Esquina, a casual tapas bar in Chinatown, is the brainchild of Michelin-starred, Gordon Ramsey-disciple, English Chef Jason Atherton and Midas-incarnate lawyer-turned-hotelier-and-restauranteur Lok Lik Peng. In addition to being one of the earliest purveyors of the interactive kitchen, counter-seating-only styled restaurants, we have Esquina to thank for kick-starting the small plates movement.
The celebrated restaurant has been on my to-review radar for the longest time, but I never really got around to dining here until recently. Maybe it's because reservations weren't taken until 2014, and then, when reservations were finally allowed, they were frequently at full capacity at the teeny tiny bistro.
I don't know why I took this long to visit Esquina. The modern European food was innovative, delicious, and immaculately plated. I'd recommend dining here for lunch; the lunch sets are
extremely value-for-money and affordable in a mass-market kind of way. A
three-course lunch will set you back by $45++ for 3 courses, while the
small-eater two-courses will cost only $35++. There are a total of 4
options each for appetizers, mains and desserts from which to choose.
The downside of indulging in the wallet-friendly set lunch: in the heat of the afternoon sun, the open-kitchen-facing, galley of a restaurant was sweltering. To further exacerbate matters, the steampunk-esque counter-seats were impractical and uncomfortable; the way the stools jabbed into our bums was a little too forward for a virgin visit.
We were mollified by the fantastically congenial service; our supply of iced waters was kept flowing and plates regularly changed. Without any prompting on our end.
We were quickly served complimentary Churros Fries with ricotta and truffle. Scrumptious fragrant stuff and I hankered for more.
Also on the house was Toasted Breadsticks with a creamy paprika aioli. Simple but totally yummy fare.
The Crispy Baby Squid with chilli coriander and black ink aioli was surprisingly substantive. These breadcrumbed babies were excellent, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, and dusted with an addictive spice that enlivened the sweet squid.
The Scallop Ceviche, cured in a sesame lemon infusion, was seasoned with dill and ginger, and served with pickles and radish. Brimming with clean flavours, and very refreshing.
The Burrata was whipped to a cloud-like mousse and dressed in truffle, served with pickled beetroot, walnut crumble and raspberries.
The Baked Seabass with grilled heirloom tomatoes, charred squid, black olive tapenade, sweet garlic and sauteed beans. Esquina does its fish well, and this was flaky, soft and moist, contrasted against the crisp of the golden skin.
The Poached Snapper, drizzled in truffle butter was buttery soft, and balanced out by a melange of spring peas, bacon, leeks, and kale.
The Grilled Duck Breast, was ultra fresh, and done to perfection, elevated by a yuzu carrot puree, and sided by grilled baby heirloom carrots, kale, and hazelnut.
Reminiscent of gazpacho, the Basil Sorbet, with sweet tomato, strawberries, blackberries, yuzu yoghurt and a black pepper meringue, was more palate-cleanser than dessert.
Purportedly popular, the Esquina Tiramisu was a deconstruction of the classic Italian dessert, with mascarpone mousse, chocolate soil and coffee jelly, slathered in hot chocolate sauce.
We were gifted with a complimentary Raspberry Almond Cake when the kitchen was informed that we were celebrating a birthday, and this was superb, moist and eggy.
16 Jiak Chuan Lane
Tel: 6222 1616
Open Mondays to Fridays from 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch; 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 10.30pm for dinner
Closed on Sundays