Monday, 11 December 2017

Gaig Restaurant Singapore - Better than La Ventana

Many of my readers would be familiar with the Spanish restaurant La Ventana in Dempsey, which opened in 2015 at the height of the Singaporean tapas craze.  Since its opening, its owners had roped in renowned Catalan chef Carles Gaig, who owns the one Michelin-starred Restaurant Gaig in Barcelona, as its consultant.  With the expiry of his consultancy contract earlier this year, Gaig opened Restaurant Gaig in a quiet little strip of Stanley Street.


Now it has to be said that his Ventana consultancy wasn't some half-baked consultancy with the named chef visiting once a quarter in exchange for a fixed fee (as has been known to happen in these parts).  In fact, Senyor Gaig sent his daughter, restaurant manager Nuria Gibert, and son-in-law, chef Eduard Castellarnau, to run La Ventana.  But for whatever reason, it never all came together for me.  Maybe it was the fact that Singapore had gone all tapas-crazy and the Ventana team felt they had to cram their menu full of very mediocre tapas in which they were not particularly skilled (and which did not in fact feature on Gaig's Barcelona menu).  Maybe the cuisine was not a good fit with the local climate.  Regardless, and while I claim no particular knowledge of or experience with Catalan cooking, what I had at Ventana did not strike me as being of anywhere near Michelin-star standard.

So I'm not really sure why I wanted to try Gaig.  But I did, so I trooped off one weeknight with starfucker and fellow blogger Kenneth Tiong.  I liked what I saw: a menu that offered a good selection of classic and very reasonably-priced Catalan dishes (under a could-be-controversial heading "Dishes from Our Country"), including various stews of seafood, meats and surf-and-turf which were not to be seen at La Ventana.  And Gibert is still on the floor, thereby maintaining a Gaig family presence.  

Kenneth and I ordered a selection of various dishes to share.

Bread Service: A Couple of Baguettes and Spanish Olive Oil


Good.  The staff did not seem in any particular hurry to replenish the breads once consumed.  Which struck me as strange because we had ordered a LOT of food, and it's not like we were trying to skimp on cost and fill ourselves up with bread.

Pa amb Tomaquet


I'm not sure it is possible to sit down to a meal at a Catalan restaurant and not order this classic preparation of crystal bread rubbed over with ripe tomatoes and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.  Again, it is good, not great; the constraint is of course the quality of tomatoes which you can get in Singapore.  But I guess it gets you in the mood for some Catalan food, if nothing else.

First Entree: Cannelloni of Veal and Pork with Truffle Cream Sauce


The Gaig family's signature dish, apparently handed down by Carles'  grandmother and elevated to the needs of a Michelin-starred restaurant.  Now I wasn't very impressed by this dish when I had it at La Ventana, and I was telling Kenneth that I could genuinely live without ordering it again.  He hadn't been to Ventana, however, so I relented.  And I was glad I did: this dish seemed to have more mojo, more flavour, more heat (seriously, it was served tepid when I had it at Ventana), more seasoning, and the mix of the various meats made the filling far more interesting in terms of texture and flavour.  I must admit it still strikes me as a bit of an anonymous , "international" dish tailored specifically to impress the Michelin inspectors, but I can no longer deny its culinary merit.  Good to very good.

Second Entree: Shrimp "All I Pebre"


What sets this sauce apart is the use of almonds and hazelnuts, which lends an added dimension of nutty sweetness to the reduced prawn stock.  The prawns are fresh and it all goes down like a dream. I call for more baguettes to mop up the sauce. Very good.

Third Entree: Squid Ink Fideua


One of my most disappointing memories from La Ventana was a paella of pigeon.  Sure, the rice was well-cooked, the pigeon was done a beautiful medium-rare, but it was underseasoned and travesty of travesties, it had no socarrat (the layer of crusty rice at the bottom of the paella pan)! It was explained to me by one of the waiters there that a Catalan-style paella has no socarrat, which I have since been unable to corroborate through even a single source so must presume is a total load of bullshit.

Long story short, I would be goddamned before I ordered another paella in a Gaig restaurant, so instead decided to opt for the fideua which, at risk of oversimplification, is a paella made with short noodles known as fideus which are coated in olive oil and toasted in an oven before being revived with hot broth and seafood.  Gaig's version is rich and olive-oily, and there really aren't enough capsicum dice to balance it out fully, especially when you pair it with the accompanying garlicky aioli.  But the flavours are so good, and the texture of the fideus so intriguing, that it disappears PDQ.  Excellent.

First Main Course: Scorpion Fish, Seafood Curry Rice "Bullabesa"


Kenneth's main dish, of which he was very complimentary.  A nice little touch here is that they offer to top up your stock on demand.  Kenneth, as widely travelled a gourmand as you will find, asked for a refill, plus more bread to mop it up.  Very good.

Second Main Course: Pig Trotter, Mushrooms and Turnip


Look at it.  Worship it.  Weep.  My Dish of the Month.  Superb.  Yes, more bread was called for.

Dessert: Orange Ice-Cream Souffle

A very phallic tower of a very pleasant orange-flavoured ice-cream.  Flavour-wise, it reminded me of an orange chiffon cake.  The slices of orange serve, rather unnecessarily, as reminders that real oranges were destroyed to make this dessert for you.  Good but not great.

Conclusion

For me, Gaig is one of the star arrivals onto Singapore's dining scene this year. Dishes are excellent, far more rustic and flavourful than at Ventana, with none of that undue and very unnecessary emphasis on run-of-the-mill tapas which marred Ventana's offering.  Ms Gibert remains a smiling and knowledgeable presence on the floor, although it must be said her colleagues are not yet quite singing from the same hymn sheet.

And the value!  Between us, we ran up a bill of SGD 165 nett on all of the food above, which seems more of a European than a Singaporean price.  For the quality, this is simply unbeatable value, and must rank as one of the island's great non-hawker dining bargains.  If you are curious, do visit soon before prices are raised (as they inevitably will be).

I can't say I missed La Ventana much, but am more than happy to bid a hearty welcome back to the Gaigs.  If they keep delivering at this level, Gaig is well on the way to becoming the standard-bearer for good, hearty Catalan-Spanish cooking in Singapore.

GAIG RESTAURANT
Head Chef: Esteve Garcia Vilanova
Score: 15/20

16 Stanley Street
Singapore 068735
Tel: +65 6221 2134
Reservations recommended

4 comments:

  1. Hey Julian, just wanted to ask your opinion on which places in town have good value winelists in crazy markup Sg..any thoughts?

    Jeremy

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    1. Hi Jeremy

      Happy New Year, and my apologies for the late response.

      Bargains are getting rarer and rarer, I'm afraid. I believe Jade Palace is still extremely competitive. And if the list and prices on Nicolas' website are still current, it looks like it's worth a flutter.

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  2. Venue by Sebastian. 72sgd for a dolcetto d'alba pio cesare, 128 for a reserve de la comtesse 2010. In white, a Sancerre Vacheron at 79sgd.
    What about one ninety at Four Seasons? Do they still have the 100 wines under 100sgd list?
    And finally, I was told that the Shangri La Rasa Sentosa offers good value wines if you stay with the basics. Difficult to fill up the place so they adapt. But prices become more punitive if you go atas.

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    1. Thanks JF. One-Ninety, there's a blast from the past! I don't believe I have stepped in there for over a decade!

      Yes, the 100 under $100 is still there: https://www.fourseasons.com/content/dam/fourseasons/images/web/SIN/PDF/100_wines_under_100_dollars_list.pdf. Maybe I'm just totally out of touch, but none of those bottles seem to strike me as being particularly good value? That said, it is very useful to have that much variety at that price point, when so many restaurants there days offer precisely ZERO wines under $100.

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