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Singapore - Catalunya, Solid Catalan Food with Superb Views

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

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.

Conclusion

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...

CATALUNYA SINGAPORE
The Fullerton Pavilion
82 Collyer Quay
Singapore 049327
Tel: +65 6534 0188
Email: info@catalunya.sg

 
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  1. Thanks for the heads-up, Julian - my "makan kaki" friends are making reservations for us there this weekend.

    I *love* Catalonian food, though nowadays I preferred traditional dishes (suquet, escudella, esqueixada and escalivada) from those "oldie" Barcelona dining institutions like Set Portes or Can Culleretes, rather than the new-fangled molecular gastronomy stuff.

    P.S. - Oops, was just told that Catalunya is fully-booked for the next 2 weeks. Oh well.

    7 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      I was back at Catalunya last night. This visit was far better than the first, and I think the service and kitchen are really hitting their stride after a couple more weeks of full service.

      Still no trickery (or at least not much), but refined classics such as escalibada with smoked eel and foie gras, and a very good suckling pig Segovian-style for a main, the best main I've had here (everyone else was ordering it!). They have a flair with slow-cooked vegetables, such as the aforementioned escalibada, grilled into sweet submission, and a remarkable side dish of confit piquillo peppers.

      And it is very good value, considering the location and its trendiness. Half a pig goes for $125++; the menu says it will feed 2-3 but I get a feeling it might better feed 3-4; two fully-grown adult males with appetites didn't maker too much of an impression.

      1. re: Julian Teoh

        Good to hear. I hope Catalunya continue to improve and last for a long time - Singapore has too few Spanish restaurants (and those others which are around are not authentic), which is not a satisfactory state of affairs, seeing that Spain has led the world in the culinary stakes since El Bulli hit the headlines in 2003 thereabouts (my first visit there was in 2004). Granted, my fascination with molecular gastronomy has since faded, but Barcelona and San Sebastian are my culinary meccas these days compared to Paris or Lyon.

        1. re: Julian Teoh

          Are there enough choices on the menu to satisfy a vegetarian who will also eat fish?

          1. re: josephnl

            There are quite a few vegetarian tapas, like tomato tartare, deconstructed tortilla, patatas bravas (check this) and pa amb tomaquet.

            For mains, quite a few seafood-based dishes, including lobster, but nothing by way of pure vegetarian unless you count the side dishes.

            1. re: Julian Teoh

              Do they have any fish other than shellfish? I eat everything and would love to go there, but my partner is a vegetarian who will eat some fish (but not shellfish). Would this be possible?

              1. re: josephnl

                Yep, there's a grilled fish of the day and also a seafood stew with scorpion fish for mains (no, I haven't memorised it, I'm looking at a PDF of the menu in front of me now).

        2. re: klyeoh

          Didn't get to do dinner, but managed to try some tapas items there today:
          - Deconstructed Spanish omelette, which was one of Ferran Adria's original creations for El Bulli - I remembered first having it in 2004. Served in liquid form in a martini glass, it consisted of caramelised onions at the bottom, then warm egg emulsion, before being topped with potato foam. The version here tasted even better than the one i remembered from El Bulli. Or perhaps my memory's playing tricks on me ;-)
          - Bombas from Barceloneta - which were a trio of potato croquettes filled with meat ragout. Delicious, if slightly greasy.
          - Chicken wings "Al Ajillo" - de-boned wings cooked sous vide: very garlicky. Nice.
          Dessert: A fabulous "Torrija" fried, spiced milk-soaked bread, served with smoked ice-cream. Accompanied by thin slices of perfectly-candied oranges, this is my fave dessert for the year :-)

           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
        3. Finally, got a great table for lunch at Catalunya last Friday - thanks to fellow Chowhound, FourSeasons' persistence.

          Started off with a Gaudi's Mojito, which included 7 year old Havana Anejo rum.

          What we ate:
          - Ferran Adria's famous "olive spheres" which were liquid olive esconced within a gel-like membrane. Beautiful.
          - “Escalivada ” with foie-gras and smoked eel - nice smoky fragrance from the eel which complemented the smooth foie gras and the roasted Mediterranean vegetables (aubergines, potatoes, capsicums, tomatoes, garlic, scallions)
          - Roasted sucklingpig with lemon puree, which had a deliciously smooth texture. My fave pig dish for the moment ;-)
          - Jamon Iberico croquettes: this is a sure crowd-pleaser - who doesn't like tasty deep-fried morsels where you bite thru a crisp exterior to encounter a tasty molten potato-bacon filling inside?

          Our entrees:
          - Veal "Fricando" with wild mushrooms - described as a traditional Catalonian stew, it's ragout-like, with deep, mellow flavors. I just *loved* the mix of wild mushrooms used in the dish.
          - Lobster rice, which turned out to be something between a paella and thicker, mushier risotto - the lobster imparting a strong delicious flavor, with tomatoey, peppery overtones.

          Desserts:
          - "Torrija" again as in my previous visit. I couldn't resist the milky, smoky flavors of the bread pudding and the ice-cream. Irresistible.
          - Fresh cheese flan with berries and crumble - if it was possible, this dessert actually tasted even better than the "torrija".

          I'm so coming back here again! No wonder Catalunya is currently Singapore's hottest dining ticket.

           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
           
          1 Reply
          1. re: klyeoh

            The food is clearly evolving based on your photos, and it's good to see that they are adapting to feedback and experience. The lobster rice was not previously made with a tomato-ey sauce per your photo, and they look to have gotten rid of the big, rather tasteless piece of warm water lobster. Flan has also changed to a thicker, more vertical composition.

            I haven't found the time to eat out much recently, but Catalunya has been one of my hands-down favourites for 2012. Not only is the food good, but the atmosphere is genuinely relaxed and enjoyable, just what the CBD needs after a hard day's / week's slog.

          2. Went there last Sunday for dinner, and had a wonderful meal. Highlight was easily the roast pig, easily one of the best dishes I've had in Singapore. other strong dishes were the one with the bacalao and the fried milk bread. On the other hand, I thought the iberico croquettes were disappointing. the restaurant has some serious issues with the darkness of the place, and there was a leak of some mystery liquid onto our table, although to be fair we were quickly moved. all in all, one of the best restaurants in sg despite all of its hype

            Full review/thoughts and pics at wishihadafoodpun.wordpress.com