One of the things I really like about Singapore is that there are little gems hidden and discovered all over town. They come in the form of gardens, temples, views, shops and of course… bars and restaurants. Esquina is just that: a tiny, sparkling diamond in the rough.

The first time we walked by Esquina it was a sleepy Sunday morning, and judging by the slightly worn and totally unassuming exterior we almost thought the place had gone out of business. But nonetheless, its aura piqued my curiosity so I shoved my nose up against the glass door and looked inside — tiny with a row of 10+ distinctively styled seats along a narrow bar.

Fast forward to the following Thursday night when we found ourselves wandering our neighborhood in search of a night cap and a nibble, and back in front of Esquina. The light was on and the chef was home, so we tucked in.

Hola! We were welcomed with smiles, and above the bar it reads, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not eaten well.” Amen to that. It seems Esquina’s Spanish tapas menu has been created entirely in this spirit, with unique, intellectual plates of compelling flavor combinations. So compelling was the menu, it inspired a conversation between us about what compels a chef to want to make small plates? Aside from the obvious allure of Spanish tapas in and of itself, we speculated that it might be the challenge of doing more with less, keeping flavors pure and making art from a simplified palette. Just the fact that Esquina’s menu had inspired this conversation was evidence that this dining experience was on a slightly higher level than most others in the neighborhood.

After doing some post-meal research, it seems our observation was indeed correct. Esquina is the vision of Michelin-starred Chef Jason Atherton, owner of acclaimed Pollen Street Social in the U.K., and upcoming Pollen at Gardens by the Bay. Esquina’s Executive Chef is Irishman Andrew Walsh — who was behind the bar creating and plating the night we stopped by, and offered a handshake when we left. There’s something really gratifying about watching and enjoying food created by chefs of this caliber — like front row tickets to an acoustic performance.

Our only regret? That it was late at night, the kitchen was closing and we had only stopped by for a nibble — and that the low-light conditions made photography a little fuzzy. Here’s the seabass with black olive tapenade, crouton and cream-based broth to pour over top. We also tried the tomato bread and truffle fries (pedestrian, but hey, it was late night). I’m really looking forward to returning for the “side” of baby romaine, manchego, truffle honey and anchovy. Esquina’s website lists the whole menu, which is supplemented by specials. And this place is very special, indeed. Good things come in small packages.

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