Writing this review a few months after I ate there, so dishes may have changed since.
Nearing the end of its second year, modern Spanish tapas bar Esquina has a lot going on. It's the latest venture by acclaimed Singapore hotelier and restauranteur Loh Lik Peng, who has major F&B successes like Ember at Hotel 1929, Jing at One Fullerton, and Cocotte under his belt. He teamed up with the British Michelin star chef Jason Etherton, fomerly reputed as the protégé of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Such superstar credentials seem to set the rock-solid foundation for Esquina to shine.
Stepping into the restaurant-bar, it's not hard to see why. Housed in a whitewashed shophouse at the corner of Jiak Chuan Road - so indicative of the hotelier's real estate preferences - the narrow restaurant features a long bar-style counter that seats 12. It's a little cramp, small, and casual, but that just makes the dining experience all the more intimate and personal.
Esquina specialises in Spanish tapas with influences from contemporary European cuisine, so expect immaculately plated small plates of premium ingredients. That's why bar seats are the most coveted. You get to see the chefs work, observe the attention to details, and understand the effort put into preparing that small dish.
We managed to snag a counter seat on our first visit, so trying to make the most of our visit we ended ordering almost the whole a la carte menu.
Iberico bellota ($30)
Jamon Iberico is what most have heard of, not this. Short for jamón ibérico de bellota, the iberico bellota is the finest, most desirable grade of Iberian ham. Drizzled lightly with EVOO, the simplicity of this dish allowed the quality ingredients to shine. The shaved ham was not overly salty, and had light floral overtones that let it stood out from the rest. Absolutely stunning.
Crispy baby squid, chilli coriander, black ink aioli ($17)
Baby squids they may be, these were actually very meaty. They were very lightly breaded, resulting in a crisp exterior that did not separate from the squids themselves. Most impressive was the squid ink aioli, which is hands down the best aioli I've tasted in terms of both textures and flavours. Eaten with the sliced chillis, every bite was a wonderful combination of crispy, chewy, smoky, and spicy.
Among the other appetizers we tried, Jamon Croquetas ($12), Spanish Breakfast ($20), and the Marinated beetroot salad ($21) made our list of favourites. But if you have to choose one, do try the Spanish Breakfast which is a slow-cooked egg topped with bravas sauce, fried potato cubes and crispy iberico ham.
Georges Bank seared scallops, duck green curry, coconut rice, peanut crumbs ($33)
Probably our favourite dish of the evening, Esquina nailed this one with perfect execution and a right combination of flavours. The coconut rice was fragrant and very moist, with a texture akin to risotto. Paired with the light foamed green curry and sweet seared scallops, it's the fusion of Thai food and European cuisine at its finest.
I would visit solely for this stunning dish.
One of the most popular traditional Spanish tapas is Pulpo Gallego, a simple dish of cooked octopus served with boiled potatoes, olive oil and sweet Spanish paprika. Esquina's interpretation took it up a notch, replacing the potatoes with a variety of heirloom carrots, and adding a little quinoa. While it was very delicious, I would've liked to see the traditional dish prepared with the finesse of Esquina's culinary team.
A special main that day: cod and squid ink risotto
Such a wonderful contrast in colours. Reminiscient of the iconic Taoist taijitu symbol, this would be the perfect culinary embodiment of yin and yang. Smoky, creamy, and savoury risotto, juxtaposed against a rich yet soft and refined fish. Not forgetting the aesthetic presentation of it all. Absolutely gorgeous.
Complimentary pre-dessert: mixed berry sangria cone
Tasting like a pleasant berry sorbet, it has a lovely gritty texture. It's a wonderful way to cleanse your palate before moving on to desserts.
Peanut butter & jam sandwich, peanut butter ice cream, caramelized bananas, rum & raisin jam
Bruléed bananas, toasted shredded bread, and a decadent creamy PB ice cream. It's like having a PB&J fried ice cream sandwich. Delicious beyond words.
We also tried the Chocolate Tea Ice Cream ($14). Love the creamy ice cream that tastes similar to a heavy mousse; unfortunately Esquina went too heavy on the sacher sponge, causing it to end up being a little too dry.
With Singapore's F&B scene so saturated, it is not easy for a restaurant to stand out. Esquina happens to be one of the few that does. The amalgamation of Spanish tapas with a contemporary European interpretation resulted in a casual bar with Michelin-level dishes, comparable to the likes of JAAN and Joel Robuchon. If Esquina continues the way it's going, it will join the ranks of the best restaurants in Singapore.
16 Jiak Chuan Rd
Mondays to Fridays: 12pm-2.30pm; 6pm-10.30pm
Closed on Sundays