Lips and I met up for our girls' only dinner at Sabio, a hugely popular Spanish tapas bar and restaurant along the revitalised Duxton Hill enclave. Even on a Thursday night, the small place was operating at a 80%-90% capacity. I suppose its popularity is why Sabio has a no reservations policy. I didn't quite get the hype though, the pedestrian food is overpriced, and I went away feeling like a foreigner in the expat-populated restaurant. My less-than-stellar dining experience was exacerbated by the very uncomfortable bar counter stools that we were perched on the entire night. (We had to keep re-crossing our legs because they kept cramping up.) We'd wanted seats at the "normal" tables but were told by the waiter that these tables were meant for "groups only" as they each take up to 6 diners. So you can imagine that I was quite displeased when I saw a Caucasian couple being seated at one of those "meant for 6 persons only" tables later that night when there were counter seats at the bar available. Inconsistent seating policy aside, the service was surprisingly speedy (our food arrived barely 10 minutes after orders were placed), and our Amex palate card privileges afforded us a hefty 50% discount off the bill, which totally made the unremarkable dinner a lot more palatable.
The Gambas al pil pil ($15) of prawns cooked in virgin olive oil and garlic served in a sizzling pan drew divided views. I liked the creamy, bisque-like sauce, perked up with grilled red peppers, but Lips found it too cloying.
The classic tapas of Champinones al ajillo ($11), mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic, was a unanimous hit. Then again, you can't really go wrong with garlic mushrooms.
The Pincho moruno de pollo al ajillo y queso ($14), a trio of chicken skewers blanketed in melted manchego cheese and loaded with roasted garlic bulbs was, despite being served in a pool of olive oil, tender and moist. Given the portion size, this was definitely one of the more value-for-money dishes.
The Chuleta de Cordero, a la parilla ($20), a duo of grilled lamb cutlets, were well-marinated but reeked badly of game.
The Chachouka Con Chorizo, dos Huevos Fritos, Tostada de Brioche y Ensalada Verde ($24), Sabio's Spanish take on Turkish shashouka, with chorizo sausages, 2 fried eggs, toasted brioche and salad greens wasn't too bad, but rated well below Wild Honey's Tunisian. The predominantly capsicum-ed gravy was lacking that rich, saucey, sweetly oniony, spiced tomato gravy base that makes chachouka/shashouka such an awesomely comforting breakfast dish.
Sabio Spanish Tapas Bar & Restaurant
5 Duxton Hill
Tel: 66907562 (please note that they currently have a no reservations policy)
Open weekdays from 12noon to late (i.e. around 12midnight);
Saturdays from 6pm till late (i.e. around 12midnight);
Sundays from 11.30am till late (i.e. around 12midnight)