I do quite a few tastings a week and on the days I don’t, I opt for lighter foods and smaller portions. To this end, tapas seems the perfect answer to our demand for bite-sized portions. Whether it’s so we can try a greater variety of dishes or so we don’t get filled up too quickly, tapas or ‘small plates’ are in trend when it comes to dining out.
The word “tapas” originates from the Spanish word “tapa” which means to cover, where meat or a slice of bread was used to cover a glass of sherry to prevent flies or debris from entering it. It soon evolved into a unique dining culture for the Spanish, who had the habit of snacking on little bites at tapas bars before going on to a proper dinner at 10pm or so.
I love the quaint old shophouses in the Duxton area and Tapas 39 is nestled right on Duxton Hill, sharing its premises with members-only club, Club 39. Luckily for us, the cocktail bar and modern tapas restaurant is open to the public which is where I had my lunch today.
We started off with these Pan-Seared Scallops with Pork Jowl and Truffle Parsnip Puree. The pork jowl added some great flavour to the scallops (seared just right) and had an interesting texture that was complimented perfectly by the mash.
Executive chef Rodrigo Guerrero, Chilean by birth, uses elements from his culinary experiences all over the world, creating a menu he calls ‘modern tapas’. And we see that clearly here with a Japanese/Spanish take on yet another popular item on the menu — Sea Urchin Au Gratin Topped with Champagne ($20).
I’m a huge sea urchin fan and can have heaps of uni for three meals a day but this was a little underwhelming for me. It was more cheese than uni and I could barely taste the champagne. Interesting light, foamy texture though which I suppose made up for the much too heavy rich flavours.
This next dish though, was outstanding. The Chargrilled Octopus with Mashed Potatoes topped with Ikura and Chorizo Oil (S$30). If that doesn’t already make your mouth water, just imagine the softest possible texture on an octopus, seared lightly on the outside for a delicious char, wonderfully balanced in flavour and topped with savoury pearls of ikura over a bed of soft, fluffy mash. And oh, that chorizo oil. It brought all the flavours and textures together perfectly.
This was a mouthful of heaven and I haven’t had octopus this good since I visited Barcelona more than a year ago. And finally, another highlight — the Squid Ink Risotto with Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp). Chef Rodrigo laments the fact that we don’t appreciate the fresh ingredients and produce we have right here in Asia and insists he ‘does his best to scout for ingredients within 100km’ of where he is.
This risotto was done right with that creamy squid ink sauce coating every grain cooked al dente and topped with a fresh almost raw amaebi to bring out the rich flavour of the rice and sweet taste of the shrimp. Again, east meets west in this quality tapas dish. It was daytime, and I’d to be back in the studio for shift so I gave the cocktails a miss but boy do they look delicious! Come back in the evening for a tipple (or ten) with some friends and enjoy these small plates all night long. Do remember to make your reservations though as this is a 25-seater restaurant and may get crowded.
39 Duxton Hill