The hype surrounding the newly-opened Catalunya has been nothing short of overwhelming since day one. For starters, it's probably the first decent Spanish restaurant to grace our culinary scene in a long while (bars that serve sub-par Spanish tapas don't count -- that we have too many of), and it's headed by the same stellar management behind KU DE TA. And that's before you even consider the favourable elBulli association that's been talking point of just about any foodie in Singapore.
What is it: Catalunya is, as you might have heard by now, run by a team whose resumes include stints at the unparalleled elBulli -- head chef Alain Devahive Tolosa had a decade of experience in the kitchens of elBulli Restaurant, while restaurant manager Pol Perelló brings to Catalunya 12 years of experience manning elBulli.
There are no grounds to compare the two of course -- and Catalunya's predominantly traditional menus are vastly different from Ferran Adria's signature molecular magic -- but Catalunya has reaped the intangible benefits of name association.
The look: Like all the other restaurants situated along the Marina Bay enclave, Catalunya enjoys an unobstructed view of the CBD landscape from the glass-encased dome of Fullerton Pavillion it is situated in overlooking Marina Bay. Diners sharing tapas can choose to either dine at the majestic-looking bar or take a seat at the lower split level. The former is helmed by award-winning mixologist Dario Nocentini (who's extremely easy on the eyes, ladies) so it's a toss-up between which view you'd prefer, really.
Must-try: There are your tapas staples like the Patatas Bravas (S$10), a delightfully savoury Jamon Iberico croquette (S$12 for four pieces), and of course the classic Jamon Iberico "Gran Reserva" (S$55). But for something a little less often seen in tapas bars in Singapore, we loved the Pa amb tomaquet (S$8), an iconic Catalan dish that's quite essentially, "bread with tomato". Simple as it is, chef Tolosa's rendition, drizzled with a fragrant olive oil, is crisp and light -- the perfect starter.
Catalan in its roots too, is the Cod Fish “Esquixada” (S$14), a traditional salad of shredded cod served with olive dressing, tomato, spring onion and olive paste, as well as the delicious ham, cheese and truffle "bikini" sandwich (S$18), which packs a perfectly balanced and flavourful punch in between two thinly-sliced crustless toast.
Comfort food comes in the form of Bombas from "Barceloneta" (S$10 for three pieces), a smooth potato and meat stew, while the Roasted Suckling Pig with Lemon Puree (S$18) finds that double whammy combo of tender meat and thin crackling skin, a result of a 12-hour roasting process. The lemon puree is an unusual alternative to the typical potato, providing a zesty contrast.
Chef Tolosa is sticking to the good ol' classics for now, but has channeled some of his elBulli influences into the Tortilla Omelette "Deconstruccion" (S$10), serving the deconstructed version of the Spanish omelette in a martini glass (we actually thought we ordered another cocktail), and layering onion confit, egg, and potato foam in three distinct layers. The trick here is to dip your spoon straight downwards, and scoop up all the light-as-air goodness at one go. The flawlessly-executed concoction makes this, hands down, the most memorable item on the menu for us.
Also look out for: The signature Stairway to Heaven cocktail (S$19), which was awarded the Bacardi Legacy 2012 Spanish Cocktail of the Year for its use of unusual ingredients and extraordinary flavour profile. The use of celery and coriander leaves cuts through the acidity of the pineapple puree, bestowing a refreshing, almost healthy-tasting nature to the cocktail. Don't down it too fast though -- the drink is deceptively potent, and not one for the lightweights.
Verdict: At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, we're a country plagued by one too many overpriced tapas bars and overly enthusiastic restaurateurs attempting to ride the popularity wave of the Spanish cuisine. Thank goodness for traditionalists like Catalunya, who brings reprieve from poorly-done tapas, and at surprisingly reasonable prices. For your own sake, give all of the self-proclaimed "traditional tapas" restaurants a miss -- this is your go-to place for all things authentically Spanish.
Catalunya, The Fullerton Pavilion, 82 Collyer Quay, www.catalunya.com.sg