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

Saturday Beer Club at Bar MF by Morganfield’s: Really, Why Not?

Saturday afternoons are rather strange bits of the week. On Friday night, you’re relieved the week is over. On Sunday, you’re relaxed, and then you scramble to make the most of the evening before the grind of Monday hits.

But ah, Saturday afternoon, the sweet spot of the wonderful weekend, is when you begin to feel rested. Fresh from a lovely lie-in, but not quite ready for the fun of Saturday night, we often look for somewhere to chill on a Saturday afternoon.

And that is precisely where the Saturday Beer Club at Bar MF by Morganfield’s comes in: free flow craft beers from the tap with beer bites from 4-7pm for $55++ a person, and nestled high above the roar of Orchard Road. What’s not to like?

First off, I’ll tell you what I don’t like about it: that it’s monthly. Aw come on, I could get used to this weekly. And I was a little annoyed when I was limited to having just one beer in hand each time. I’m a man who likes to take sips of two pints and compare (editor’s note: we do not condone the writer’s lifestyle ;)). But beyond that, it’s really quite a wonderful concept. I rocked up to the veranda at Orchard Central with a friend (sip your friend’s beer, that’s how you get around the limitation!), and we had a great time just chilling over the drinks and the food.

Morganfield’s inaugural Saturday Beer Club menu! Selection rotates every month!

Each month, there’s 10 types of craft beer and cider. During the inaugural launch of the Saturday Beer Club, flying the Aussie flag are beers from Beerfarm (Perth, Western Australia), Stone and Wood (New South Wales), and Bridge Road Brewers (Victoria). Beerfarm’s India Pale Lager was something that hit the spot for me, even though I don’t usually consider myself too much of a hophead in the flavours I like. Stone and Wood’s Pacific Ale was a good clean starter too: easy and fresh to open the session with. But what really pleased me was finding a good porter in Bridge Road’s Robust Porter: I definitely picked up a taste for the roasty flavour you get in porters while studying in the UK!

That man just wants to pour you a beer, and he’s not going to demand money for it.

American craft beers aren’t forgotten either: Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, California) and SweetWater Brewing (Atlanta, Georgia) are on the menu too! As befits the current IPA craze on the American craft beer scene, there’s an IPA from each of them on offer. But what’s intriguing is really the SweetWater Blue: a fruit beer made with blueberries. Still fairly serious a beer, but oooh, the blueberry was a nice touch.

For something a little more unusual, there’s also Black Kite Brewery, a microbrewery in Hong Kong. The Saturday Beer Club features their wheat beer, which is rather banana-ey, with a tart taste reminiscent of sour mash. If it’s free flow, why not experiment with your taste buds, right?

But see, it’s not right to me to just drink beer. The Japanese have a concept that relates to alcohol: otsumami, or bar snacks. They believe that good alcohol must go with good snacks, to pair and bring out flavours complementary to each other.

I had no beef with these beef cubes. They were great.

I believe they are right. And the Saturday Beer Club takes good care of you in that department. There’s Coffee Beef Cubes (aahhhh so good), Grilled Prawns, Burnt-end Skewers with Satay Sauce, Smokey Bacon Bourbon Ribs, Salt and Pepper Squid, Candied Peach BBQ Ribs and Popcorn Pork.

Not your ordinary popcorn pork. Also disappears really quickly when you’re sipping beer, and you don’t realise it at all!

It’s not all meat and more meat: sometimes it’s pancakes and…meat.

Still hungry? Help yourself to Mini Blueberry Pancakes with Bacon, or some Potato Salad or Fruit Salad to ease off from the grease.

Just like that, I had a really relaxing afternoon sipping beers, tasting new things, and generally chilling with friends. Well worth it. See you at the next one.

Thank you Morganfield’s for the invitation.
This post was written by Lan Yingjie

Saturday Beer Club
Bar MF by Morganfields

181 Orchard Road
#11-03 Orchard Central
Singapore 238896

Next edition of the Saturday Beer Club will be held 28 July 2018
Priced at $55++ a person
Tickets available here

Elixir Bar at Kuvo – Bespoke Cocktails Inspired Through Legends!

I guess many of us have walked down Orchard Road at some point in our lives, but I can safely say that if I ask my friends where Orchard Shopping Centre is, none of them will be able to tell me so.

In fact, many of us have walked past this building without noticing it. Perched above the intersection of Orchard and Grange Road, this old and sombre building opposite Cathay Cineleisure looks like a misfit amongst the modern and sleek buildings beside it. None of us actually knows what is inside, yet if you have the courage to walk in and teeter up an obscure escalator, you will find yourself in a place that screams huge contrast to the façade outside.

Meet Elixir Bar, a bespoke cocktail bar that sits within Kuvo, a multi-concept space that consists of a dining room that features a Chinese ala-carte buffet and Vine Lounge, a hideout for wine lovers. Helming Elixir Bar as its head mixologist is Vladyslav Buzko (or just Vlad, as his name tag suggests :p), a 25 year-old Ukrainian who relocated to Singapore just 6 months ago.

Continue reading “Elixir Bar at Kuvo – Bespoke Cocktails Inspired Through Legends!”