
Whilst ‘big named’ Jason naturally gets the bulk of the press, Andrew, (who trained with Richard Corrigan and Tom Aikens) is, in my mind, the unsung hero at Esquina. In the post about my previous visit there earlier in the year (see here) I described how I enjoyed its vibe, seafood dishes and desserts but found fault with the meat dishes. These ‘faults’, to my delight, have now been rectified.
Since my first visit, I enjoyed Esquina enough to recommend it to Chef Andrew Nutter @nutsfood and @jensenbull on Twitter (who writes ‘Toast To Roast’) – both of them loved it! ’Jensen’ so much so, he ended up going two days in a row (here)!
Barbeque Roasted Corn – also known as ‘corn nuts’ or ‘canchas’, I can’t resist these moreish snacks that are popular many Spanish speaking countries. It’s great to see them on a menu.
Scallop Ceviche, radish salsa, soya & yuzu ponzu – served with a ‘miso salad’ and topped with seaweed and Japanese mayo, this dish was absolute perfection. The scallops were big, juicy and sweet and the Asian inspired ceviche just perfect!
Ham Croquetas – simple, yet so wonderfully delicious.
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota – Since eating, I have learnt that as well as referring to the ‘acorn’ that feeds and ultimately flavour the pigs that go on to produce this premium grade ham, ‘Bellota’ is also the name of a genus of jumping spider! My conclusion Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is heavenly… all spiders are evil!
Salt & Pepper Squid with black ink aioli – salt and pepper squid always goes down well when it is cooked and seasoned well. With its fresh green chillies and a squeeze of lime juice this was great but made greater by added rich, indulgence from the squid ink aioli.
Kingfish Ceviche, red pepper and tomato gazpacho & black olive – in every meal, one dish has to be the weakest. It was a shame that it had to be this one because on paper it looked certain to be my favourite. I wanted the citrus in the ceviche to sing a little more but its voice was muted even further by the gazpacho*.
*The gazpacho was very good, I was just unconvinced it had the right chemistry to form a duet with the ceviche.
Oysters with Vietnamese Dressing – this smoky dressing was a winner when I last ate it and it did not disappoint this time.
Marinated beetroot salad, honeycomb, burrata & pinenut crumble – this dish had it all: colour, texture and wonderful flavours from the creamy burrata, sweet beetroot coulis and indulgent addition of fresh (raw) honeycomb and hint of truffle oil.
Roasted Padrón Peppers with chilli, garlic & salt – my stepson, who eats at Esquina a lot, says that he’s never had a hot one and thinks the whole ‘some are hot, some are not’ / ‘Russian roulette with peppers’ thing is a myth. I’ve had plenty of hot ones in my time so it does beg the question are they using ‘proper’ Padrón peppers imported from Padrón or is he just unlucky (or lucky if you’d prefer to avoid the heat).
Miso Grilled mackerel, wasabi avocado, lime & cucumber relish – this was a stunning dish in terms of colour, presentation and taste. A wonderful synergy of flavours: the delicate tinge of wasabi in the avocado and the prefect balance of lime and cucumber to complement the oily fish.
Veal sweetbread and foie gras empanada with caramelised onion & caper ‘jam’ – this was ridiculously good! To think I had the audacity to knock the meat dishes at Esquina before… this one justifies the cost of the flight alone!
Escabeche of Pigeon with cumin carrots – another strong meat dish! Cooking game in an escabeche is a regional speciality of many parts of Spain - this is the first time I have had it prepared with such skill and refinement. A slight criticism would be that the croquettes were a little dry in the centre a fattier mix or more of the jus would have been welcomed.
Roast Pork belly, crispy skin, chorizo & octopus bolognaise – in April, I felt this dish (rather, an earlier version of it) needed greater depth of flavour. This now seems to be in place – the ‘bolognaise’ has much more going on: fewer beans, more chorizo leaking its delicious fat and paprika and the addition of octopus.
Braised Ox Cheek & Tongue topped with gremolata, honey mash and a charred spring onion – another excellent meaty offering. The cheek and tongue oozed rambunctious flavour, lifted by the subtle sweetness from the honey mash and the perky spring onion.
Seville Orange & Rosemary Ice cream, burnt meringue, citrus curd and marmalade toast – this was my first rosemary ice cream and I’m pleased to report that it was delicious; it didn’t overpower as expected yet wasn’t too subtle against the orange and marmalade.
Chocolate Mousse, coffee soil, olive oil jelly & espresso syrup – chocolate and olive oil is a tried and tested flavour combination of which I approve but I was less convinced by the texture of the jelly. The rest of the components on the dish however were highly enjoyable.
Catalan Crème Brûlée with burnt cinnamon sugar – my wife loves a crème brûlée and made short work of this one so I didn’t get a taste to be able to comment on its flavour; it certainly met with her seal of approval!
Sangria ice cream cone – a delightful treat, compliment of the kitchen, to end the meal!
For a restaurant that has just twelve counter seats (plus a few outside), I counted eight chefs, one washer-uperer and four front of house staff – each one of them is kept super busy, yet the service remains relaxed and slick and despite the throngs of people waiting at no point did we feel rushed. Esquina es excellente!