We need to get something straight. Despite the fact that Catalunya's chef Alain Devahive Tolosa and manager Pol Perello have both spend over a decade at El Bulli, this is not an El Bulli clone. To give it a less ambitious comparator, it's not even trying to be Aurum Mk III. According to Perello, he is aiming to introduce to Singapore the food of Catalan grandmothers, with a modern twist. Not even their mothers, their GRANDmothers.
To that extent, the media spin about Catalunya has been pretty disingenuous, playing up the El Bulli association, etc., Oh sure, it sells more papers and magazines, but crikey will the readers be p!ssed off when they find the spin is not true. I am determined to enjoy it for what it is, not for what people want it to be, and you know what, it's pretty good.
The view is brilliant, especially when the hourly light show at Marina Bay Sands kicks off. Floor-to-ceiling glass creates a very airy atmosphere, and because the glass dome in whcih Catalunya is housed is built outwards onto the bay, you are effectively surrounded by water, sloshing away just a few feet beneath eye level. For me, it is perhaps the most breathtaking setting for a restaurant in Singapore.
DISCLAIMER: I didn't pay for this meal as I was visiting to do a review for a magazine, but the teething troubles meant they couldn't fit me in for dinner so they sent over a stream of tapas instead.
Tapas: Lobster Buns, croquetas with jamon ($12++) and patatas bravas with all i oli ($10++)
The lobster buns are steamed in a dim sum basket. The texture was very bao-like, and the lobster filling was excellent. The croquetas and patatas are stodge, but good hearty stodge, with a big dose of garlic flavour in the all i oli (which I incidentally adore). But you see my point earlier about the media beat-up. Don't misunderstand, the food is very competently executed and tasty, but Catalunya is probably going to get the most column inches per kilogram of breadcrumbs and potatoes in the history of Singaporean restaurant reportage.
"Mains": Lobster rice ($55++); Suckling Pig with Lemon Pith Emulsion ($18++ for tapas-sized portion)
The rice was very well done, sweet from the seafood stock and a nice, firm bite, but the lobster was mushy and not very flavourful; I'm guessing they used a cheaper rock lobster. Devahive strayed a little from the "grandmother food" theme here by incorporating a little humour and imagination with the emulsion, made from the white pith of the lemon which is normally discarded because it is too bitter. Well here, the bitterness cleanses the palate fantastically well after the fatty pork and has an intriguing, mild perfume about it. Genuinely enjoyable and thought-provoking.
Desserts: Cheese flan topped with "crumble" and mixed berry coulis ($12++); smoked milk ice-cream and torrija ($12++).
Cheese flan was very nice, surprisingly firm in texture. The torrija, a brick of brioche soaked in cinnamon milk before being pan-fried to caramelisation, was delicious, exotic yet familiar at the same time. Desserts overall are great and show more consistency than mains at this early stage.
Palate Cleanser: Compressed Fruit Plate ($12++)
Fruit cooked sous vide (or "boiled in the bag" for those of you non-romantics) with fruit syrup, aromatics and herbs. I liked this, but my dining companions were not particularly complimentary about it. "Pedestrian" was a word bandied about, ouch.
Service was superlative. We were looked after by a very affectionate Spanish lady who looked after us like her own children; she was knowledgeable about the food, the cooking techniques and always keen to help out. But this is an uber-trendy place, the kind of low-lit, high-so enclave where swishness easily crosses the line into arrogant indifference, and it appears that it has been drilled into the crew to avoid that particular pitfall at all costs.
I hate judging restaurants early in their lifespans, and Catalunya is still very much a work-in-progress. I know it's not an excuse if the restaurant expects its patrons to pay full price, but such is the development phase that it has not even settled on a dinner tasting menu, a huge omission given the nature of the local restaurant crowd. I will be returning soon for a proper dinner and with any luck, such little quibbles would have been fixed by then.
In a way, Catalunya fills the void left by Santi but leaves an even bigger void for those who were hoping for a restaurant wholly dedicated to "molecular gastronomy". All attempts to fill that niche in Singapore to date have failed, notably Aurum's two incarnations back in 2007/8 (remember them?).
But who would be better placed to do so than Devahive and Perello? Well, Devahive is limiting his techo-gizmo flashiness at this stage and is cooking in a conventional fashion. A few dishes, including a lovely nutty ajo blanco (a cold almond-based soup) and sinfully garlicky deboned chicken wings al ajillo, show that he has the palate and technique to create really delicious food.
Photos of the food (apologies I cannot post them here as they are not mine) at http://julianteoh.blogspot.com/2012/0...
The Fullerton Pavilion
82 Collyer Quay
Tel: +65 6534 0188
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