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Basque bites

Koh Yuen Lin
Koh Yuen Lin • 5 min read
Basque bites
Txa Pintxo Bar and Spanish restaurant Una take centrestage at the yet-again revitalised Alkaff Mansion
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Txa Pintxo Bar and Spanish restaurant Una take centrestage at the yet-again revitalised Alkaff Mansion

(Aug 26): What you remember Alkaff Mansion for tells a little about you. A younger crowd might associate it with an elegant Italian fine dining concept that somehow flew under the radar during its existence; those of a certain vintage: a rijsttafel restaurant. But if the 1-Group — which also has 1-Altitude, Monti and a host of other concepts under its wing — has its way, young and old alike will now know the 101-year-old Tudor-style estate as the place to go for authentic Basque fare.

The group has teamed up with the prestigious Basque Culinary Centre to bring in their best talents. Heading the ground floor space — occupied by Txa (pronounced as “Cha”) Pintxo Bar — are Basque chefs Marta Elvira Segalé s and Silvana Pascual Romero. From them comes a tantalisingly colourful array of pintxo (pronounced “pincho”, referring to skewered snacks), all laid out in buffet style so that diners can freely pick out what they fancy as they sip on a selection of wine-based cocktails.

The Aceituna Rellena De Vermouth ($2.90) is an absolute flavour bomb: Briny olives filled with a Vermouth jelly laced with orange zest and cinnamon, it has salt, acid, fats and more, all in one bite. Those familiar with Basque flavours will relish the Boquerones con piperrada ($3.90): A sliver of bread smeared with a confit of the typical Spanish red pepper piquillo slow-cooked with onion, olive oil and garlic and then blended into a light, creamy emulsion; it is then layered with pickled anchovies and topped with a Piperrada — a medley of caramalised red and green pepper and onions.

And to demonstrate the multi-cultural influence of the region is the Crema de Roquefort Con Manzana Y Nueces ($4.90), which pairs the French cheese with a house-made apple jam fortified with Spanish Pedro Ximénez. The chefs also demonstrate the ingenuity of this dish by whipping the roquefort with cream, and folding cream cheese in after. This nicely tempers the blue cheese’s pungency and gives it a light, rounded quality.

It is all too easy to pop one too many pintxo — each piece boasts its own distinct, interesting mix of flavours, and lures one into trying more. But if it is just a pre-dinner snack you intend to have, it is best to exercise a bit of discipline — for while the bites at Txa are dainty, the simple yet well-executed dishes at Una are hearty.

From a culinary team that includes head chef Tom Kung and the 2019 World Gourmet Summit Rising Young Chef of The Year Sujatha Asokan comes dishes such as Fideua De Calamares ($20). It is served straight from oven to table in a cast iron paella skillet and features Fideos (Spanish pasta) cooked with squid ink and sofrito (a sauce blended from onions, bell peppers and tomatoes) and local baby squid that are battered and deep-fried to a golden crisp.

While the thin spread of noodles we sampled were intensely flavoured but slightly limp, we were told by regulars that the dish usually has a bit more char at the base, lending the pasta a pot-sticker-like crunch.

Faring better was the Paella De Chorizo Y Habitas ($46 for small, $66 for large), each plump grain of bomba rice rich with the umami from seafood stock and the meaty flavours of chorizo sausage slices.

The highlight, however, was the Txuleta served with Piquillo Sauce ($180/kg): a hulking slab of wagyu prime rib grilled simply with salt and enjoyed with a smear of piquillo emulsion. Suitably marbled without being overwhelming and grilled to deliver a perfect balance of char on the exterior with perfectly medium- rare succulence on the inside, the steak was given an edge by the addictively warming pepper paste slow-cooked with garlic.

Desserts are no after-thought either. The Spanish Rice Pudding ($16) was comfortingly soft — a rich porridge of bomba rice slow-cooked with cinnamon and vanilla, and lifted by a hint of lemon zest, a drizzle of sherry vinegar and pops of sherry-soaked grapes.

What we absolutely loved was the assembly of dark chocolate ganache made from single origin Brazilian cocoa served with thin wafers of toasted sour- dough slices drizzled with olive oil and baked to a crisp, and finished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and the unusual accompaniment of sliced green olives ($18) — a plate of unexpected flavours that combine beautifully in a unique fashion.

With a distinct cuisine, plenty of winsome big flavours that will charm the crowds, and glimpses of refinement in the food that will bring the discerning back, Txa and Una stand as unique propositions in a local food scene overcrowded with similar offerings. That, and the inimitable beauty of the location, makes the two concepts worthy of their “destination restaurant “status.

Koh Yuen Lin is a freelance editorial consultant who maintains that while her peers are overachieving, she is just overeating

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