SINGAPORE – The good thing about chefs leaving fine-dining establishments to join more casual eateries is that you get to enjoy their culinary skills at lower prices.
That is certainly the case with Basque Kitchen by Aitor, a month-old restaurant helmed by ex-Iggy’s chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive. The Amoy Street restaurant is the latest addition to The Unlisted Collection of restaurants owned by Mr Loh Lik Peng, and takes over the space vacated by Blackwattle, which was also under the group.
While Iggy’s serves a $235 10-course Western dinner featuring pricey ingredients from Europe and Japan, Basque Kitchen offers a menu of dishes inspired by Basque classics – at friendlier prices of $85 for three courses, $95 for five courses and $115 for seven courses.
There are no premium ingredients like truffles or wagyu beef, but the cooking is no less creative.
Basque refers to the Basque Country, an area in north-central Spain with its own identity and language. The chef has his family roots there and takes inspiration from its cuisine, but puts his own take on it.
As the price differences between the menus are not big, pick one according to how hungry you are. I’m not exactly ravenous at my dinner last week and the $95 menu seems right for me. The five courses allow me to get a good sense of the kitchen crew’s abilities and I don’t leave feeling too full.
Like at many modern Western fine-dining restaurants, dinner here kicks off with a series of snacks comprising small bites of food boasting a range of flavours and textures.
At my dinner, these include an Irish oyster topped with tomato water jelly and sea lettuce, as well as a tiny brioche bun filled with Iberico chorizo and cheese cream – wonderful starters to wake up your palate.
The first course, Cherry Gazpatxo, is a fruity take on the classic Spanish cold vegetable soup. To bring down the temperature further, the server covers half the bright-red soup with nitro cottage cheese, a snowy powder created by freezing the cheese in liquid nitrogen.
Stirred in, the cheese gives the gazpatxo – or gazpacho as it is more commonly spelled in the English-speaking world – a more complex flavour. There are also bits of pickled watermelon in the soup that add a welcome touch of acidity.
Following this is Oxtail Bomba Rice, with the rice cooked in braised oxtail gravy till the grains are left with just a bit of bite. Meat from the oxtail is mixed in, then compressed in a small timbale to form a standing cylinder. A confit quail yolk is placed on top, a bright yellow spot against the brown rice that increases the visual appeal of the dish.
It tastes good, especially the tender and flavourful oxtail meat, and is my favourite dish of the meal.
Black Grouper, the next dish, comes second. The fish fillet is deep-fried in batter like in fish and chips, and served with sweet peas and a piquillo pepper espuma. It is a simple dish, but I am won over by how crisp the batter is, how moist the fish is and how sweet those tiny peas are.
Piquillo peppers, which come from Spain, have no heat and their mild sweetness serves to add an extra layer of flavours without being obtrusive. I’m not wild over it, but I’m sure the dish would taste monotonous without it.
The red pepper espuma and the green peas, the server points out, represent the colours of the flag of the Basque country – which, I guess, is a nice touch.
The meat dish is txuleta, the Spanish version of steak that is charcoal grilled. Those used to well-marbled wagyu beef may complain that the Angus prime rib used here lacks a similar explosion of juices when you bite into it, but I find it flavourful enough and the quality commensurate with the dinner price.
But it comes with jus that is too salty and the mash is just decent, so as a whole, this is my least favourite course.
On the menu, dessert is Strawberry – slices of glazed strawberries topped with a scoop of housemade vanilla ice cream.
But because I have tried it a month ago at an invited tasting, the chef decides to change it to a textures of Chocolate. It’s good, with chocolate in the form of meringue, sponge, shavings and ice cream – each contributing a different mouthfeel and a variation in sweetness and bitterness.
The meal is not to be compared with what the chef used to cook at Iggy’s. It shows a more rooted focus on a classic cuisine instead of one sprinkled with influences from around the globe, and yet there is lots of originality .
And while the dishes boast mainly basic ingredients, there is comfort in simplicity. Just as many will find comfort in the fact that they do not have to dip too much into their wallets to dine here.
Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Instagram @wongahyoke
The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
BASQUE KITCHEN BY AITOR
97 Amoy Street, tel: 6224-2232
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 11pm (Mondays to Fridays), 6.30 to 11.30pm (Saturdays). Closed on Sundays
Food: 4 stars
Service: 3.5 stars
Ambience: 3 stars
Price: Dinner sets at $85, $95 and $115. Lunch sets are $38 for two courses, $48 for three courses and $68 for five courses
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