In one of the lovely old chophouses in Chinatown, Esquina is noted British chef Jason Atherton’s take on a tapas bar. It’s another part of his collaboration with Asian mogul Loh Lik Peng who has a wide number of developments in Singapore, Shanghai, London and, now, Sydney.

While it may be called tapas, there’s very little on the menu that meets the definition of traditional plates, with the exception of some of the dishes listed under snacks – jamon croquettes, marinated olives, iberico ham as examples. Most dishes are solid bistro fare, once again fusing European plates with Asian sensibilities. Esquina (which means corner in Spanish) is a long and narrow space with bar seating abutting the open kitchen. There are also a few tables outside and a new space upstairs ‘Esquina 2.0’ which is designed for events and special dinners.

We pulled up two stools, ordered some San Miguel beer and tried to think cool thoughts. When the kitchen is in full-on mode, the ceiling fans do little to cool the place down. Greedy Girl felt for the chefs but expects they’d be used to it.
Atherton’s influence is obvious here (as you’d hope). Our first dish was reminiscent of one we’d had at Pollen Street Social in London – a Spanish breakfast. In London, it was called an English breakfast and contained various elements of a British fry-up. The box with straw was presented by a waiter and you placed your egg shell into a cup at the table. Here it was rather more hands-on. The shell, filled with mushroom ketchup, scrambled egg, chorizo ketchup, potato foam and chorizo crumbs was placed in the straw filled box but you needed to hold it yourself – and it was, initially, rather warm. It was, however, quite delish, especially when you could dip your spoon deep enough to get some of the intense mushroom at the bottom.

Esquina, Singapore

The delish Spanish breakfast

Next up were scallops. An exceedingly pretty-looking plate, this was sashimi scallop with house cured duck ham, radish, lemon and burnt cucumber. Greedy Girl tried her first scallop au naturel and then went back for another round with the duck ham and other ingredients. The lemon (the slick you can see on the picture, above) worked extremely well with all the other elements but not on its own. Gluttonous husband thought the burnt cucumber was a great touch but neither of us liked the whole radishes, preferring the small slices.

Esquina, Singapore

Sashimi scallop with duck ham

Next, we had pork and foie gras sliders, pictured at the top of this blog. These were iberico barbecued pork patties with a foie gras centre. They were served with little dishes of sauerkraut and a tangy, spicy mayo. Greedy Girl didn’t have high hopes – the last time she’d had a burger that combined the foie gras (rather than a separate slice on top) was at Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne in the Marina Bay Sands celebrity chef strip. There, the foie gras in the middle of the burger was stone cold – and not a pleasant sensation to bite into. These however, were just about perfect. The foie gras was warm and soft and paired spectacularly well with the pork. Another yum.

Still hungry, we decided on another couple of dishes. First up was the beef tartare. This was tangy rather than spicy and the shaved horseradish gave it a very subtle kick. It was served with sea urchin mayonnaise, egg yolk puree, a sprinkling of greens and a side of sourdough toast. One serving was plenty for two people. It was very enjoyable.

Esquina, Singapore

A tangy beef tartare

We then went to one of the evening’s specials which we’d watched being prepared for other diners – pappardelle with iberico ham, egg and truffle. It was as elegant a presentation as Greedy Girl supposes is possible with pasta. It looked delicious but there was no real wallop of flavour. The presence of crunchy breadcrumbs was also a step too far in her humble opinion, not enjoying the texture. She also didn’t get any truffle flavour, although gluttonous husband said he did, right towards the end of the dish.

Esquina, Singapore

Pappardelle with iberico ham, egg and truffle

Done. We prepared to drain the last of the beer and head out. Even though every seat was occupied, the chefs commented they thought it would be a slow night – given there was no queue forming at the door. It was Singapore’s national day, so there was a bit of competition from the various parades and fireworks displays.

As we paid the bill, we were given a little treat for the road – sangria sorbet. Mini cones were filled with a lush, cold sorbet dominated by a raspberry flavour – what’s not to love about that? It was a perfect full stop for the evening.

Esquina, Singapore

A refreshing treat for a hot night

Esquina does accept bookings and they’re to be recommended if you want to try some inventive, well-executed food. Our close up view of the kitchen emphasised the high standards here – the head chef often rejected plates from his team if they didn’t meet his critical gaze. Some weren’t salvageable – he insisted they be prepared again from scratch.

The neighbourhood itself is a bit of a foodie mecca – for local food as well as a swathe of hip bars and eateries. A great way to sample the diversity of Singapore food.


16 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore

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