In true atetoomuch fashion, we bypassed the formality and stuffiness (read: expensive) of the main restaurant of Santi by Santi Santamaria, and opted instead to sample the restaurant’s offerings via their more casual (and affordable) tapas lounge.
Currently, the tapas lounge offers 2 tapas tasting menus - a $60 and a $90 one, as well as a la carte offerings of most of the items on the tasting menus. We decided to try one each, to have the best of both worlds. Essentially, the $90 has one extra tapas, and an additional final course, almost like a main.
We started with bread and bread sticks, some amazing green olives and a platter of iberico jamon with crostinis smothered with a delicious tomato and garlic spread. The olives were delicious, and while the jamon could’ve been sliced a bit more evenly, it was still very intensely flavoured.
Next up was the gazpacho. This cold tomato soup was very refreshing, and had a decidedly tart edge that I don’t think came exclusively from the tomatoes. Couldn’t figure out what it was though (Top Chef taste-test: fail).
The next course was the one where A’s $60 menu lacked a third component – the anchovy and tomato salad with lomo iberico. The other two parts were the same – seafood escabeche, which was a couscous with clams, and roasted peppers with cod brandade. All of them really showcased the ingredients at their best. The anchovy in the salad was just shy of too salty, but well balanced with the slight tartness of the tomato. The clams in the escabeche were very fresh and sweet, and the cod brandade was very tasty, with the roasted peppers being just sweet enough.
Next came the heavier tapas. From right to left (and also the order in which we were advised to eat them): octopus “a la plancha”, crustacean with migas, and eggs with mushrooms. The octopus was super tender slices of octopus served with a tomato puree – why can’t more places prepare octopus like this? This was perfectly cooked – so sweet, tender and juicy. The migas with the (some kind of shellfish) was like flavoured panko breadcrumbs. It gave the shellfish a really good texture and was very addictive. Finally, the last item was a scrambled egg with wild mushrooms, which was creamy, earthy and delicious.
The $60 menu ended there, but the $90 came with a traditional quail stew. I think the $30 premium is worth it for this dish alone. The stew was like home-cooking, but elevated to a refined but yet not pretentious level. The quail was really tender, and the charred bits of skin were to die for. The sauce was made for lapping up, and the beans at the bottom of the dish added an interesting element.
What really took the cake were the strange chunks I found amongst the quail pieces. They were slightly soft, and looked like pieces of scallop. I put one into my mouth, and still couldn’t identify it. After a few more chews, it hit me. Pure pork fat! Man, the flavour and unctuous texture of this mouthful is not something I’ll forget any time soon.
The $60 menu came with a selection of sorbets (mango, pineapple and pear), and the $90 had a Crema Catalana (something like a crème brulee) with seasonal fruits. These were good but nothing to shout about. What got to me more were the lovely nuggets of 2008 parmesan cheese that they dug out of a huge wheel to serve us before dessert.
Definitely a last minute contender for Best of 2010, by virtue of the octopus and quail stew alone. Service here is a tad on the slow side. There’s only one waitress manning the entire lounge; I guess they focus more of their workforce on the well-heeled diners at the main restaurant. She’s a bit harassed but is quite friendly; you just have to be prepared to spare about 2 leisurely hours for dinner.
Food is spectacular. Service, not so much. Still, the relative affordability, and I emphasise relative when you compare it to the astronomical prices of the main restaurant, makes this worth a visit.
Santi Tapas Lounge
Casino Level 2
Marina Bay Sands
Opening hours: 6.30 pm to 11 pm