After James Atherton's Esquina right by Outram Park, Singapore has got itself another tapas bar from a rising-star foreign chef. This time it’s Australian chef-proprietor Luke Mangan, who owns the Hilton Sydney’s glass brasserie, and versions of his Salt Grill in Queensland’s Surfers Paradise, Tokyo and here in Singapore at ION Orchard, as well as on three P&O cruises. Mangan’s first foray into tapas comes in the ground floor of Raffles City Shopping Centre, in an expansive bar-restaurant with tables out on the pavement.
The obvious question: is it as good as Esquina? And the short answer is: not quite. While the food is excellent, you never quite escape the fact that the open-fronted restaurant is in a shopping mall and right next to a busy road, with the traffic noise sometimes drowning out the music. While Esquina feels like the Mediterranean via Jules Verne, this feels like Singapore via, well, North Bridge Road. And the ‘by Luke Mangan’ signature on the branding makes it all seem a tad corporate, as possibly befits a restaurateur who feeds cruise passengers.
This is a shame, because at its core this is a very good restaurant – the decor is quietly hip despite the odd misstep (plastic creepers); the casually open bar-restaurant concept works well; and the wait-staff are smiley and efficient, if over-eager to take your plates away.
Most importantly, the food’s great, taking tapas in creative directions but never being too clever for its own good. The one-page menu is separated into ‘Nibbles’, ‘Butcher’, ‘Garden’, ‘Sea’, ‘Paddock’ and ‘Sweets’, and it ticks off the basics well – think great fresh oysters ($5 each), jamón ibérico ($24) and an excellent cheese platter ($17).
But it comes into its own with the more genre-bending dishes, from a gorgeous ‘Garden’ dish of Moroccan-inspired roasted carrots with chorizo, orzo, pine nuts and currants ($12) to a baked bone marrow with shiitake duxelles, parmesan and air-dried olive ($13), served on a bread board. Many play on textures – like the zucchini flowers ($11) with a better-than-it-sounds feta and corn purée; the Wagyu sausage on a soft polenta and topped with a rich tomato and caper salsa ($14/$25); or the clean-seared Tasmanian trout shot through with crispy jamón serrano.
Desserts are possibly even better. Churros ($11) and a gooey hot chocolate tart with (strangely tasty) salted caramel ice cream ($14) are sinfully good, yet even these are outdone by the roasted figs with candied ginger, baklava and yoghurt sorbet ($13). On food alone, Salt Tapas just about edges Esquina. And with a great wine list, it’s difficult to fault its execution. But tapas works best in restaurants with soul; this one just feels that little bit too clinical. Toby Skinner
|Venue name:||Salt Tapas & Bar|
#01-22A Raffles City Shopping Centre
252 North Bridge Rd
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu 11.30am-9.45pm; Fri 11.30am-10.45pm; Sat 11.30am-10.15pm; Sun & PH 11.30am - 9.30pm|
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