Salt Tapas & Bar – Pairing Churros with Sangria

13 04 2013

It was only when Salt Grill & Sky Bar commenced operations did I realize that Ion’s top most floors (level 55 & 56) were open to the public. I paid them a visit last year for a Restaurant Week lunch and left with a positive impression. Following the success of Salt Grill, Australian celebrity chef Luke Mangan must have gained an epiphany that Singaporeans love gourmet food but are rather sloppy when it comes down to dressing for meals and hence launched Salt Tapas & Bar last year, a tapas bar where no one will judge you (much) if you and your girlfriends started giggling and banging tables after a couple round of drinks.

While the restaurant has been operating for a while now, the recent appointment of Chef Matthew Leighton as head chef in March 2013 has resulted in a major revamping of the menu. At only 26 years of age, he has served in the Glass Brasserie in Sydney, as well as The Palace in Melbourne, both reputable restaurants by Luke Mangan. Guess we can call him Mangan’s protege of sorts.

The interior of the restaurants gives off a charming rustic vibe, thanks to the red brick walls and wooden furnishings. The tables are spaced out sufficiently and coupled with the high ceilings, I was pretty oblivious to the noise level and could carry out conversations without straining my voice despite the full house on a Tuesday evening.

Now that I see a picture of the bar, I’m reminded that Salt Tapas & Bar has a Ladies night on Wednesdays too. I believe the current promotion is that on every order of a tapas, ladies get 2 drinks FREE (choice of Sangria or Lychee Martini). That’s seriously a good deal, given that a glass of sangria costs $17 bucks here. Oh and the sangria tastes great by the way, would recommend ordering it even without Ladies night. It’s on the sweet end and doesn’t compromise too much on the alcohol.

The menu here is divided into 6 sections, namely “Nibbles”, “Butcher”, “Garden”, “Sea”, “Paddock” and “Sweets”. The sections are more or less quite self-explanatory, so items in paddock would be your meats dishes, items in garden your salad dishes and so forth.

We started off dinner with the Fried Potatoes (Potatas Bravas), Spicy Sauce & Garlic Aioli ($9++), a traditional Spanish tapas dish. Rather tasty and came in a pretty generous serving too.

The Beetroot, Asparagus, Egg, Radish, Rocket, Tarragon Dressing ($12++) wasn’t quite as good. It’s greens after all though objectively, the sweet beets does go quite well with the bitter rockets.

The Pork Sliders, Pickled Cucumber & Chilli ($13++) consisted of a trio of mini burgers filled with pulled pork and pickles. Instead of a solid patty, the pork patty had a consistency which was more of a paste, similar to that of the tuna you find in your subways. Cute as it may be, I thought it was pretty forgettable taste-wise.

Parmesan Truffle Fries ($10++) tastes more or less the same everywhere but the ones here loses its crispness rather quickly so must 趁热吃.

The Roasted Barramundi with Squid, Tomato & Chorizo ($32++) is something I would recommend here. The Barramundi is pretty bland on its own so the zesty tomato base does well to add some much needed flavour to it.

For a tapas bar, I expected better from the Paella of Prawns, Mussels, Chorizo & Chicken ($38++). It was too dry and the rice was unappetizing, very must like soggy clumpy fried rice. A good paella in my view would have the rice absorb a fair bit of the seafood broth and be palatable enough to eat on its own.

Interestingly enough, the star of the Lamb Rumb with Crumbed Zucchini & Salsa Verde ($34++) was the zucchini. The batter was really light and the deep fried zucchini reminded me, in a good way, of the cheese sticks from Burger King which I used to get as an add-on every time I dined there. The lamb was decent and I was impressed by how well the Salsa verde complemented the meat. Salsa verde is a green sauce generally made using parsley, vinegar, capers, garlic, onions, anchovies and olive oil. The one here had a nice mild minty taste.

After a heavy meal, I was thankful for the Berry & Custard Cream Mille-feuille with Elderflower Sorbet ($12++), which was a relatively light dessert made using a layer of of cream filling between 2 layers of puff pastry. I especially liked the elderflower sorbet which was had a nectarous flavour that cleansed the palate.

If you have no time for a meal, do still consider dropping by for the Churros & Chocolate ($11++). Deep fried dough, coated with sugar, dipped in cream and dark chocolate. Sinful as it may be, I think it’s definitely worth the calories.

I like the fun vibes at Salt Tapas & Bar. It’s a great place for meet-ups and you don’t have to be too hush for fear of disturbing other customers. A fair share of hits and misses food-wise but nibbles like the Potatas Bravas and Desserts are worth dropping by for…and not forgetting the Sangria.

Special Thanks to Salt Tapas & Bar for the hosting the dinner invitation!

Salt Tapas & Bar

252 North Bridge Road, #01-22A Raffles City Shopping Centre

Tel: +65 6837 0995

[New York] Beso – Spanish Tapas Restaurant

25 07 2011

New York is a pretty interesting place. Initially, I imagined it to be just one large metropolitan city, with similar settings to scenes from “How I Met Your Mother”, where professionals would gather at neighbourhood bars surrounding Central Park to unwind and catch up after a hectic day at work. However, I guess that scene is probably limited to Manhattan, the most upclass of the 5 boroughs in New York. For the other 4 boroughs, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, life is just so much more down to earth. Oh I would think that a borough is roughly the same as a supersized GRC (half to 2.5 million people per borough) in our local context.

A few islands surround New York as well, namely Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty is located at, Ellis Island which is just a short ferry ride from Liberty Island and formerly used as a immigration checkpoint, as well as Staten Island which is a large island that houses about half a million New Yorkers. There’s a free 24-hour ferry service to and fro Staten Island though so that these people aren’t left stranded. The subway operates 24 hours a day too, maybe that’s why New York is called the City that Never Sleeps.

Anyway, my friends and I took a short ferry ride over to Staten Island to try out one of their Spanish Tapas Restaurant and it was pretty awesome. Having just did a short tour of Madrid last month though, I personally felt that the food served here wasn’t very authentic but very much fine tuned for the American palate instead.

From the outside, Beso looks rather dodgy and quiet but the whole scene changes stepping inside. Dim lighting allowed for casual conversations, and the vintage decor with red brick walls added a quaint charm that appealed to me.

Sangria is fast becoming my alcohol of choice. It’s light, fruity and refreshing, very much a fun party drink.

Red Sangria (US$26 per pitcher)

The 3-course dinner set is reasonably priced at US$20.11. There’s quite a decent selection – 4 choices for appetizers, 3 for mains and 2 desserts.

One of the set dinner’s appetizers, the Tuna was overseared but still pretty tasty.

Dinner set 1st course: Sliced Seared Tuna served with sun-dried Tomato Salsa and drizzled with Soy Sauce

I’m usually skeptical about set lunches and dinners so I went for ala carte instead. The lamb chops here are one of their signature appetizers and it’s not hard to see why given that it was so juicy and flavourful. My friends sampled the lamb and cajoled me to stop being so prim and proper and just use my hands to pry the residual meat off the bone so as not to waste it. It took iron will to avoid being swayed by them and stick to proper dining etiquette.

Lamb Chops (US$10.95)

Like a bandito pocket from KFC.

Dinner set 1st course: Fried Chicken Tortilla

Dinner set 1st course: Tomato simmered with cucumber, jalapeno peppers, bell peppers, cilantro and onion served chilled

Dinner set 2nd course: Sauteed Pork Tenderloin in Spanish Sherry Wine topped with fried Eggplant and melted Mahon Cheese, served over dirty mash

Dinner set 2nd course: Mussels, Clams, Chorizo, sauteed in white wine sauce over Penne

I remembered the Bass being really good, but it was still a shade off the Seabass from Rick Stein’s The Seafood Restaurant in Cornwall, England.

Filet of Bass served with sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, garlic, capers and lobster broth, accompanied with saffron rice (US$19)

I was torn between ordering the Osso Bucco and Paella so I let the waiter choose for me. The Osso Bucco turned out above average, but what actually won me over was the thinly sliced fried onions.

Osso Bucco (US$24)

Something I noticed about Beso is that they love playing with fire. I saw one of the bartenders pour ignitor fluid or alcohol over the bar counter to allow a couple to roast marshmallows. And they did the same for our set meal desserts. Creme de Catalan is the spanish form of the more common Creme Brulee and they ignited the top of it to allow it to caramelize into a lovely warm shade of brown. Theatrics aside, the Creme de Catalan wasn’t to my liking and I felt it was much too solid (like chawanmushi) rather than viscous (like thickened condense milk).

Dinner set 3rd course: Creme de Catalan

The cheesecake was alright but the overkill of caramel sauce just made it much too cloying.

Cheesecake topped with Brown Caramel Sauce (US$7)

We were very satisfied with the appetizers and mains, alongside the reasonable prices. Definitely worth the trouble of a ferry ride.

Bon Appetit!

Beso Restaurant

11 Schuyler Street, Staten Island, New York

Tel: 718-816-8162

[Spain] Botin – World’s Oldest Restaurant

29 05 2011

You would think that being on the verge of a bailout by the EU, Spaniards would be just a bit more conservative in their lifestyle and spending. But this just isn’t very apparent from what I’m seeing around me now. Sitting in a café in Plaza Mayor of Spain’s capital, Madrid, the many bars and cafes are as busy as it also has been, with locals and tourists alike sitting on the outside terraces enjoying the lovely 25 degrees summer sunshine, with a glass of wine, beer, or sangria in hand and some tapas casually laid out on their tables.

The Spanish lifestyle appeals much to me. The people are beautiful and passionate; Beautiful such that ¾ of the women here are taller than me with model figures, with lashes as long as faux ones, while hosting nice tans and sensual cheeky smiles; Passionate such that I would see at least 10 couples making out in public in the span of a day (with some unabashed gays and lesbians at that). We will probably never get to see such scenes in Singapore much because of the fear of being featured on Stomp, but if Singaporeans can’t have public displays of affection in public nor at home (as almost all youths still stay with their parents), I’d like to think that we are quite a sad bunch.


Superficial looks aside, the Spanish dining habits complement my lifestyle well too. Restaurants typically open for lunch between 1pm to 4pm, and dinner between 8pm to 11pm. And in the day, most shops close for a short break between 3pm-5pm, and we wonder why Spain is defaulting on its debt.

Anyhow, almost all restaurants and cafes in Spain offer 3-Course Set Lunches usually priced around 10 Euros (which is a steal given the portion sizes). Apart from the Starter (often as large as the Main) and Main, the 3rd course is usually a choice between Dessert (or Postre as it’s known in Spanish) or coffee. It’s also common knowledge here that a drink is included within the Set Lunch, with a choice of mineral water, a glass of wine, a mug of beer, a soft drink or a glass of sangria. Hence, I find dining most affordable here. And since portions are so ginormous, I think most people can get by by sharing 3 set meals between 4 people. So far, I have been trying my best to finish set lunches by myself, which has led me to slip into food comas for 3 days in a row now, where I have had to head back to the hotel around 4pm to sleep off the meal before waking up for dinner again.

One of the highlights of the Madrid leg of my Eurotrip is definitely dinner at Botin, which based on the Guinness Book of Records, is the oldest restaurant in the world today at almost 300 years of age.

Included in almost every Madrid guidebook, Botin is the place to go for an authentic Spanish traditional dish; Roast Suckling Pig. Roasted in a traditional wood-fire oven, a whole supple young piglet is then cut up and serves 2 and a half portions. So if you are a fan of suckling pig during wedding dinners, or have been to the highly raved about Ibu Oka in Ubud, Bali for their Babi Guling aka Roast Suckling Pig, do head down to Botin and savour what the best really is like.

Though it opens at 8pm for dinner, there were already at least 50 people queuing outside at 7.45pm, most of whom had made reservations. While my family didn’t make any prior to coming, we decided to still give it a shot and prayed that some group had decided to ditch their reservations last minute. Miraculously, from what I witnessed, everyone else without reservations was turned away at the door (even a couple ahead of us) but somehow my family managed to get seats. Perhaps there really was a cancellation for a 5 pax reservation!

The unfortunate souls still waiting for a seat after my dinner had concluded

While the highlight is on the Roast Suckling Pig, Botin does a decent job with their Roast Chickens too, where the meat is kept succulent and juicy while the skin is really crisp.

For those with a huge problem with excessive sodium, they can easily settle for the Baked Sole, which is also rather fresh and tasty.

What I would suggest avoiding however, would be the Grilled Veal. It is cooked simply and thus tastes as such. They don’t even bother asking you how well you want it done, so I’m guessing well done is the default.

It wasn’t my idea to order Assorted Vegetables with Iberian Ham. It costs about half as much as a meat main, and is doused with lots of oil. Coupled with the salt from the Iberian ham, I think this really isn’t worth the future hypertension and stroke. Death by suckling pig seems more appealing than death by assorted vegetables, don’t you think?

I visited Botin again for lunch alone 2 days later for their Roast Lamb; the other of their signature dishes I had missed that night. And it was so tender and crisp, devoid of any gamey taste that I initially mistook it for the Suckling Pig! However, I still preferred the subtly more cripsy crackling of the piglet compared to the lamb.

Bon Appetit!


Calle Cuchilleros, 17, Madrid

Tel. 913664217

Metro: La Latina

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