Authentic Tastes of Spain at Tapas Club!

Cerveza!’ I say as I attempt to practise my pronunciation for Tania, our Spanish host.

‘No!’ she laughs. ‘It’s ceerrth-veza!’

Certh-th-veza!’

‘No!’ she laughs again.

Beer from Spain: Estrella Galicia ($9.50 a pint).

Behind me, some musicians are playing a live flamenco version of Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’. In front of me is a spread of tapas that our table of eight have been sharing. I have been happily gobbling up the final piece on every plate that people always seem reluctant to grab. I am learning about the tastes of Spain with every bite I take between sips of Red Wine Sangria ($12 a glass).

I am at Tapas Club’s newest outlet at VivoCity, which has been open for a couple of months. Helmed by executive chefs Jose Alonso and Manuel Berganza (who received a Michelin star at previous restaurant Andanada in New York City and was recently seen competing on the Netflix cooking competition The Final Table), Tapas Club has provided yet another venue where you can bring your friends and family to enjoy hallmarks of Spanish cuisine.

Croquetas de Jamón

Our dinner opens with an inviting starter plate of Croquetas: small crispy nuggets filled with a soft creamy bechamel sauce. I’m told that Spaniards believe that the best version of croquetas is always their own madre’s. Tapas Club offers two variants: with squid ink ($9.90), or with ham ($11.90). I attempt to cut it to create a tantalising photo, but the fritter collapses without protest under the gentle skewering of my fork. It’s just better to eat this whole so that all the creamy filling only bursts out in your mouth.

Bocata de Calamares

A dish that will be comfortably delicious for Singaporean palates would be the Bocata de Calamares ($10.90). Baby squid with some chili sauce and garlic aioli is sandwiched between two halves of a brioche bun. The whole mini-burger is easily consumed in one bite, and is reminiscent of chili crab and mantou.

Piquillos Rellenos

The Piquillos Rellenos ($12.90) combine the sweet softness of roasted peppers with the minced beef stuffed inside. Although deep-fried, the outer batter has already softened from the gravy poured over it. With the same bechamel sauce found in the croquetas mixed together with the minced beef stuffing, this tapas is juicy, sweet, and savoury.

Cojonudos

A popular staple on food crawls to bars in Spain is the Cojonudos ($13.90), a new dish to the Tapas Club menu. It is the essential pintxo: a cute sunny-side up quail egg (with finely cut scallions) on top of a small cut of salty chorizo, resting on equally-sized toast. Providing a quick dose of delicious saltiness, this is understandably a popular pairing with beer. The Berenjena con miel ($9.90) is another pleasing bar-type snack: thin slices of eggplant fried crisp and drizzled liberally with honey for added sweetness.

Berenjena con miel

Pulpo a la Brasa

The Pulpo a la Brasa ($24) is a speciality hailing from Northwest Spain. The boiled-then-grilled octopus is lightly seasoned with red pimenton powder served alongside their homemade garlic aioli and a long and chunky piece of asparagus. Made in this way, each piece of octopus embodies a range of textures: slight resistance on the initial bite, but as you keep chewing, the meat easily softens and spreads around a mild piquancy.

Cerdo Iberico

One cannot visit a Spanish tapas place without ordering their iberico pork. The famed variant of Spanish origin is popular among meat connoisseurs, for good reason: it’s highly fatty, promising a melt-in-your-mouth goodness. At Tapas Club, their Cerdo Iberico ($24) is given a light touch of heat under the grill to just brown the surface while the meat is still rare and tender. If you prefer your pork less pinkish, the kitchen can easily cook it longer on your request.

Arroz Negro

The star of every communal Spanish fiesta has to be the paella. Tapas Club offers a few versions, but our host, Tania, wanted us to try their Arroz Negro ($26). Literally meaning ‘black rice’, it’s a paella that has been stained as dark as the paella pan it was cooked on by squid ink. The ink has also given the rice the rich umami flavour that squid ink always does. A few dollops of the signature garlic aioli and green streaks of chickpea puree add more colour and cream to the rice. Juicy clams still in their shells are also added on top, for our enjoyment. Cooking on a paella pan has resulted in each grain has acquiring a charred taste on the edges, while the body remains creamy and smooth. I desperately wanted to polish off the pan, but I was very satiated at this point. And there was still dessert!

Mousse de queso con frutos rojos

A dessert unique to Tapas Club is the Mousse de queso con frutos rojos ($10), which, to put it simply, is a deconstructed cheesecake. The expected elements of cheesecake — the cheese mousse, biscuit crust, with some added flair of caramel sauce and strawberry jam — are disassembled and rearranged on your plate in the artistic manner that Michelin-starred chefs are wont to do.

Torrija

You can also try something very cultural: the Torrija ($10), a Spanish-style French toast (hmm, shouldn’t it then be called Spanish toast?) that is especially popular in Spain during Holy Week. The bread is freshly toasted, but is soaked and doused in milk and topped with vanilla ice-cream just before serving. It’s just like a sweet, fluffy soufflé. Enjoy it quickly! l It’s at its most beautiful state in the first few minutes before it cools down into sogginess.

Churros

Or you could go for something familiar and reliable, like Churros ($9), served with chocolate sauce. As we joked at the table, this is the youtiao of Spain: crispy, oily dough fritters you can dip in anything. If you want your churros with something other than chocolate, you could check out the churro café next door, Chulove, which shares owners with Tapas Club.

For someone like me who has never been to Europe, I am thankful that Tapas Club has brought the joy of convivial Spanish dining right to our doorstep. And with this new Tapas Club outlet at VivoCity, authentic and well-priced Spanish cuisine is now more available than ever.

Thank you Tapas Club for the invitation. Food photography by James Hii.

Tapas Club Orchard Central
181 Orchard Road
#02-13
Orchard Central
Singapore 238896

Tapas Club Vivocity
1 Harbourfront Walk

#01-98
Vivocity
Singapore 098585

Reservations

Jamie’s Italian Celebrates Christmas 2018 with Semi-Buffet & Set Lunches!

When I received an invitation to an early Christmas party at Jamie’s Italian, I could not have been more excited. I had a lot of fun at my previous visit to Jamie’s Italian for their pizza-making party, so I knew from prior experience that Jamie’s Italian hosted fantastic food parties. I looked forward to sampling the dishes that would be found on Jamie’s Italian upcoming seasonal menus.

The party kicked off with a cooking demonstration by head chef Ashley Lim. His first dish was the Pan-Roasted Norwegian Salmon. It was a treat seeing a professional chef take us through his process of pan-frying the salmon, making the sauce, and plating it in front of our eyes.

Chef Ashley Lim teaching us how to cook Christmas dishes offered at Jamie’s Italian.

He also showed us how to cook Lobster Ravioli, a dish resplendent with mussels and tomatoes. This delectable pasta will be available on their New Year’s Day Set Lunch.

Lobster Ravioli.

Main courses you will find on the Christmas Day Lunch Semi-buffet and New Year’s Day Lunch Semi-buffet were served in the style of hors d’oeuvres, neatly arranged on planks, with flagged skewers to pick them up with. It was not only well-presented, but also delicious; the Norwegian salmon was fresh and sweet. I loved it so much I ate three pieces.

Pan Roasted Norwegian Salmon.

Another tasty item from the lunch semi-buffets was the Tomahawk Pork Chop. Meaty and well-marinated, there was also a juxtaposition of texture with a piece of crispy crackling on top. The last meat I got to try was the Festive Roast Chicken. Like the others, the meat was cooked just right, full of juice and flavour.

Tomahawk Pork Chop.

A popular favourite of the night (also on the lunch semi-buffets) was the Truffle Porcini Arancini, a battered ball with a risotto filling served on fonduta.

Tomahawk Pork Chop, cut and served on a plank in bite-sized morsels.

Truffled Porcini Arancini.

No dinner party is complete without desserts. Jamie’s Italian had two great choices for us to try: Gennaro’s Tiramisu, and a sweet and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Both were lovely desserts, but I personally favoured the tiramisu, grabbing two portions.

Gennaro’s Tiramisu.

The last activity of the night was a plank-decorating competition. Three contestants had to arrange the best-looking plank filled with sliced cheese, meats, fruits, and dip in five minutes. The winner would get a Jamie’s Italian Christmas Hamper (worth $300-600++) filled with premium kitchen ingredients and Jamie Oliver’s cookbook.

The prize hamper for the winner of the plank decorating competition.

Chef Ashley gave us an example of a professionally plated board, and also introduced us to ‘music bread’, a pastry so-named because the sound it makes when it cracks was musical (kind of).

Chef Ashley arranging his plank.

My plus one for the night, Derek, was one of the contestants. With Jamie Oliver’s visage behind him, he put together a beautiful plank.

Derek arranging his plank with a bit of help from Chef Ashley.

Although he didn’t end up winning the competition, Derek was proud of his creation, and so was I.

Derek, proud of his plank.

At the end of the day, we enjoyed the delightful menu we had been given for the night. We look forward to Christmas when everyone will get to enjoy the treats that Jamie’s Italian has in store.

Thank you Jamie’s Italian for the invitation!

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Jamie’s Italian
1 Harbourfront Walk,
#1-165-167
VivoCity,
Singapore 098585

Semi-buffet

*The Christmas Day and New Year’s Day Lunch Semi-buffet is available from 11am to 3.30pm at *$100++ per adult and $50++ per child (12 years old and below). For every paying adult, one child gets to dine on a Jamie’s Italian kid’s meal for free. The New Year’s Eve Set Dinner is available from 6pm at $148++ per person.

Set lunch

*The Christmas and New Year’s Day Set Lunch is available from 11.30am to 3.30pm at *$80++ per person. For every paying adult, one child (12 years and below) gets to dine on a Jamie’s Italian kid’s meal for free. The New Year’s Eve Set Dinner is available from 6pm at $148++ per person.

** Add on free-flow house red and white wines, Prosecco, draft beer and soft drinks at an additional $45++ per person.*

Hampers

You can also order a range of Christmas hampers: The Epic Jamie’s Italian Hamper ($300+) with wines, beers and more; the Indulgent Jamie’s Italian Hamper ($350+) offers gourmet goods such as “Sorensina” Pecorino Romano and Grated Mullet Bottarga; the Great Jamie’s Hamper ($600+) boasts a black olive pâté spread, balsamic vinegar from Modena, a bottle of Prosecco, and a Jamie Cooks Italy cookbook. Orders can be sent in to enquiries@jamiesitalian.sg between 19 November 2018 and 6 January 2019.

From Cassia to the Knolls, the Christmas feasts begin at Capella!

We had been invited to dine at Chef’s Table tonight, hidden within the upscale hotel the Capella on Sentosa, apart from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. When we walked into the small room which contained the entirety of the kitchen and a long table that only sat 24 guests, I didn’t feel like I had just entered a restaurant. I felt like I was in the chef’s house. I could smell the food the chefs were cooking a few metres away from me as Michael Bublé’s Christmas album played in the background.

We were here tonight to sample a few of the dishes that were going to be available for Capella’s Christmas and New Year menus at their various restaurants: The Knolls, with Mediterranean-style cuisine; Cassia, their Chinese specialty restaurant, and also their festive sweets.

They were really proud of their seasonal cocktail from Bob’s Bar, the Christmas Carol ($22++): a refreshing cocktail mixed with inhouse Navegante rum from Barbados and champagne. They had also mounted a slice of pear on the edge of the glass and sprinkled ground cinnamon on it, so when the glass is brought to the lips, the nose catches a whiff of the spice straight away.

From the starters for the Knolls Christmas Eve & Day Lunch, they gave us the well-crafted Pink Pepper Caramelised Foie Gras Mi-Cuit. A thin strip of mashed pineapple is shaped around a round slice of foie gras terrine. Sugar is sprinkled on top, then promptly blowtorched. The sugar sizzled, bubbled, and darkened into a deep purple colour as the flames danced on top of the foie gras. The fragrance of burnt sugar wafted into the air. The result is like a crème brûlée: a soft savoury foie gras base with a thin crisp covering of hardened caramel. The pineapple was soft, sweet with a subtle tartness. Whole pink peppers were added to be eaten with the foie gras. When cracked, it doesn’t burn the tongue, but releases an atomic hint of floral spice. A painted stripe of dark brown sauce adds a sweet and salty element.

The next thing to be served was something from the main course of the Knolls Christmas menu, the Halibut Confit with Citrus Junos. The halibut is sweet and uniform in its perfect doneness, not flaky or powdery, but soft and fleshy. It paired well with a creamy hollandaise-style sauce made of lemon, butter, and fish juices. Plated together with the fish was the Pumpkin and Corn Gnocchi, a separate option on the same menu. These orange molded balls of a pumpkin and corn mash had the comforting texture of a scone.

From the Cassia New Year’s Eve and Day Dinner, we were treated to the Braised Bird’s Nest with Crabmeat. A small island of shredded crab meat tops a foundation of bird’s nest, surrounded by a sea of thick, chicken and pork bone broth. A few eggs of fish roe round the dish completes the experience with bursts of saltiness. I love the creativity of using bird’s nest away from its traditional usage in a sweet cold dessert in a warm soup instead. The texture of bird’s nest resembles that of shark’s fin minus the guilt, so when your soup crumbles the island into the soup and everything is eaten together, it reminds one of the pleasant times eating warm shark’s fin soup at special occasions with the family.

I was gladly surprised by the succulence of Capella’s tandoori-style Exquisite Turkey. It’s a Christmas turkey with a twist: the bird is seasoned and marinated with classic masala flavours and roasted inside an actual tandoori oven. The result is a turkey that is more juicy and tender than the typical roast turkey. Served alongside is a tasty stuffing doused with fragrant truffle oil, spicy green chutney, and roasted root vegetables.

You’ll have a chance to taste it as well at the Festive Open House at Chef’s Table on 24 November and 9 December 2018. If you purchase it on 24 November, you get a 10% early bird discount of the usual $138++ for the whole turkey, which is still available for orders after 24 November.

The evening is brought to a sweet close by a panoply of sweet delights taken from Capella’s Festive Afternoon Tea. From the moment I touched the chilled plate, I knew that Capella’s efforts in giving the best dining experience extended even to the desserts. The Pecan and Pistachio Carrot Cake was adorable with a carrot-shaped almond-flavoured icing.

The Hazelnut Praline Tart is best enjoyed whole by biting the thin praline case to release the flowy chocolate ganache inside. Vanilla Chantilly Slice with Raspberry Preserve and Lemon Zest Biscuit is a delicious combination of sweet and sour on a soft sponge cake. The Chestnut Cheesecake is royal on top with a gold flakes, but hides a down-to-earth chestnut core inside. And the Almond Marzipan Stollen: it’s like a cold-served slice of thick bread, and it’s sweet and crunchy with marzipan sugar.

These sweet treats — and more — will be available for Capella’s Festive Afternoon Tea from 3-31 December 2018.

As we were eating our dessert, musicians were brought in to serenade us with a joyous rendition of ‘Feliz Navidad’, which got our Spanish chef de cuisine Ignacio Moreno dancing and singing along. Great food plated with love, with a convivial atmosphere; it certainly felt like Christmas at Capella.


The food tasted today comes from Capella’s various seasonal offerings from November to December: the Festive Open House, Christmas Eve and Day Lunch and Dinner at Cassia and The Knolls, Christmas Afternoon Tea at Chef’s Table, and many more. See the full list here.

We thank Capella for the invitation.

Capella Singapore
1 The Knolls

Sentosa Island
Singapore 098297

Cassia (Website link)
The Knolls (Website link)
Bob’s Bar (Website link)
Chef’s Table (Website link)

Ash & Char – Blue Wine, Comfort Fusion Food, Chic Gastrobar in the CBD!

There’s a new place to get food and drink in the Central Business District: Ash & Char. Once a café, it has recently been relaunched as a gastrobar — where you expect not just good alcohol, but also inventive accompanying nosh. To that end, Ash & Char fulfils that promise by presenting a wide menu of treats to go along with your cocktail or beer.

Ash & Char’s signature offering is their blue wine: the Santa Cruz de Alpera Blue Frizzante. Blue is not a colour commonly found in nature or food, so to see it illuminate the wine like this should be a nice novelty for first-time guests to Ash & Char. Its bouquet was lightly intoxicating, and the taste sharply sweet.

What I would go for is the Mixed Berry Bramble! A refreshing, icy, and fruity cocktail with a light gin finish. Iif you’re after something more alcoholic, a good choice would be the Whisky Sour.

Fried and savoury bar staples are also available at Ash & Char. The Crispy Kalemari, which as its name suggests, were lightly breaded calamari rings; gently fried and, to my relief, not rubbery at all.

Another bar staple is the Classic Fish And Chips – crispy thin batter encasing the chunky fish meat served with a creamy tartar dip by the side, and of course, french fries portioned warm and crisp. Basically, a good ol’ fish and chips dish.

No bar would be complete if it did not serve fried chicken wings. Ash & Char has six flavours, although I only got to try three of them: Buffalo, Teriyaki, and Har Cheong Kai. The buffalo wings are a great choice for those who want some spice, while the teriyaki wings will appeal to diners who want their wings coated with a sticky sweet and salty sauce and bonito flakes to top. The har cheong kai version is as well-executed as those you’ll find at other zhi char restaurants, with a generous but not-overwhelming shrimp flavour in the crispy skin.

You can also get really great-tasting (and great-looking) burgers here. We got to try the AC Char-Grilled Wagyu. The aioli carried a strong truffle aroma, and the wagyu patty was done just right, juicy to the bite. The colour of the bun was more of a novelty; it’s still a well-toasted bun with a thin-crisp surface coupled with wholesomeness in each bite.

If you need more meat in your meal, Ash & Char has you covered with their Signature Char Siu and Mayura Choco Wagyu. The char siu comes glazed with a sweet sauce accented with soy and honey over each piece of meat that is layered with a generous sliver of fat.

Comparatively, the wagyu, wasn’t as thrilling. The cubes were mildly sweet but still lacking in taste. I also expected each portion of wagyu to be smoother and more marbled, but each bite was chewy. That said, there was just the slightest hint of chocolate to make the beef a bit more interesting.

Now, for the more unconventional tapas on the menu. The Crispy Cauliflower is a creative choice for a vegetable dish. The name is a bit of a misnomer as the cauliflower itself is roasted, and hence not crispy; any crispiness comes from the addition of breadcrumbs, which is still texturally appealing. But the roasting the cauliflower does add a lot of umami along with the garlic and soy sauce, and so it is a very pleasing dish.

The Chijeu-Buldak, or as it is known in English, ‘fire chicken with cheese’ is another tapas item to look out for. Think cheese and chicken cooked together with Korean culinary spices, forming a savoury morsel that hints just ever so slightly of kimchi.

If you looking for more filling dishes, you can choose between pasta and rice bowls. For noodles, the Tom Yum Seafood has linguine soaking up a laksa-inspired broth with an intense coconut milk flavour amidst the sour and salty notes. The prawns and mussels are succulent.

I have to be honest about the Mentaiko Salmon Aburi bowl though: the taste of the rice and salmon did not match the quality of most of the other dishes here. The mentaiko is a reliably delicious topping for the salmon. However, perhaps due the provenance of the meat, the salmon itself did not taste as good as I’d hoped. Maybe it would have tasted better if the ‘aburi’ in the name did not simply mean that the mentaiko was torched, but also the salmon itself.

Messy Rocker

Creamy Smoked Duck Pasta

In general, Ash & Char has fantastic, well-presented dishes. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, I got to see the yummy-looking Messy Rocker burger and the Creamy Smoked Duck Pasta. Unfortunately, they weren’t available for tasting that evening, so I could only take pictures.

All in all, with very few exceptions, you can’t go wrong with most of the food at Ash & Char. However, there are some issues with the acoustics; I had difficulty hearing the conversation I was having with my plus one over the din of the crowd. I hope they resolve it eventually, because as a space for hosting clients, enjoying the company of friends, or going on a date over tasty food and blue wine, it’s a pretty good spot.

Thank you Ash & Char for the invitation. 

Ash & Char Gastrobar
21 McCallum Street
Singapore 069047

Enquiries: 8341 1951
Website

Opening Hours:
Mon to Thu  – 11am to Midnight
Fri – 11am to 1am
Sat – 5pm to 1am
Closed on Sundays