This restaurant is now closed.

Northern Spain has a justly-deserved reputation as a foodie heaven. In the last list of the World’s top 50 restaurants, there were three Spanish entries in the top 10, two from San Sebastián and one from Girona in the Catalan region hugging Spain’s north-east coast. Any void left after Ferran Adria’s famous El Bulli closed its doors has quickly been filled.

Since El Bulli roared to the top of the pops (in restaurant land), fine dining in northern Spain has been noted for two things – the technical wizardry of its chefs and an unlimited imagination. So it was with almost breathless excitement that Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband secured a lunchtime table at a restaurant that owed its existence to the legacy of El Bulli.

We were a long way from Barcelona in Catalunya, a tapas bar/restaurant brought to Singapore by several members of the old El Bulli team. We’d heard about its imminent opening from Stepan, the delightful Czech Maitre D’ at Restaurant Andre (see the blog Eight paths to food heaven) who happily chatted to the ex-El Bulli crew in Spanish at the table next to us. We couldn’t wait to get in and see if a little of the magic had rubbed off.

Catalunya is certainly an unusual-looking restaurant, floating on a pontoon in Marina Bay. Where once this entrance to the Singapore River was noted purely for the presence of the Merlion, it is now a showcase for some wonderful (and weird) architecture. The extraordinary Marina Bay Sands sits on one side of the water, adjacent to the arts precinct with its lotus-shaped and ‘Durian’ theatre buildings, while Catalunya’s side (closest to the Singapore CBD), is home to the Fullerton precinct, comprising the olde worlde, colonnaded Fullerton Hotel and the rather more avant garde-looking Fullerton Bay Hotel. Catalunya sits in between the two, down a little timber jetty, looking for all the world like a glass domed, unopened flower.

Inside, there is a mix of almost rustic-looking heavy, dark timber surrounding the central bar and lounge area, giving way to a more open dining area overlooking the water. It’s so bright on this particular day that Greedy Girl finds it difficult to remove her shades – Singapore often suffers from a smoggy, hazy outlook and this is amplified by the glare off the water.

Having not been open all that long, Catalunya’s fame was already very evident. Impossible to get a spot for dinner, we took a late-ish lunch booking, intending to settle in for a feed. Having not been open all that long, Catalunya’s teething problems were also very evident – in the guise of a particularly tetchy fire alarm that serenaded us on a number of occasions. Greedy Girl was very grateful to hide her winces behind the dark glasses. It was a smoky day outside and obviously the fire alarm was set to a high sensitivity level. Its proximity to the kitchen probably didn’t help matters much. Greedy Girl decided to forego a pre-lunch drink. The noise and glare were already building – she didn’t need a headache in a glass as well.

Catalunya Marina Bay Sands

The view from inside Catalunya

Catalunya offers a full menu of tapas choices as well as more involved dishes. This is not El Bulli-style molecular gastronomy but almost ‘homey’ cooking. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband opted to choose only the tapas dishes for a lighter lunch. It couldn’t have started better with what was termed a ham, cheese and truffle ‘bikini’. This is a toastie on steroids.

An homage to Barcelona’s famed Bikini Bar, it’s a sublime mix of jamon, melted cheese and black truffle paste between crispy fingers of bread. It was all Greedy Girl could do to stop herself from face planting into the plate to gorge. It tested positive to all the required food groups – salt, fat, carbs, truffles. An unqualified yum.

From there, however, it was fairly much straight down that most unfortunate one-way street, Disappointment Lane. Nothing else hit the heights. Jamon Iberico croquettes were OK but nothing to write a blog home about. Calamari ‘Andalucian style’ with mayonnaise was rather firmer to the bite than we would have liked (read, chewy) and the mayo lacking in any real flavour. ‘Estrellados’ eggs with fries and our choice of chorizo were ridiculously runny – almost impossible to eat with a fork. As a recommendation from the wait staff, we ordred the chicken wings ‘al ajillo’ which basically means done with a garlic sauce. Gluttonous husband had to polish off that plate; Greedy Girl found this dish intensely underwhelming.

Always attuned to other possibilities, Greedy Girl eagle-eyed every other plate that emerged from the kitchen. One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is a traditional suckling pig, designed to feed two to three people. It was clearly popular, being delivered on a regular basis to other tables. When it lobbed on the table next to Greedy Girl she admitted to feeling somewhat unnerved.

Not fond of eating whole fish because she finds it hard to deal with looking at the eye ‘in situ’, this dish certainly qualified for truth in labelling. It was a whole suckling pig, squashed flat on the serving board. Wait staff presented the platter and then proceeded to cleaver it into portions. The crackling of the skin was remarkable but the overall effect was too alarming for Greedy Girl. She couldn’t cope with the sight of the snout, or the little curly tail. It wasn’t quite a Lisa Simpson-style desire to become vegetarian epiphany but there’s a lot to be said for less confronting presentation when it comes to consuming our animal brethren – or is Greedy Girl just a wuss?

Still, it remains to be said our experience of Catalunya left a fair bit to be desired. Would we go back for a ‘bikini’ toastie and a glass of rose at the bar? In a heartbeat. Would we worry if we weren’t able to get in for an evening meal for the foreseeable future? Not a whit. This isn’t Barcelona. In fact, it’s a rather long way from there.

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