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Catalan cuisine dazzles

Pauline Wong
Pauline Wong • 6 min read
Catalan cuisine dazzles
Savour the finest cuisine from Catalan at Restaurant Gaig
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Restaurant Gaig first opened its doors to Singaporean diners back in 2017, and now, four years later, its cosy premises on Stanley Street has been refreshed with a bigger dining space. This hidden gem serving Catalan cuisine once again shows us why it well-deserves its Michelin star.

Tucked away and understated, Restaurant Gaig feels very much like the hidden gem that it is. Behind its unimposing and unassuming front, however, is one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. In Singapore, Restaurant Gaig (pronounced “gaige”) was opened in 2017 by Carles Gaig, a celebrated chef whose name is synonymous with Catalan cuisine.

In 1989, Carles decided to steer his then 120-year-old family restaurant, Taberna de’n Gaig in Barcelona, towards a new direction. He rejuvenated the concept and renamed it Restaurant Gaig. This bold move led to industry recognition from the Michelin Guide in 1993, and the Real Academia de Gastronomia in 1999; and in 2015, Carles took Restaurant Gaig international.

Here, his daughter — a fifth-generation Gaig — Núria Gibert, leads the restaurant with Executive Chef Martí Carlos Martínez, who was under Carles’ tutelage in Barcelona. Tradition is strong in Restaurant Gaig, where some of the recipes date back more than 150 years.

And it’s no wonder: This dedication to preserving traditions, while forging new experiences, has been at the heart of the Gaig family of chefs and restaurateurs for five generations. In fact, the Gaig logo is a depiction of the Eurasian Roller bird — known as gaig in Catalan — a beautiful, long-distance migratory bird. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and there is more than enough proof of Restaurant Gaig’s long history in its food.

We start with a Salmorejo soup with burrata cheese and jamón ice cream ($17), which is a chilled tomato soup served with a dry-cured ham ice cream (yes, I know how that sounds, but it’s delicious), burrata, tomato sponge, and cherry tomatoes.

A traditional dish, salmorejo soup is usually served with sliced jamón and hardboiled eggs, but here, Chef Martí has given it his own spin by replacing the egg with burrata to heighten the creaminess of the soup, and serving it with a savoury, creamy jamón ice cream.

This was the perfect starter — tomatoes, as we know, are naturally umami, and here, it is no different. The savoury, sweet and slightly acidic tomato soup is perfectly complemented by the burrata and the jamón ice cream. Foodies may be more familiar with the gazpacho, another cold tomato-based soup originating in the south of Spain. The difference is that while gazpacho is usually made with raw vegetables, salmorejo is made with raw tomatoes and garlic, as well as bread, which gives it a thicker, creamier texture.

The soup is followed by Smoked Ora King salmon wrapped with local Chinese spinach ($22), served with avocado sauce, wholegrain mustard, and Feuille de Brick crisps, which is a fresh, modern interpretation on a classic Mediterranean salmon tartare salad.

The salmon starter was rather pleasing, albeit not really memorable — although the same could not be said for the housemade duck foie gras terrine served with L’Escala anchovies, raspberry coulis, hazelnut sablé, and a semi-sphere of duck foie gras ($25.50). Before you recoil at the idea of rich, indulgent and fatty foie gras served with pungent, salty anchovies, hear me out.

This unusual union of flavours was created by Carles during his military service days, when he was in charge of the pantry that had limited access to produce. So, he would assemble sandwiches using the ingredients available — such as pâté and anchovies. It may sound bonkers, but it works: the richness of the duck foie gras terrine with the brininess of anchovies enhances the flavours of both.

When eaten with a hazelnut sablé and just a hint of raspberry coulis, it is something quite special, and something you will not forget in a hurry.

There is also the Tortilla de Camarones ($12.50 each), a crispy shrimp fritter with sakura ebi, topped with deep-fried caridean shrimp and lemon mayonnaise. This was pure fun food — pleasingly crispy as you bite into it, slightly salty and creamytart with the mayonnaise, with flavours reminiscent of the much-loved local favourite prawn fritters.

Then, we have the Bomba de la Barceloneta with brava sauce ($15), which again seems to show how local palates have inspired Chef Martí.

This deep-fried breaded potato ball with minced beef is served with aioli and spicy brava sauce. When the restaurant was first opened, they were using only 10 chilli padi per litre of brava sauce. Currently, they are using about 60 chilli padi as the spiciness of the brava sauce has been adjusted to suit the local palate. So be warned — this is not for the faint-hearted, it packs a punch.

My next-favourite dish (next to the salmorejo) is easily Gaig’s Traditional Cannelloni, stuffed with beef and pork ($16.50), served with truffle cream sauce.

A signature at all Gaig restaurants, Gaig’s cannelloni has been made using the same 150-year-old recipe since the restaurant’s beginnings as the Taberna d’en Gaig in 1869. Usually recognised as an Italian dish, the cannelloni was brought to Catalonia by Italian chefs working at the city’s fondas, or inns.

The difference between the Catalonian and Italian versions is that the Catalans cook the minced meat first, before putting it into the pasta “tubes”. The result is pure comfort food, which really feels home-made, but elevated.

I also tasted the Veal Tongue Fricandó ($20), which is a dish of veal tongue and black trumpet mushrooms stew; as well as the Quail Escabetx ($32), which is pickled quail with confit onions and vegetables. I do not often enjoy veal tongue, finding it a bit tough and livery for my taste, but this was tender and subtle, as the black trumpet mushrooms provided quite a nice, salty and earthy contrast.

SEE: Lab-created chicken to debut at Singapore restaurant this weekend

Finally, we end with dessert, my favourite part of any meal, and Restaurant Gaig does not disappoint. Here, we have a Pa Amb Oli I Xocolata ($15.50), a chocolate mousse served with olive oil ice cream, crispy chocolate bread, and chocolate ganache. What can I say? I found no fault with this surprisingly light, refreshing dessert.

All in all, Restaurant Gaig is truly one of the restaurants which you have to try, and I highly recommend it. It feels like an old friend, with friendly staff, delicious food and a cosy, homey atmosphere

Restaurant Gaig
16 Stanley Street
Singapore 068735

Tel: +65 9771 2674 / 6221 2134
Email: [email protected]

Opening hours:
Mondays to Saturdays
Lunch: 12pm – 2pm
Dinner: 6pm – 10pm
Closed on Sundays

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