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Guide to Spanish food in Singapore: Restaurants that go beyond tapas

The Spanish swept the Americas, and now they’ve taken Singapore. Here is our tribute to the restaurants and chefs that go beyond the basic tapas dishes to showcase the best in what Spanish food brings to the table.

 

 

Una
1 Rochester Park
6773 0070

Who’s in the kitchen?
French Chef Jean-Philippe Patruno. Having moved to London in his late teens to pursue cooking, he first sharpened his culinary skills at the award-winning Simply Nico and Very Simply Nico. After opening the esteemed Barrafina and Quo Vadis in London, he moved to Singapore for new adventures. Before helming Una, he made waves here with the now-shut paella bar Bomba.

What’s he cooking?
Chef Patruno has created a distinctive menu of tapas, parilla (grill), paella, roasts and desserts, with attention to the rich flavours of the different regions of Spain. His seafood paella is one of the best in Singapore, while diners appreciate the delectable aromas from his outdoor charcoal grill where he prepares some of the best parilla seafood and choice cuts of meat. There’s a tapas bar, serving up juicy small plates (such as tender, grilled octopus and scallops with veal cheek that fall apart at the touch), plus a sherry bar, pouring bevvies that are both powerful in taste and effect! If you hit their weekend brunch (set to launch in February ’15), don’t miss the boqueria – a market that sells fresh produce, fresh seafood and succulent cuts of meat. It’s also worth mentioning that UNA’s garden is up there with the most romantic in Singapore, with a lovely, chilled-out ambience with water fountains and fairylights galore. Check out some snaps of this and their well-stocked boqueria in the gallery above.

Dishes you’ll recognise:
The many Spanish staples include Jamon Iberico bellota, a robustly flavourful squid ink paella, and churros with dark chocolate sauce and honey ice cream (mmm).

Dishes you won’t:
The parilla and main menu showcases stand-out dishes that retain Spanish flavours without being obvious. Our favourites include the tender slow-braised ox cheeks served with a smoked creamy mash and the fresh grilled whole seabass, gorgeously seasoned with a dry rub of sea salt, garlic, shallots, lemon and green chilli. Want a change from Sangria? Try the old fashioned jelly with Pedro Ximenez sherry for a booze-tinged sweet treat.

 

Bam's cool Tras Street setting

Bam! Tapas Sake Bar
38 Tras Street
6226 0500 

Who’s in the kitchen?
Chef Pepe Moncayo from Barcelona. He’s been cooking for so long (including at the now-closed Santi and Ola Cucina del Mar), he can’t remember the first dish he ever learnt to prepare. His most recent creations are a long list – the menu at Bam! changes daily according to what is fresh at the market, so Chef Pepe is constantly innovating.

What’s he cooking?
The cuisine is modern Spanish and draws from Catalunya, though most of the dishes surprise with an Asian element, be it in the cooking style or ingredients; the result pairs smartly with the sake menu (offered by the glass, carafe or bottle). Take the deservedly popular pasta a la plancha (teppanyaki griddled for a chewy bite) with plump prawns, crunchy soft-shell crab and sake butter ($22).

Dishes you’ll recognise:
Coco bread with Momotaro tomato ($5)a sophisticated version of pan con tomato. There’s roasted suckling pig, too (serves two, $78) plus Joselito ham, aged 36 months ($25).

Dishes you won’t:
Kampong egg with chanterelle mushroom and ham ($18) is a delicious concoction of umami, smoky-sweet yolkiness. Another must-try is the sous vide pig’s ear with creamy burrata and anchovy vinaigrette ($14). Loosen your belts for dessert – pineapple with coconut ice-cream and delightfully refreshing Earl Grey tea granita ($6), or the Baileys sponge topped with chocolate cremeaux and a stunning rendition of crema Catalan; frothy, zesty with kaffir lime and tinted with a hint of burnt sugar ($9).

 

Ola's squid ink paella. Get in our belly 

Ola Cocina Del Mar
Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3, #01-06 12 Marina Boulevard
6604 7050

Who’s in the kitchen? Peruvian-born chef Daniel Chavez who honed his skills in Spain under the tutelage of various Michelin-starred chefs, including the late great Santi Santamaria. After opening restaurants in Dubai and Singapore, Daniel ventured out on his own in 2012, swapping the fine-dining scene for what he calls a “comfortable and interactive” experience. An open-kitchen design makes the counter the place to sit, as it’s where most of the action takes place, especially at lunchtime when the eatery is packed to the gills.

What’s he cooking?
While Daniel originally devised a strictly Spanish-style seafood menu, he adopted a Latin twist after requests from patrons that his Peruvian-inspired “specials” become mainstays, along with various meat options.

Dishes you’ll recognise:
Traditional seafood and pork sausage paella ($40), plus squid ink black noodle paella with calamari and aioli (above – $40), a tasty take on the celebrated dish. Other familiar fare includes pulpo a la brasa, tender pieces of grilled octopus with smoked paprika ($24), and chilled gazpacho ($8), done here in a fabulous and cream-free vegan style.

Dishes you won’t:
The restaurant’s signature dessert, “Ola” apple salad ($16), is a concoction of caramel cream, lemon jelly and green apple slices. It’s neither Peruvian nor Spanish, but it will satisfy any after-dinner sweet tooth.

 

Lolla's Spanish tortilla with smoked eel 

Lolla
22 Ann Siang Road
6423 1228

Who’s in the kitchen?
Singaporean chef Tan Huang Ming, who brought the restaurant from underground supper club to one of Zagat’s “10 hottest restaurants in the world” in 2013 – quite a feat for a guy with no formal culinary training.

What’s he cooking?
Ming says “simple small plates”, a decidedly modest description of the restaurant’s inventive Mediterranean dishes. And despite all the accolades, these guys are keeping things casual. Your menu is your placemat; napkins are paper ones served diner-style from a dispenser on the bar.

Dishes you’ll recognise:
You’ll find aged Manchego cheese ($14), Cinco Jotas jamon Ibérico de Bellota ($42) and the king of anchovies – Don Bocarte – served straight from the tin ($24), but each dish has a little bit of Lolla’s[E1]  (pronounced with a long “o”) unique flair. The Spanish tortilla is a dish that is as humble as they come – except that this rendition boasts local, barn-laid eggs, Idaho russet potatoes braised for several hours and sautéed in duck fat, and mounds of moist smoked eel on top.

Dishes you won’t:
Referred to by The New York Times as Lolla’s signature dish, the sea urchin pudding ($19, half-portion) is satiny squid ink custard topped with raw sea urchin – a plate that will surely feature in the top ten when Expat Living produces its “50 Dishes in Singapore to Try Before you Die”. It’s absolutely astounding. And, even your three-year-old knows ice cream, but he’d have a hard time identifying the smoked chocolate or roasted tomato and lavender varieties found here.

 

Kaixo's bacalao in pil pil sauce (those aren't crisps on top, we swear) 

Kaixo
96 Tanjong Pagar Road
6225 0545 

Who’s in the kitchen?
Isaachar
(Singaporean, named after one of the Old Testament tribes of Israel), who ditched a corporate career six years ago to study at Le Cordon Bleu.

What’s he cooking?
Two years ago, he journeyed to the rolling green hills of the Basque country to work at the fine-dining Restaurante Martin Berasategui. Having fallen in love with the amazing tastes and ingredients of Basque cuisine, particularly at its street markets, he joined the Singapore tapas wave by opening this excellent and authentic little Basque eatery.

Dishes you’ll recognise:
Gazpacho, patatas bravas and potato and egg tortilla. But you may be surprised by the unusual rareness and tenderness of Ibérico pork loin with cabbage ($24), or the exquisitely intense flavour of beef tenderloin with truffled potato puree ($26). You’ll know tiramisu ($10), but Issac’s features white chocolate and citrusy orojo; and what looks like a crispy-topped crème brûlée is actually crema arroz ($8), or rice pudding.

Dishes you won’t:
Open sandwiches called pintxos (say “peenchos”; 1 for $4; 5 for $18), are displayed in traditional tapas style at the long bar and topped with tempting combinations like tuna mayonnaise and mackerel, or Manchego cheese with sundried tomato. Organic egg in a nest of jamon, topped up with hot chicken stock ($14) and the typically Basque squid in its ink ($16), featuring squid stuffed with its own tentacles, are little known in Singapore. And the bacalao in pil pil sauce ($25) is deliciously moister and more delicate than the Portuguese version of this dried and reconstituted cod that we’re more used to.

 

Catalunya oh-so-original tartare with tomato foam 

Catalunya
The Fullerton Pavilion, 82 Collyer Quay
6534 0188

Who’s in the kitchen?
Alain Devahive Tolosa
from Barcelona, whose claim to fame is whipping up original twists on the Spanish classics.

What’s he cooking?
Stylish Catalonian fare. At this stunningly located restaurant afloat on the water of Marina Bay, the carefully designed menu is a mix of small plates, with unique fusion dishes like sea urchin rice ($30) and cooked oysters in fish soup ($7) alongside hearty Spanish favourites including croquetas ($15) and bikinis ($20).

Dishes you’ll recognise:
If you’re looking for a statement hog roast, Catalunya has it covered. Suckling pigs ($135) are a best-seller, but there are heaps of other options if you can’t handle a whole one. Choose a cut like the tasty jamon Ibérico with flatbread ($55), or go for the suckling pig tapas ($22) for a manageable fix of crispy pork belly.

Dishes you won’t:
The trendy new Other Spanish Tortilla ($16), made with martini glasses at the table, has a layer of red onion, followed by raw egg and potato foam on top. The hot foam cooks the egg below. The Tar Tar ($20) promises a surprise (spoiler: it’s entirely made of tomato), while traditional seafood dishes like lobster and avocado ($22) come with a delightful Japanese spin. Rather than paella, try the wholesome lobster rice ($80), its long-lost brother. The dessert menu is similarly imaginative, with gorgeous torrija (think bread-and-butter pudding meets cake) served with a smoked ice cream that boggles the brain.

Tip:
Catalunya serves up a mean sangria – ladies can load up on Wednesdays, with a cracking two-for-one offer on cocktails.

 

You can eat Los Primos' pulpo a la gallega around the clock, Spanish style 

Los Primos
81 Club Street
6423 1773

Who’s in the kitchen?
Spaniards Carlos and Rafael from Galicia and Valencia

What are they cooking?
Traditional Spanish classics. It’s not fancy food, but rather the solid dishes found in a neighbourhood taverna in the back streets of Spain. This is food to share with friends over a couple of drinks in a relaxed, informal setting. In this authentically decorated corner shophouse, even the chandelier and plates are imported from Spain, and those gorgeous tiled tables were made by a Valencian carpenter.

Dishes you’ll recognise:
There are 30 tapas, many of which will be familiar, including deep-fried calamari ($16.50) with a dusting of spicy paprika, succulent Spanish olives ($9.90), and Ibérico ($10.90/50gm) and Serrano ($22.90/50gm) hams. Old favourites include paella ($45.90 for two) done in the traditionally Valencian way, or with seafood. Galician-style octopus in olive oil, laid over potato slices and dusted with paprika ($14.50) is a simple dish, but made exceptional with fresh, quality ingredients. Crème Catalana ($9.90), which is reminiscent of crème brûlée, is a sweet finish.

Dishes you won’t:
Huevo estrellado ($15.90) is traditionally a shepherd’s meal, a simple mix of fried potatoes and eggs topped with slices of crispy fried ham.

Tip:
Not only is the food classic Spanish, but the hours are too. The kitchen is open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and tapas are served until 2am.

 

Don Quijote's tortilla Espanola does what it says on the tin 

Don Quijote
Block 7 Dempsey Road, #01-02
6476 2811

Who’s in the kitchen?
Passionate about Spanish fare and culture, restaurant owner Ken Lim heads up the kitchen; when, of course, he’s not on one of his trips to Spain to sample the cuisine and add new items to the menu.

What’s he cooking?
Dishes come from many different areas of Spain, and include a mixture of regional specialties, like Segovian-style roasted suckling pig (whole, $268 or half, $138). Segovia is about a 45-minute drive from Madrid and is famous for its suckling pig. This dish must be pre-ordered at least one day in advance, as it marinates for at least 24 hours.

Dishes you’ll recognise:
Garlic-fried shrimp ($13) and a special paella ($48 to $98). You’ll be won over by the delicacy of the tortilla Española ($11), layers of thinly sliced potato in fluffy egg, pudin de pan y mantequilla ($8), a Spanish version of bread-and-butter pudding, and the sangria, a great balance of red wine, dissolved sugar and cut fruit ($58 per jug).

Dishes you won’t:
Tacos de lomo al queso azul ($20) – we admit this dish slants more towards the Mexican, but this succulent cubed tenderloin steak with a dipping pot of blue cheese sauce on the side is one of the best bites on the menu. What is decidedly Spanish is the fideuas – a common dish in Spain, but often overlooked elsewhere in favour of its more popular relative, paella. Originating from Valencia, fideuà uses thin, vermicelli-like noodles instead of rice; this one is cooked with chicken, seafood, squid ink and vegetables.

 

So that's our portion of Le Patio's paella. Where's yours? 

Le Patio
#27 PasarBella, The Grandstand, 200 Turf Club Road
8388 2198 

Visit Le Patio at around 11.30am on any given day and one, if not two, of its enormous paella pans will already be stuffed full of saffron-infused rice, prawns and squid, all cooked and ready to eat. Founded by Swiss expat Sean Lai and his Singaporean partner Rachel Goh, Le Patio follows a rustic Mediterranean theme, from its eye-catching front-of-house paella to its adjacent crepe machine, all housed within a chalet-style wooden hut.

The idea was born from a trip to, of all places, a French farmer’s market, where Rachel and Sean tucked into a vendor’s paella. Thinking this would be a great idea to translate to Singapore, they found their perfect vehicle with the opening of PasarBella at The Grandstand.

All in the name of research, they undertook a tasting tour from Barcelona to Valencia, searching for the right rice (ask most paella aficionados and this is the most important ingredient), looking at differing recipes and, of course, sourcing the right pans. The large pans they subsequently bought weigh 25kg empty, whereas full they can reach 70kg, hence the four handles to help staff lift and turn while cooking.

Le Patio uses local chefs, working with fresh saffron, Valencian rice, and locally sourced seafood and meat, including chicken marinated overnight in Spanish paprika to give it a distinctive smoky flavour. The couple have tweaked their paella recipe to make it less oily and salty, and don’t use pork products of any sort. Expect to pay $13.50 for a portion of paella, and add on a chicken drumstick for $2.50.

 

ALSO TRY…

Barraka
A newish restaurant in Robertson Walk, perfect for people-watching.
11 Unity Street #01-18/29
6737 9130

Binomio
Its name meaning “duo” in English, this new entry to the Spanish scene combines fine dining with tapas.
20 Craig Road #01-02
6557 0547 

Bodega y Tapas
After a hiatus, this Orchard Road restaurant reopened late last year; don’t miss the suckling pig and the sangria.
442 Orchard Road #01-29, Orchard Hotel
6735 3476

Esquina
The restaurant that chefs often name as their favourite in town, this itsy-bitsy place opened in 2011 and is still a hotspot.
16 Jiak Chuan Road
6222 1616 

My Little Spanish Place
Check out the jamon bar, the Spanish despensa (pantry) and, if you’re lucky, Chef Maria Sevillano performing the flamenco.
619 Bukit Timah Road
6463 2810 

Salt Tapas & Bar
This is tapas Aussie-style, as interpreted by Chef Luke Mangan. A must-try.
Raffles City Shopping Centre #01-22A
6837 0995

 

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