Since we're such ardent fans of Esquina, I guess it was just a matter of time before we tried Jason Atherton's other venture nearby - Keong Saik Snacks. Touted as Esquina's much more low-key sibling, it has a much more casual vibe, at least when we came here for lunch on a Saturday. The same may not be the case in the evenings, since there's apparently a 'hidden' bar next door. I imagine it'll be quite the hipster apocalypse.
Anyway, the space is a lot bigger than Esquina. There's counter seating, as well as quite a few tables. There's also a No Reservations policy, but given the size of the space, I don't think the queue/wait gets as bad as Esquina. Perhaps it was wrong of us to go there with preconceived expectations of an Esquina-like experience. Because of those expectations, our actual experience fell far short.
We sat at one of the tables instead of at the counter, so maybe that was a mistake, since we were a bit further removed from the cooking action behind the counter. Although given the pace at which the food arrived (read: all at once), I don't think all the dishes could've fit if we'd eaten at the counter.
Portions are not Esquina-sized tapas portions, i.e. they're regular appetizer/entree sizes. (The hot dog, for example, consists of a 9-inch chorizo sausage, which is pretty damn big.) We ordered 5 dishes, expecting tapas-sized portions, and ended up super stuffed.
First to arrive was the Lobster Roll - this turned out to be a foccacia rather than a roll as such, and the lobster filling unfortunately reminded me of prawn cocktail. There was also a lot of bread, which filled us up pretty quickly.
I had barely taken a bite of the sandwich when the DIY tuna tartare arrived. It was an interesting concept, giving you chopped tuna and a host of condiments for you to season as you wish. Still, that meant I had to take a break from eating to season the tuna, and all the while even more dishes arrived. The tartare tasted ok, but I think the DIY aspect is a bit of a gimmick.
The shaved asparagus, fennel, burrata and basil salad tasted good, but I found it a bit haphazardly put together. The romaine lettuce was in chunks rather than separated into individual leaves. To make things worse, it was served in a bowl with a tiny base, so if you press your fork anywhere except dead center, the bowl would tip off-balance. Highly annoying, which was a shame because the salad really was pretty good.
The Fish and Oysters was just that - a cone of deep fried oysters and fish fillet (2 pieces each of cod and seabass). Pretty simple, and it needed the malt vinegar that came with it, but quite well executed. The oysters in particular were very well done.
There were a few additional dishes on the weekend brunch menu, the Yorkshire pudding with beef cheek and foie gras being one of them. I was very impressed with the light crispiness of the Yorkshire pudding, which saved it from being quite a rich, heavy dish.
Needless to say, after all that food, desserts were out of the question. All in all, maybe because we went expecting a completely different dining experience, we left pretty disappointed. Yes, prices are lower and portions are bigger than at Esquina, but unless you're specifically looking for a no-frills experience, give me the precision and care that goes into each plate of food at Esquina any day.
Fairly large portions and good value for money. The dishes have less finesse and are less refined as Esquina's though. If I had time (to make it to an early sitting) and money for Esquina, that would be my first choice. If you want someplace more affordable and casual, then this might be better.
I won't say anything about the secret bar because I didn't go there, cause like I'm no longer a hipster.
"No longer a hipster"? Since when were you ever?!
Keong Saik Snacks
49 Keong Saik Street
Open 12 noon to 11 pm daily