Where to for tapas that transports you to Spain? Well you have to visit Esquina, who is OG thatbrought us the authentic Spanish and Catalan flavors. Back in 2011, you have to wait in line at 6pm to snag a seat at this popular joint. I haven't been back since the chefs changed hands but i'm happy to report that Barcelona-born Head Chef Carlos Montobbio is doing a great job still.
For the first time also, i dined at level 2, which is a flight away from the chaos and squeeziness on the ground floor. I'm not sure if the torturous metal counter chairs have been replaced but it was also impossible to have a proper conversation downstairs with the wide spacing of the seats. If you're on a date, i'd suggest getting a table upstairs.
The chorizo ibérico croquetas, piquillo pepper mayo (2pc/$8) were spectacular too. The breaded exterior broke away to reveal a rich creamy center flavored with the smoky meat bits. Certainly a lot more value for money than some other Catalan restaurant nearby.
A tapas that i've never had before even in Spain was the slow-baked sweet potato with ají amarillo, smoked quail egg, and puffed quinoa ($16). The light sweetness of the sweet potato balanced the sharp Peruvian yellow chili pepper sauce which strangely reminded me of a spicy nacho cheese. The little quail egg on top helped to thicken the sauce further. It was surprisingly pleasurable.
Any decent Spanish restaurant would be measured by the standard of their pork and Esquina did well. The Spanish pork jowl, chipotle, pickled pear ($16) had the makings of a glorious sio bak- very buttery fats with a thick layer of crispy meat, balanced by a tangy chipotle mayo. The slightly sweetened jelly-like packham pear also helped to cut through the richness of the meat.
The Grilled Spanish Octopus ($28) is another must-order at Esquina. The texture was spot on with a tender firmness (I hate the overly chewy ones) and there's that slippery layer of jelly between the crispy skin and the meat. The smoked potato foam was an lighter and more airy version of the famed Joël Robuchon potato mash and the chorizo broth added on to the smokiness without the richness of the meat itself.
I forgot to take a photo of the Pyrenees Milk-fed Lamb with cous cous, “mojo picón” (a garlic pepper sauce) and pickled shimeiji. I've not had lamb this tender and it wasn't too gamey by Jr's standard (he would not pick lamb if given a choice).
Our spirits were lifted and refreshed with the Spanish strawberries with sweet basil sorbet, burnt marshmallow, and black olive powder ($15). Love the contrasting grassiness of the basil with the sweet berries.
Wonderful experience at Esquina, few years too late but i'm glad they're still around! Definitely not my last visit for sure.
16 Jiak Chuan Rd, Singapore 089267
+65 6222 1616
Tuesday to Saturday: 12 – 2.30pm, 6 - 10.30pm