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.
What do you love most about Spanish food?
Being ethnically Asian, my natural “comfort food” would be Asian. But I can eat Spanish food almost every day, simply because I find that, flavour-wise, Spanish cuisine is much closer to Chinese than other European cuisines. (Portuguese is close too!) Most of Don Quijote’s dishes are meant to be shared, so it doesn’t get much closer to home than that.
What’s your favourite Spanish region or city to visit?
My personal favourite is San Sebastian, not only because it’s such a pretty place, but also because it’s where my favourite restaurant, Restaurante Martín Berasategui, is located.
What are your favourite dishes in Spain?
Like chicken rice, it’s not the “what”, but also the “where” that counts! Cochinillo asado (oven-roasted suckling pig) at José María in Segovia, lobster rice at Barcelona’s La Perla, andgambas rojas de Deniaat El Faralló in Denia; red prawns are found throughout the Mediterranean, but the ones at El Faralló beat any that I’ve eaten anywhere.
Have you translated any of these dishes into Don Quijote’s menu?
We have cochinillo asado ($169/329). It took us four years of experimentation with different sources of piglets from Spain, and many recipe tweaks. But it’s now available – on a pre-order basis (at least 36 hours in advance), because you simply can’t maintain the juiciness of the meat if you pre-cook, refrigerate and then reheat it to serve. We don’t have the same lobster rice dish as La Perla, but we do have lobster paella; that’s also on a pre-order basis (24 hours’ advance notice), as we use live Boston lobsters.
What are your most popular dishes?
Our market-fresh gambas al ajillo (garlic-fried shrimp with extra-virgin olive oil, $14), rabo de toro (oxtail stew, $16) and fideuá negra (shrimp and squid pieces in squid-ink pasta, $33/48/65). What regions of Spain do Don Quijote’s dishes represent? We don’t limit ourselves to specific regions of Spain, and the truth is that, even in Spain, over the years lines have blurred. We have a pretty huge menu with over 80 items, and we also have quarterly and ad-hoc specials, if we come across something special and want to share it with our diners.
Any new menu items we should know about?
Grilled squid ($16), spicy secreto Ibérico ($26; you’ll never look at Kurobuta the same way!), bone-in tomahawk ribeye steak (Australian wagyu MS4-5, $18 per 100g), oven-grilled spatchcock chicken ($38), and sustainably farmed boneless, grilled barramundi (1kg, $98).
#01-02, Block 7 Dempsey Road 6476 2811 | don-quijote-restaurants.com
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