I was first introduced to Spanish cuisine by a Spanish university mate in Western Australia back in the early-80s. Back then, it was impossible to find authentic Spanish cuisine in Perth, so she’d cook everything herself, then invited the more “adventurous” classmates over for dinner. Most Anglo-Saxon Aussie classmates weren’t so keen, as they’d still prefer to stick to the one-meat-and-two-vegies dinner plate back then. But we’d have French, Portuguese, Moroccan and even Ecuadoran classmates who’d turn up for her Spanish soirees.
Many years later, when I was back in Singapore, I’d yearn for authentic Spanish cuisine, but we’d never get those, as most of Singapore’s so-called “Spanish” restaurants (e.g. Goya at Melia, and Esmirada at Peranakan Place in the early 90s) rustled up food which had been localised to suit the Singaporean/Asian palate.
Singapore finally got its Spanish food “renaissance” in Aug 2012, when a whole phalanx of 14 ex-elBulli staff moved to Singapore and worked at the newly-opened Catalunya at the Fullerton Pavilion. It was headed by Executive Chef, Alain Devahive Tolosa, who’d worked at elBulli for a decade before its closure in 2011, and restaurant manager, Pol Perello, who was elBulli’s former director of communications and restaurant manager for 12 years.
Catalunya commanded a great view of the Singapore waterfront, facing Marina Bay Sands.
Its menu contained some of elBulli’s older classics, such as the spherical olives, which were all the rage back in the 2000s then.
Another familiar elBulli staple was the deconstructed Spanish tortilla, which was presented in a Martini glass: you get caramelised onions at the bottom of the glass, which was then filled with an egg emulsion, and topped with potato foam.
My fave item at Catalunya was actually one of their dessert items: the “torrija” - a delicious combination of the milky, smoky flavours of moist bread pudding and ice-cream.
Sadly, Catalunya suffered the fate of many other good restaurants in Singapore: the fickle crowd moved on as soon as other newer restaurants came on the scene. It closed on 2 June 2016. But many of their staff stayed on in Singapore, moving on to open other smaller, niftier Spanish restaurants on the island. What they did was to bring Spanish cuisine to a whole new level in Singapore, and quite a few authentic Spanish spots popped up around the city.
My current fave Spanish spot in Singapore is Tapas Club at the Jewel - one of the casual tapas bars which offers quick service and really good cooking, courtesy of the Executive Chef, Jose Angel Alonso and his compadre, Sous Chef Manuel Berganza.
My lunch there last Feb consisted of:
Gambas al Ajillo (Garlic prawns) - extremely fresh prawns, cooked just right. The garlic sauce was delish to the last drop.
Huevos Organicos con Patatas y Jamon (Organic eggs with potatoes and ham) - there’s something to be said about the way the Spaniards prepare their potatoes - they always managed to get texture just right. And the flavours here were also intense yet well balanced - the saltiness from the jamon cutting into the molten richness of the egg yolks.
Mousse de Queso con Frutos Rojos (Tapas Club cheesecake mousse) - my fave item for this meal: the richness of the cheese mousse played beautifully against the tartness of the berry compote, and the salty-sweetness of the caramel sauce drizzled on top. The buttery biscuits lent a welcome textural crunch.
The eatery was bright and airy, and looked out to the Jewel’s giant water feature.
78 Airport Boulevard, #03 - 220 221 / 222
Tel: +65 6602 8081
Opening hours: 11.30am to 11.30pm daily (CURRENTLY CLOSED because of COVID-19 lockdown, expected to last till 1 June 2020).