Esquina, the new tapas bar opened by Loh Lik Peng and celebrity chef Jason Atherton, is one of the hottest (read: hard to get) sittings at the moment. It’s a tiny space that probably sits no more than 15 inside and they don’t take reservations, so you have to either go at (or before) opening time to ensure a place, or be prepared for a wait.
We decided on the former, and were there 5 minutes after opening on Saturday. At that time it was already almost full, and we took 2 of the last 4 seats available; by 6.15 it was full, and anyone arriving after that had to be on a waitlist till the first wave was done.
Most of the seats are at the counter facing the kitchen, and we were lucky enough to be seated right in front of chef Andrew Walsh, so we had a bird’s eye view of him running the show. I really respect how he manages his kitchen. He’s very hands-on without being a tyrant – he personally prepared/plated a good number of the dishes, and did a final check over the bulk of the dishes that were prepared by his sous chefs before the food was served.
Most of the dishes are designed to be shared by 2 to 3 people. We ordered 5 dishes plus a side, and were pleasantly full. Take note that you should order everything at the outset, including desserts. We thought of ordering a dessert after we’d finished the savouries, but were told that we would have to wait till they fired all the existing orders.
The side of baby romaine, manchego cheese, truffle honey and anchovy featured, surprisingly, lightly cooked lettuce rather than raw lettuce leaves. The anchovy was clearly the dominant flavor, but it didn't overwhelm and you could still taste the other components.
The slow cooked egg with potato, bravas sauce and crispy iberico was fantastic. This was somewhat of a modern invention of patatas bravas, with the potato being in the form of cubes as well as a light foam.
From the meat section of the menu, we had the aged rib-eye with chimichurri sauce, and the sweetbread and foie gras empanada with onion jam. The rib-eye was probably the most predictable dish of the evening, so by virtue of that it was slightly disappointing. The empanada was interesting but I found it a bit too sweet. A liked it precisely because of its sweetness, so to each his own.
From the seafoods, we tried the scallop ceviche, and the prawn sautéed with chilli and garlic served with orzo pasta. The scallop was ok, but I don’t think we’ll order it again. I fell in love with the prawn though. It was perfectly cooked so that the head juice was still really creamy, and it was served in a flavourful broth that was the very essence of prawn.
The food is very well paced. We weren’t overwhelmed with all 6 dishes on the table at once; most of them came out one at a time, and the lighter dishes were served first followed by the heavier meats.
There are at least another 6 dishes on the menu that we want to try next, so hopefully we’ll be back again soon. Eating here doesn't come cheap though. Our 6 dishes and a bottle of beer cost $140, but having said that, I think it’s worth it for the quality, and the care and effort that goes into each dish.
PS: There’s nowhere for you to stow your handbags or other personal effects, so I would recommend bringing as little as possible if you don't want to strap your handbag to your thigh, as A ingeniously did with mine.
Awesome. A tad expensive, but you get great quality for the price. Unfortunately, it gets crowded from about 6:05. So if you’re not there at opening, good luck to you. Plus only half the service staff is good. So hopefully, they’re the ones serving you.
16 Jiak Chuan Street
Mon to Fri: 12 noon – 3 pm; 6 pm – 11 pm
Sat: 6 pm – 11 pm