Seedy bars, dubious establishments and scantily-clad call girls used to be the defining features of Duxton Hill, but the place that most people used to give a wide berth is today an up-and-coming hotspot for chic bistros, patisseries and other quaint shops. New to the family - Sabio Tapas Bar and Restaurant.
What: Sabio is the one of the newest additions to the Duxton Hill enclave, a Spanish tapas bar that prides itself in serving only the best and freshest of ingredients imported directly from Spain.
The man behind the bar is, curiously enough, Frenchman Olivier Bendel, whose two decades of experience in the industry also brings with it a keen business sense and a shrewd intuition as to what works and doesn't. Handcrafted by Bendel himself, Sabio serves up an enticing menu of hot and cold tapas, as well as an array of specially imported wine, beer and spirits, and a well-stocked Providore with an assortment of Spanish produce available for purchase.
Pulpo gallego (octopus cooked in olive oil and lemon)
The Look: Sabio isn't large by any means, a true reflection of the Spanish tradition of encouraging conversation and interaction amongst patrons whilst serving tapas. Choose to be seated at either the tiny two-seater tables, or the long communal bar that extends through the length of the restaurant. Painted Catalan tiles and traditional Spanish murals are reminscient of the traditional charm of authentic Spanish bars, while designer lighting and furniture add contemporary touches.
The 14-metre long bar with a refrigerated counter top showcases menu options for the day
Must-Try: The Patatas alioli (Fried potatoes with garlic mayonnaise), $8, is the ultimate comfort food, piping-hot bite-sized potatoes drenched in tasty garlic mayonnaise sauce that delights with its complex flavours despite seemingly simplistic preparation methods. Another favourite is the Salmon a la sidra (Salmon in cider together with mussels & clams), $14, featuring a perfectly-cooked piece of salmon in all of its pink and tender glory, infused with just a hint of sweetness from the cider - wonderful.
And a trip to Sabio would not be complete with a taste of its famed Jamón Ibérico Bellota (special aged ham from the black Iberian pig acorns fed only), $20 for 50g and $38 for 100g. Cured for 36 months, the ham is less of an acquired taste than some its Italian ham counterparts, and fattier (almost like bacon) and much more flavourful. Go ahead and indulge.
The stunning leg of Iberian ham
Avoid: There really isn't anything to complain about at Sabio at all. Folks with sensitive teeth however might want to give the signature Turron blando (soft Spanish nougat) a miss - the thick candy is almost a tad overwhlemingly sweet.
Verdict: Bendel may be French, be he's got the laidback, charming vibe of the Spanish eateries down pat. Add in the simple, but hearty fare and unfailingly friendly service to the equation, and you've got the perfect chillout spot. Go early if you want a spot; Sabio doesn't take reservations, and word about the place has gotten out since its opening in late April - the place is usually packed by 7pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
Operation hours:12 noon till late (Mondays to Fridays) 5pm till late (Saturdays & Public Holidays)
Sabio Tapas Bar and Restaurant, 5 Duxton Hill Singapore 089591, +65 6223 4645