You don't always need to fork out a hefty sum for a meal at a celebrity chef-branded restaurant or be intimidated by complex wine lists and even more complex 10-course menus.
"It's just good and fun food. We want customers to come in and have fun and not have to think too much about what they're eating," says celebrity chef and Gordon Ramsay protege Jason Atherton of the food served at his new venture, tapas bar Esquina, which he opened with acclaimed local hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng. And you know he's serious about keeping his food accessible when the typical route of a Marina Bay Sands restaurant space is eschewed in favour of a tiny shophouse tucked in the corner of, of all places, a Chinatown road.
What is it: Born out of a love of all things Spanish following a stint at the famed El Bulli, Esquina is Atherton's platform for showing off his creative vision, and executive chef Andrew Walsh's space to work his magic. And while authetic tapas is fast becoming one of the more popular food trends in recent months, Esquina's menu of the traditional Spanish grub is decidedly more modern.
The look: It's a tiny, tiny space at Esquina, with a long open communal bar and kitchen resembling chic European urban canteens that sits only 19 people and stands 35, but it's the perfect size to get chummy with your dining companions and even make new friends over a glass of Spanish wine. The raw industrial vibe is further accentuated with avant-garde stools and Loh's handpicked antique knick-knacks such as vintage bronze lamps and rugged signages.
Must-try: Signature dishes, and clear favourites at Esquina are the scallop ceviche (S$17) -- comes with all the fresh flavours of the raw scallops marinated in tangy Yuzu lime juice and topped off with cilantro and radish that gives it an extra kick -- as well as the tuna tartare (S$17.50) sprinkled with chives and cilantro. The classic dish is given an interesting Asian twist in the form of olive oil seasoning, wasabi and toasted sesame seeds.
For something that's utterly indulgent and completely addictive, give the salt and pepper baby squid (S$18.50) a whirl -- the squid is deep-fried to crispy perfection and well-seasoned without being overpowering. The Iberico pork and foie gras burger (S$25) is another equally delightful option, bite-sized treats with moist and savoury meat, pickled cucumber and smooth avocado mayonnaise.
The black olive sorbet with strawberry gazpacho and basil (S$11.50) is easily one of the most interesting desserts we've had with a blend of savoury and sweetness while the Santiago tart with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream (S$12) is comforting in the most familiar of ways.
Also look out for: Spanish beers like Estrella and Sherrys instead of the usual sangria. A wine list, put together by award-winning somelier Laure Patre of Atherton's London restaurant Pollen Street Social is also available.
Verdict: Charming food, efficient service with an almost millitary-like precision as well as a bustling, convivial atmosphere makes Esquina the after-work hotspot to beat. Esquina does not take reservations, however, so remember to head on down early to snag a seat.
Esquina, 16 Jiak Chuan Road, +65 6222 1616