Esquina is the name of an Argentine tango album that I like a lot: so much that when I lost the first copy, I bought a replacement from amazon.com. It’s unfortunately out of stock now, but thankfully the earthy, soulful music lives on in mp3 form in my hard drive. Esquina also means street corner, and this is exactly where Esquina the tapas bar is – wrapped round the corner of Jiak Chuan Road and Teck Lim Road. Chris and I had wanted to try this for a while and we soon found ourselves there one Friday evening. This place doesn’t do reservations, just turn up relatively early so you get a seat. I was stuck in the mother of all traffic jams and didn’t make it there till far later than the 6.15 sweet spot we agreed on. Luckily, there was still room outside and we settled in after asking the staff to give us the next table that became available inside. It’s a packed and fairly rowdy place, just like what a tapas bar should be.
Outside, the light was beautiful enough to capture my sangria nicely. Chris had heard great things about it and I do agree it goes down a treat – sweet, smooth and fairly inocuous until you realise you made the mistake of gulping it down to cool yourself. It’s definitely got some hard stuff in it. To properly cool yourself, go for the cold water the waiter serves up straight away once you get seated (nice one!). Sip the sangria slowly because the sweetness masks how strong it is, and you do want to enjoy the cinnamon flavour. Plus, it is a rather small serving. It is, after all, a reasonable $12. Strangely enough for a tapas bar, we couldn’t find this on the menu and there was no suggestion that there were variations of sangria. There’s a decent winelist though, so you could check that out.
Now we were here for the tapas and drinking is rather secondary to the food for us lightweights. (We only pretend that we can drink, really!) The oysters with Vietnamese dressing came first. At $5 a pop, they were fairly reasonably priced. I liked how they came balanced atop a seaweed and salt bed upon a rustic chopping board. They certainly made a pretty sight. The oysters were fresh and went fairly well with the sauce. However, I failed to see the Vietnamese link as it was more sweet and sour than herbal, bracing or tart. No chilli either. While a pleasing combination, Chris and I still find oysters au naturel (with maybe a small squeeze of lemon juice) far better.
The scallop ceviche with radish salsa was much more inspired. At $19.50 for four portions of scallop, it wasn’t bad value. The tart soy dressing and mustardy kick of the baby leaves went really well with the crunchy-sharp radish salsa and the delicate brininess of the scallop.
Next up was the grilled baby romaine salad with anchovies, manchego and truffle honey ($9.50). It was a great take on a green salad because the grilling made the romaine hearts tender yet retaining crunch. It was a fantastic combination because the foil to the textures of the vegetable was sour-salty-fishy from the anchovies, salty-umami-slight pungence from the cheese, and a delicate sweetness from the honey. I didn’t taste any truffle, but that hardly made any difference to the lovely flavours and textures of the dish.
The light began to fade as the rest of the dishes turned up, like the heritage tomato salad with sherry dressing ($13.50). Unfortunately, this course was a bit faded too. It was a nice enough salad, with meaty red, green and yellow tomatoes dressed well with a sweet sherry vinaigrette. Chris really liked the green tomatoes and the funny soil-like garnish on the plate.
Then came one of the specials of the evening – hens egg with asparagus and foie gras butter ($21). First, I don’t understand what’s with restaurants these days padding out the names of common ingredients just to make it sound more high class. An egg means a regular chicken egg unless otherwise noted, like quail egg or duck egg. As far as I know, there isn’t such thing as a rooster egg, so what’s with this funny distinction? (Me ordering: We’ll have the egg special; Server: Ah, the hen’s egg?; Me: ?????) Rant aside, this dish was rather eggsellent. It consisted of tender roasted asparagus on a shallot-lentil base and topped with a poached (hen’s) egg. Accompanying it was what had been described as a piece of foie gras “that big” (our server indicated about the diameter of a ping pong ball). It was more like foie gras butter (not terrine or pate, so temper your expectations). The idea is really the very British concept of egg and soldiers, just made more upmarket with the hen’s egg. OK fine, not the egg but the asparagus and foie gras butter. So this is what you do – butter the toast liberally with the decadent spread and dunk into the egg, trying not to drip too much in the journey from dish to mouth. There’s not going to be enough bread, so here’s where the asparagus comes in. It’s roasted till tender and go beautifully with the mixture of soft-cooked egg and lentils and shallot.
The last dish we had here was the baked bone marrow with snails and parsley and horseradish pesto ($24). DC had turned up by this point and was happily scarfing it down, the more exotic foods being his eating specialty. I wasn’t too sure about this. While I enjoyed the theatrics of this dish – great presentation of bone and pretty shallot and herb topping hiding the less pretty dark brown snail filling, the perfectly toasted bread sitting just so at the side, and the painting of parsley pesto on the final third of the plate – I found that the snails overwhelmed the bone marrow. I like how the more conventional places do bone marrow as if it’s a very rich spread to toast. Here, the chef probably wanted to take it a notch further with snails, but I found that the rubbery gastropod simply took away from what should have been an unctuous, mouth-filling toast sensation. Plus, I couldn’t detect any horseradish either. Nonetheless, DC really liked it.
Here’s where our experience came to an abrupt end. The staff didn’t come back with the inside table even though there had been some turn over inside. When asked, they seemed to have forgotten and instead wanting to put us on the waiting list which entailed another 30 minutes or so before getting into airconditioning. We weren’t too happy to have been kept outside in the heat for so long, so we called for the bill and went elsewhere for Round Two. While each of the servers were friendly and seemed competent enough, their communication with each other wasn’t great. Upon arrival, the server who first saw us pointed us to another lady who seated us, then the first server came back to take our order. They missed out DC’s wine as the order hadn’t been made through our guy, and our indoor table request was clearly lost because we must have asked the wrong person. It’s a strange practice that wouldn’t win a lot of fans if they keep losing communications like that. Nonetheless, the food is generally good and not too horrifically priced for a tapas place. Too bad DC didn’t get to order the Iberico pork and foie gras burger and Chris didn’t get to try the desserts. The lesson probably is to be more patient. But for the more impatient, like us, yummier treats awaited just across the esquina. To be continued!
16 Jiak Chuan Rd
Tel: +65 6222 1616