Six years is a long time for any restaurant to exist, much less exist in the Keong Saik district, where dozens of F&B establishments come and go like the wind. That curse doesn’t apply to Esquina, however, with the corner cavern of casual Catalan/Spanish cuisine being a mainstay in among post-war colonial buildings since 2011.
With that spirit of longevity in mind, Esquina has been offering an 11-course tasting menu that shines a light on its past, present and future — a showcase of the team’s culinary evolution since it opened its narrow glass-and-wooden doors for business. Entrées that were once exclusive to the select few invited to Chef Carlos Motobbio’s Tasting Room initiative (where patrons are asked to provide feedback to aid in the development of new dishes) are now available for the hoi polloi. At a relatively aight price of $108 per head, of course.
Finding something good among the tasting menu’s barrage of hot, cold and grilled tapas isn’t that hard. Starting with salted cod from Spain atop potato and garlic oil purée, fat Tsarskaya oysters with jalapeño ponzu and salmon roe, togarashi dusted crispy pork jowls laid on chipotle mayo and pickled pear — it’s early on, and we no longer feel like arguing on the price of entry.
Apparently those offerings have been considered the restaurant’s classics for years.
The dishes arrive in rapid succession and are prepped in front of your eyes, if you’re sitting at the bar counter, that is. For those who may be Esquina regulars, the ones to really keep an eye out for are the ones produced in the Tasting Room.
The beetroot plate is certainly the kind that will get plenty of Instagram love. Ruby chunks of the vegetable, cooked just enough to be tender yet retain its bite, are paired with horseradish ice cream straddling some Stracciatella cheese.
Suquet may be a simple traditional fish stew back in Catalan, but at Esquina, it’s a refreshing break before diving back into richness: crispy suckling pig with rhubarb and apple chutney. A little off-putting the greasy crackling may be to some, but even if you do feel that way — by that point, you’re deep down into the Tasting Menu. Might as well just pop it in your mouth. More delights are coming.
Another favorite formerly hidden behind closed doors is the Mandarine — Spanish mandarins that are dissected and re-engineered again into quaint frozen slices, and paired with cheese espuma.
They’re as fun to look at as they are pleasantly appealing across the senses — a conclusion that essentially sums up the entire experience. Chef Montobbio’s take on the best of Catalan and Spanish cuisine gives us a glimpse of the old, the new, and the ones that’ll be considered classics in time to come.
Esquina is at 16 Jiak Chuan Road
Reservations: 6222 1616
Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday
MRT: Outram Park
[Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Chef Carlos’ cuisine centers on Catalan cuisine. It has been amended to clarify that the Chef’s dishes encompass both Spanish and Catalan flavors and inspirations.]