‘Cerveza!’ I say as I attempt to practise my pronunciation for Tania, our Spanish host.
‘No!’ she laughs. ‘It’s ceerrth-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.