Why would anyone spend good money at a Spanish restaurant only to sit on stools by the roadside bushes and dine on a makeshift table with illumination mainly from the nearby street lamp? Well if the restaurant is the Esquina Tapas Bar in the Keong Saik neighbourhood of Chinatown Singapore, then it seems many people are quite happy to do so. Ourselves included. Esquina Tapas Bar has been in business for five years and its hip factor does not seem to be diminishing. The price to pay for not making a timely reservation to dine here is either a “sorry we are full” situation or, if you are lucky, a road-side table. We considered ourselves lucky to get one such table when we turned up without a reservation. Some others after us had to think of plan B.
Above is a picture of the luxurious indoor dining at the bar counter in Esquina. This is the only colour photograph in this post. All the other photos were taken outdoors, under the orange glow of the sodium-vapour street lamp. Instead of showing you orange photographs, we thought we might as well make them black and white. At least there is an off-chance that some may consider them artistic.
These are pictures of the pavement seating options. We had a small square table next to the bushes and a concrete pillar adorned with artistic calligraphy. Our view was the back view of some shop houses on the other side of the street. Fortunately it was a cool night.
Here are pictures of the Esquina menu. We ordered the Esquina Spanish Omelette ($6 each), mini Spanish breakfast ($9 each), sea urchin, crab and lobster bisque ($22), Saffron Paella with pan-fried snapper ($24) and Iberian pork and foie gras burger ($28).
This is the mini Spanish breakfast. It was an egg-shell containing soft scrambled eggs and other nice ingredients associated with breakfast like chorizo, ketchup and baked potato. $9 is a lot of money to pay for an egg but the taste of each spoonful was so concentrated and complex that I am thinking of eating it again as I am writing this post. The presentation of the egg in a nest was also creative and apt, since we were sitting next to the bushes.
No, we were not eating foamy rambutan. These are pictures of the sea urchin and lobster bisque. This foamy soup was served in a sea urchin shell. Hidden under the foam was a treasure trove of lobster nuggets. We loved the taste of this.
The usual Spanish omelette we had come across are quite substantial dishes. The ones at Esquina were served in bite-sized portions. Topped with fish eggs and filled with who knows what, they were really tasty. We can each eat five of these. At this time we were starting to get worried. All the items thus far had been served in tiny portions. Did we have to double our order of everything? Thank goodness the main course items were more substantial.
The burgers were small but there were two of them and they contained a generous amount of meat. It was a mix of pulled pork, foie gras and a mix of other tastes. The liver taste was very mild and not overpowering, which was a good thing.
Finally, the quintessential Spanish dish – paella. This was topped with a piece of pan-fried snapper which was very fresh and the fried surface was really crisp. The rice and other ingredients were slightly salty but combined well when eaten with the fish. This was quite a substantial dish. Best shared by two persons.
Overall, the folks at Esquina have worked their magic to make a venue that has so many limitations become so attractive. We were so engrossed with the eating once they started serving the food that we had overlooked the less than desirable ambience of roadside dining. In fact on a cool night, dining on the pavement may be more attractive than sitting by the counter in the narrow indoor space. There is a third option – more regular seating upstairs. The key is to make the reservation in advance.
Overall Rating: 4 TOPs
Esquina Tapas Bar
16 Jiak Chuan Rd
Tel: +65 6222 1616
Tue-Sat: 12-2:30pm, 6-10:30pm
Closed Sunday & Monday