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

Sushi Chiharu – Unexpected Find, Unfamiliar Tastes, Memorable Experience!

I scratched my head real hard when I was told that there is a new Japanese eatery at Cuppage Terrace. I cannot fathom the thought of dining in a zen-like fashion amidst the hustle and bantering from the pubs that we normally associate this part of town with. I find myself staring at my Google Maps aimlessly and pondering outside a restaurant right at the edge of the road, until a waitress saw my confusion, and saved me by ushering me inside.

True enough, a sushi bar materialized once the shoji was slid opened. Soft warm light ensued, and to be honest, I find myself slightly out of place as I take a seat in at the counter. I’ve always been interested in how a chef prepares his food, often peering into open kitchens if there’s a chance, but I have never had someone doing it within my arms’ length before,

Sushi Chiharu is an offshoot from its famous, well-adorned parent restaurant (which incidentally goes by the same name) in Osaka, Japan. It specializes in Edomae-style sushi, and as it name implies, food from the Edo period (1603 to 1868). We normally think of sushi (or Japanese food in general) as a cuisine that celebrates the freshness and seasonality of the ingredient, of its true taste without it being masked by unnecessary condiments or fanciful techniques. Yet, in an era where the term “refrigeration” is as alien as the word “paleo” is to me, chefs and cooks employ marination, boiling and curing techniques to preserve the catch as long as possible. What results is an interesting spin on the taste, and a fascinating twist in the texture of the food.

I started the 18-course Omakase with two appetisers – Ankimo, a sliver of monkfish liver marinated in a bright and briny manner, and tasted like a sprightly piece of cheese from the sea, and Mozuku-su, which are tiny stands of seaweed suspended in an acidic concoction. It became apparent to me that this constant play on acid and savoury notes will be a recurrent theme throughout this dinner.

My suspicion was spot on with the next dish, Shime Saba, a slice of pickled mackerel, shimeji and fish roe. The marination sort of removed the fishiness of the mackerel, and imbued it with a unique texture instead.

A duo of sashimis was served next. We had the Kinmedai, or red snapper, and the Hirame, a type of flounder with large red googly eyes. Both were firm tasting fish, though the Hirame had a slightly sweeter taste to it, and was definitely boosted by the gratings of lime zest over it.

The highlight of the day to me was the Ayu. Think of this as a shisamo on steroids; it was literally filled with miniscule eggs that were smaller than the usual roe which lends a creamy and mealy texture to the eggs. This coupled with the slightly bitter and metallic tasting guts of the fish makes this fish one of the most complex one that I’ve ever tasted. And to top it all, you even get substantial chunks of white flesh, and the contrast in taste and texture with the eggs was just mind-blowing.

We had a series of Negiris after the Ayu. The brown colouration of the rice was intriguing right from the start, and the grains were definitely longer than the ones we normally see. The chef explained thereafter that the rice was cooked with kombu, which lends the rust colour, and a special kind of vinegar was used to season the rice. I often have a fear of overly acidic rice in my sushi which sort of ruins the taste of the other ingredients. Indeed, I find the rice here less sharp than usual.

The more memorable ones were Hotate, perfectly fat and substantial scallops that tasted like candies from the ocean and accentuated by the deft grating of citrus zest, Konoshiro, a Japanese gizzard shad cured in vinegar (see the trend here?) flourished with yuzu zest, though the highlight was the funkiness in texture – a cross between a firm fleshed fish and a delectably chewy mochi.

The Anago, a seawater eel was also slightly from the other eels or unagis that I have eaten thus far; the former had a nice bite to it without the flakiness of the latter. What was interesting is that all the seafood is imported fresh from the different fish markets in Japan, and there was a heavy emphasis on seasonality. This, together with the masterful curing techniques, produced a unique blend of freshness and cure, and an unfamiliar take on Japanese cuisine.

The Negitoro Handroll next was one of the best dishes of the night. Chunks of marinated tuna were wrapped in a perfectly crisp nori – somewhat like a Japanese take on salsa, and the contrast in textures as you place it in your mouth was exceptional. The variations in the cut of tuna being used made perfect sense as the leaner cuts took on the flavor of the shoyu perfectly, but the fatter parts imparted a slick mouthfeel. The end result? An intensely savoury take on a handroll, and a lingering aftertaste of the ocean thanks to the microglobules of tuna fat still coating the back of your throat.

We ended the meal with Kerayaki, a tamago, egg-like dish perfectly soufflé-ed  that will put all chiffon cakes to shame, Miso soup with Aosa, a kind of sea lettuce, and Nashi, seasonal pears with a light and crisp bite.

Overall, the dishes pay great homage to both the quality of the seafood, as well as the well-preserved curing techniques that Sushi Chiharu has honed over the years. It certainly has been an eye-opening experience and has changed my perception to Japanese cuisine, and perhaps serves as a reminder that there are many facets of a cuisine out there for us to explore.

Thank you Sushi Chiharu for the invitation!

Sushi Chiharu Singapore by Tamaya Dining
45A Cuppage Terrace
Singapore 229464

Website

Reservations: 6835 3839

Opening Hours:
Mon to Sat 6pm to 11.30pm
Sun and Public Holiday 6pm to 10.30pm

  • Special Chef Course $200++
  • Omakase Course $140++ (3 appetiser, 2 sashimi, 1 seasonal dish, 10pcs Nigiri sushi, soup, dessert)
  • Nigiri Course $90++
  • A La Carte options available

Admire the Avant Garde: Neo-Japanese Cuisine at Ami Ami!

In the basement of Great World City, Ami Ami, a restaurant serving avant garde Japanese cuisine, can be found among a cluster of other Japanese food establishments. Ami Ami dares to reconstruct traditional Japanese dishes, without detracting too much from their best flavours. From their menu, we were offered four new dishes that Ami Ami hoped would excite our taste buds.

The Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++) was served on a plate with a deep central recess and wide fringe so that the carpaccio could nestle in the centre while crisp bread, sliced tomato, and dollops of truffle oil and wasabi could be laid along the edges. Together, they presented an immaculately arranged plate, which would turn out to be de rigueur for the rest of the dishes we would eat today. We were instructed to bring the tomatoes and other vegetable leaves to the centre of the plate for mixing with the carpaccio, which consisted of a multi-colour medley: diced sashimi of pink salmon, red tuna, and white yellowtail, orange uni, white yams, tiny green spheres of prawn roe, and green cubes avocado.

Mixed Sashimi Carpaccio ($16.80++)

We topped the toasted, lightly buttered bread with the salad. The flavour of the sea burst forth from the roe, uni, and sashimi, as the avocado provided soft textures and the bread, the hard, noisy crunch. While the carpaccio did benefit from a bit of detected sesame oil in the seasoning, the strong flavour of truffle oil was a bit disruptive to the harmonies of the other elements, and I could have done without it. Nonetheless, this is a great cold starter.

Unlike other maki sushi rolls which traditionally use seaweed, for the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++), Ami Ami have opted for a razor-thin sheet of carrot to hold the ingredients together. Inside the sushi’s core is a tubular chunk of prawn, surrounded by sticky Japanese rice. The rolls are topped with diced strawberry, kiwi, and the distinct green prawn roe once again. Two sauces — mango sauce and a sweet and salty dark sauce — are drizzled, not too liberally, in artful zigzag patterns.

Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll ($9.80++, 4pcs)

The carrot skin does not distract — if anything, it is plainer than seaweed. While this loses the potential light umami of seaweed, it instead gracefully allows the softer flavours of fruit and prawn to come through. Together with the mango sauce, which my photographer deemed refreshing, the flavours of the dish reminded me of the yummy mango prawn salad you get at Chinese restaurants.

In the Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++), shredded snow crab meat was topped with green prawn roe in a crab head. Underneath the meat lay sliced tomatoes, diced mangoes, cucumbers, and tamago egg cubes. While artfully created, this was a frustrating dish to eat. Not because of the flavours, which were expectedly good after the first two dishes, but the difficulty of eating it with chopsticks. Because of the atomised nature of the various elements in the crab head, picking up more than tiny pinches of rice and crab meat shreds with our chopsticks was impossible. It’s not an easy dish to share; it’s best consumed by one, who can pick up the entire head, and shovel the food into his mouth like the crab head is a rice bowl.

Zuwaigani Shell Sushi ($9.80++)

The next dish was a Sushi Pizza ($17.80++) that defied both traditions of Japanese and Neapolitan cuisine. Squares of paper-thin spring roll skin were layered with rice, seaweed, salmon & yellowtail sashimi, avocado, mango, and roe. It is finally covered with a blend of gouda and mozzarella cheese. The entire assembly is that oven-baked until the insides are cooked, the base is crisp, and the cheese has melted and browned a bit. Along the side are two sauces – a Japanese tonkatsu-based sauce and a spicy sauce that you can dip your pizza in.

Sushi Pizza ($17.80++)

It turned out to be delicious, and didn’t fall apart when picked up with chopsticks. The cheese could have been slightly less cooked if they wanted it to remain stringy, but overall it was a dish that satisfied me, even if it might offend some Italian and Japanese gastronomes.

Like the Fruit & Ebi Tempura Vegetable Sheet Roll, the Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++) also has a core of prawn and rice. However, the wrap of choice is instead a crisp pie crust with cheddar cheese. It is served along the edges of the plate with a teriyaki and cream dipping sauce in the centre. Adding the cream to teriyaki sauce made it lighter and smoother. Eating the whole thing felt like a more Japanese version of char siew so. While this dish dispenses with delicateness, its bold salty and umami flavours make this a robust dish.

Ebi Tempura Cheese Pie Roll ($15.80++, 8pcs)

Ami Ami dances on the edge of propriety, but manage to hold onto the fundamental tastes of Japanese food. For anyone who wants something deviating from the usual Japanese fare, Ami Ami definitely have a few intriguing dishes to offer.

Thank you Ami Ami for the invitation.

Ami Ami
#B1-03/04

Great World City
(within Shokutsu Ten Japanese Food Street)
Singapore 237994

Contact: 6835 9071

Opens from:

11.30am to 3pm (last order 2.30pm)
5.30pm to 10pm (last order 9.30pm)

Website

When Skyve-ing Is A Very Good Thing

As MRT stations go, Newton is an oft-overlooked one, even though it’s an interchange station between the North-South and Downtown Lines. Nestled in a fairly quiet neighbourhood without high-density housing estates, it’s usually more associated with its eponymous hawker centre (though, tourists beware).

However, just a few minutes walk away from the station sits the hidden gem that is Skyve Wine Bistro. Helmed by the Le Cordon Bleu-trained Executive Chef Jachin Tan, it’s recently launched a new revamped menu of modern bistro fare to go along with its recent facelift.

Stepping into the compound at 10 Winstedt Road, you get a sense of calm already: it’s tucked away enough to make this a wonderful date spot, or a weekend recharge hideaway. But that’s not enough, of course. If we’re here to eat, then the spotlight must be on the food.

And shine the food does. Chef Jachin’s new menu hits the sweet spot: it’s produce-driven, and I often found it hard to figure out what sort of cuisine this was. But that’s not a bad thing, since he’s not limited by a single culinary tradition, and so the quality of the produce really shines through.

Smoked Tomato: Who cares what cuisine this is, if it’s this good?

One example of this is the Smoked Tomato ($12++). Featuring Momotaro tomatoes from the Cameron Highlands, with buffalo snow, heart of palm and a basil sorbet. The tomato is slow-smoked, and together with the heart of palm, really bursts with flavour that is complemented by the buffalo snow. What then rounds it off nicely is the refreshing sorbet: I’ve never quite been a basil person, but this was a surprising pairing that I really enjoyed!

Mediterranean Octopus: My only regret is that an octopus only has eight tentacles.

Another appetizer that went really well with me was the Mediterranean Octopus ($18++). Pickled eggplant, vandouvan (a French derivative of masala spices) and cauliflower puree accompanied this dish. The octopus was chewy but not tough, and its char-grilled flavour was absolutely delicious. This was one of the best octopus I’ve had in a while, because most places either deliver on the flavour, but produce tough octopus, or a wonderful texture but slightly lacklustre flavour.

Beef Tartare: A French classic with a twist.

But not everything here is all new and fancy: Chef Jachin delivered in the Beef Tartare ($18++) a French classic. But of course, as you probably can figure out by now, he’s not the sort to not mix things up a bit: this came with miso-cured egg yolk, shallot dust and gherkin gelee. Beef tartare is hard to get right, if only because most people aren’t that used to the gamey taste of raw beef. But here, the grass-fed Australian beef takes centre-stage, with just a hint of truffle to get the heady aroma. The miso-cured egg yolk contrasts the flavours wonderfully, a bit of beef, a bit of egg yolk, and you start to believe that perhaps you could live a life of food untouched by fire at all.

Lobster Sang Mee: If it means something to the chef, you can bet it’ll taste very good.

You can’t live off appetisers, of course, even if these are that good. So we move on to the mains: first up is a childhood classic of the chef, a Lobster Sang Mee ($32++). No one really expects a zi char dish to show up in a chic bistro, but I’m not complaining if it’s as good as how he does it. With egg drop soup, mussels, and “abalone” (actually a type of mushroom), the dish is intensely homey, but the lobster and the plating remind you that this is quite a step up beyond what you’ll get at your friendly neighbourhood coffee shop. Clearly, never underestimate a chef when he prepares a dish that is emotionally important to him!

Smoked Tenderloin: A garden, with soil, greens, and an animal I could eat over and over again.

Continuing on the smoked theme, I had the Smoked Tenderloin ($38++). Now, it comes with gobo, braised shiitake and truffle soil, but these are merely the accompaniment to the real star: the excellent meat on offer. It is juicy, and the smoking has clearly managed to lock in the flavours, with a depth of taste that I find difficult to describe in words. Maybe it’s the smoking, maybe it’s the quality of the meat already, but this was quite the tour de force. What added a lot of joy to my dining here was the way the other ingredients came in to play: the braised shiitake offered incredibly earthy tastes that contrasted with the meatiness of the tenderloin, and the truffle soil was just excellent mash. I am very picky about my mash, since potato can be boring if you don’t do it right, but I had zero complaints here.

Semifreddo of Lime: Nothing done halfway here in this semifreddo; wholly goodness.

A meal that begins this well, carries this well through the mains, must also end well. To this end, I enjoyed the two options available: a light and refreshing Semifreddo of Lime ($10++) and the simpler but richer Molten Chocolate ($12++). The semifreddo comes with a lovely aesthetic, using blue pea flower caviar, alongside a distinctively floral treat from the crumbly sable that gave depth to the lime notes of the ice cream. Texture-wise, the dessert developed over the time it took to eat it: first with distinct notes from each flavour, then commingling of flavours as the ice cream melted and each spoonful became a delicious potpourri.

Molten Chocolate: What it says on the tin, in a real celebration of chocolate.

But if you’re not into light finishes, then the option for decadence will also not disappoint. Skyve’s chocolate lava cake is as good as I have had anywhere else, with a candied zest that manages to cut through the richness. This dessert is exactly what it looks like: an elegant chocolate cake that degenerates very quickly into a wonderfully sticky and gooey mess that celebrates chocolate gloriously.

Ah, all that satisfaction. Ultimately, there’s a whole host of options for dining that begin from brunch, till dinner, and I think the setting really just is perfect for the food. Come in for lazy brunches, quiet lunches, and charming dinners. They really do hit the right spot.

Thank you Skyve Wine Bistro for the invitation.
This article was written by Lan Yingjie

Skyve Wine Bistro
No. 10 Winstedt Road

Block E #01-17
Singapore 227977
Reservations: 6225 6690

Website