Pork Perfection at Esquina (Singapore)

Looking back at our two weeks in Singapore, which by the way feels like ages ago (reality: less than two weeks), we did some exceptional Spanish inspired dining. You would think we would go for local restaurants, but our yearning for good Cava brought us (back) to Esquina, Jason Atherton’s little restaurant in Chinatown, Singapore. We have also visited several of Jason’s other restaurants, Pollen Street Social, Little Social and Berner’s Tavern in London and our experiences have been great.

To start with, we had no booking. As with many popular restaurants, a table at Esquina needs to be reserved weeks before. However, we arrived nice and early (18:00) and were able to grab a seat on the terrace. It is not the nicest scenery one can have (back street in Chinatown) but it’s not a problem for us Northern Europeans. We are crazy about all terraces and balconies alike. Just the thought about eating outside is somehow exciting for people from countries where summer is way too short. For those who like sitting inside, there are wonderful seats along the bar, where one can see the chefs up close and personal making the food. I like restaurants that have an open kitchen, it keeps them honest.

Looking at the wine-list there are around 10 wines by the glass, two of them bubblies, a Torello Cava and a La Chapitre Champagne. The Cava was nice and fresh with a taste of brioche, minerals and peach; and the Champagne crisp with some acidity and roasted notes. Both of them were well selected as one would expect from the owner of Pollen St Social. I also tried the Pollen St. Social White which was very nice.

For starters we had the mini Spanish breakfast (an eggshell filled with a stew of slow cooked egg, Iberico ham and potato with Bravas sauce); baked chicken skin with foie grass puree, spiced mango, tarragon and curry; and Jamón Croquetas. Especially the Spanish breakfast was heavenly (thank God we ordered two) and everything came well presented. For mains we had the Iberico BBQ & Foie grass burgers and smoked pork loin. Pork perfection! We didn’t really have space for dessert, but we were treated to mini-ice cream cones as a thank you from the kitchen. On top of the great food, we received perhaps the friendliest service we had during our whole time in Singapore.

Esquina is really one of my favorite spots in Singapore. Price-wise, it is mid-range, not really expensive, but compared to local food, light years away. A dinner for two with two glasses of wine (each) cost us around 140 SGD (90 EUR). The price is comparable to what you would pay in Europe, but I at least was happy to swipe my credit card for something this good. Looking forward to testing the quality again whenever we are in Singapore.

Wineweek 13: Singapore Edition

Happy Sunday everybody! I am enjoying a lazy weekend, typing away with a perfect view of the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore. This will be the last Wineweek I write a summary from this trip and it will cover almost two weeks of wine-action in the famous business-hub and city-state of Singapore. Travelling has been great as always, but I must admit I miss our home and our wonderful wine fridges. At least we have had much more drinks on our last leg. It has not always been value for money, but my oh my have I missed a glass of cold Cava or Champagne. What has also contributed to the expense-level of this trip is the declining Swedish Krona against a strong Singapore dollar. Anyway, everyone has a different perspective on value for money, and my point of reference dates to our days of living in London and enjoying a glass of good bubbly for £5.

I can categorize the last 10 days to three categories: wine, coffee and cocktails. That’s all we have done. Why did I not mention food? Well, because we have had food with all of them. We have first chosen our drink of preference and then had some matching food with that. Our days have consisted mostly of visiting cafes and restaurants with a marathon of walking in between. I find it is a great way to get to know a city, so we have soldiered on despite the scorching heat. Around here, most coffees are also served as cold-brews which is a good way to cool down after too much sun.

Wine has perhaps been the category with the lowest overall quality, but that was to be expected. Duties to import wine are high, and I think there is not a big enough market here. So prices for bottles can end up being 30-50% more expensive than what we would pay in the UK or Sweden. Don’t get me wrong, Singapore is like Disneyland for the wine-enthusiasts compared to the other destinations we have visited. Also, we have found a few exceptions to the wallet draining traps that I am happy to recommend for anybody living or travelling to Singapore:

1. Verre Wine Bar. Located in Robertson Que, a wine bar serving a wonderful Guy Charlemagne Brut by the glass. You can get two glasses for the price of one during happy hour, which makes the price per glass very tempting (9 SGD). We also tried some interesting red from Barossa-valley that will be up for a review soon.

2. Bar – A – Vin. Located in the Central Business District (CBD). Serves a good Gardet Brut Tradition by the glass, and I also recall them having some nice Australian Pinots.

3. Sabio. Located on Duxton Hill, Sabio has some nice Agusti Torello Cava and DelaMotte Champagne by the glass (16-24 SGD). The ambiance is nice and they have live music in the evenings to brighten the mood.

Cocktails have been a real treat! We have found some amazing places with real drink-talent. I think Singapore gives London a run for their money when it comes to good cocktail-bars and I cannot name many places in Stockholm that can compare. We accidentally picked up a local life-style magazine at a cafe that listed some interesting places and did two nights of cocktail-hopping to check them out. None of the mentioned bars disappointed, on the contrary we were very impressed. Here are our top three picks, and we will make a separate post on the rest in due time.

1. LongPlay is a new addition to the cocktail scene located on Haji Lane. We ran into this place by accident and were so impressed that we posted a review immediately (click here).

2. Bar Stories is also locted on Haji Lane. The entrance is very discreet, but clearly visible if one is looking for it. There is no specific cocktail-list but the bartenders think up something based on what you describe you want. This results to a set of very innovative and beautiful drinks that are as good in taste as they are in looks.

3. Operation Dagger, located on a side street to the famous Club Street is a speakeasy/ secret bar. Its too known to be a real secret, but you need to do your homework to find in. They do a set of very creative coctails with a bit of a “molecule” twist. It reminds me of Pharmarium in Stockholm.

Coffee-wise, we already knew Singapore was great. Not the best in class, but a city with a lot of potential. What is wonderful here is how good the food is at the cafes. I think I have overdosed on french toast, Eggs Benedict and good cakes. I hate the thought of a diet, but I may have to start one after this trip, I am way too used to having my daily sugar-high. Warm meals at cafes is not a common in Scandinavia or the UK. Yes there are cakes and sandwiches, but no foody dishes. Here in Singapore the cafe is the new bistro (and the bistro is the new casual fine dining), so our lunches were accompanied by a decent cup. Our top cafe pics are the following (in order of best coffee, not best food):

1. The New Black is a new coffee bar close to Clarke Que. They have an impressive collection of beans from around the world and use a new-ish technique similar to a coffee syphon to make a reliable good cup.

2. Common Man Coffee Roaster located on Martins Lane is a coffee bar with a good selection of hand-brews and also great food. You should remember to ask for their back-room selection for the more special beans.

3. Nylon Roasters are a real contribution to the coffee scene in Singapore. their beans can be found in many other places and they have a shop in Everton Park that you can visit. It used to be a small hole in the wall type cafe, but has now grown into post-hipster paradise. Of course more visitors means more variation in quality, but coffee-wise it is still one of the most interesting places to visit in Singapore.

Not to completely forget the food part, we have also been having some great meals. More about the restaurants will follow later, but just to mention a few interesting places: Jaan, Moosehead and Esquina.

That was a lot of lists! It is not that often that Wineweek is this comprehensive. On Wednesday we will be hopping on the plane back to Sweden and the snow. We have our wine-business waiting with just one more set of papers to return for being able to start business fully from Denmark. We also have some other interesting things coming up. We will be traveling to Portugal to visit some new and interesting producers, like Vieira de Sousa and Almeida Garrett, and later in March we will be visiting the “mothership” of cava, Sant Sadurni (and Penedes). So I expect it will be busy time for us and the blog and we will have many exciting things to share with you.