Orchard Road has a bad reputation for having nothing to eat, nothing good at least. For a time, that reputation was well deserved. But with retail on the slide, mall owners have finally cottoned onto the fact that Singaporeans bargain hunt and window shop for sport (hardly the makeup of a VIP customer), and in place of a number cool, niche retail concepts now sits a restaurant/café/bubble tea shop.
At Orchard Central, Real Food has taken over Pact, Fred Lives Here is no longer (sic) here, instead it’s now Tapas Club. Started by the same people behind Binomio their proposition is simple: affordable tapas, a variety of paellas and a lengthy wine list. The concept is evidently working, when we went down on a Friday evening, the eatery was buzzing, reservations were full and within the space of an hour, a few tables had changed patrons.
The menu is typical of a Barcelona style cava bar with a mixture of small light plates (from $9.90-$25), an assortment of slightly heavier grilled items (meats, fish and seafood), paellas (from $20) and desserts (from $8).
We started with the squid stuffed with minced chorizo ($12.90). A decent sized portion, the squid had springiness to it and was far from chewy (always a good sign). The combination with the minced chorizo was surprisingly not overly salty – a rarity in my experience with Spanish food – the star of the dish though was the subtle, full flavoured squid ink sauce that we licked the plate clean of.
The suckling pig terraine ($12.90) was unfortunately a bit of a let down. While the sweet tender pork fell apart on first fork, the accompanying sauce tasted like a bland, stock reduction. What saved the dish though was the perfectly grilled, slightly bitter brussels sprouts that worked as a foil to the sweet meat. Also, a crispier skin would have also been appreciated – but perhaps we were expecting too much.
The chorizo paella ($25) was a skillet of home comfort goodness. While we prefer to have the rice at the bottom of the pan (the soccarat) to be more crunchy, this may not be a preference of the Singaporean who view “blackened” wood fired pizza crust as burnt (true story). What the paella did have going for it though was a distinct flavour thanks to the chorizo. The rice was wet and plump and coated with a layer of rich sauce that possessed a mild barbecue flavour. That said, seeing how moorish the squid ink sauce of our starter was, perhaps we would have been better off ordering the squid ink paella ($25), which would have make a bigger impression – next time.
Also, we should have saved room for dessert. Observing the plates going out, it’s clear the churros with chocolate sauce ($8) is a favourite; also the churros sandwich ($12) looked incredibly decadent.
Atmosphere wise, don’t come expecting a romantic, proposal ready setting. Instead think of this as a more sophisticated (and spacious) standing room tapas bar. Service should be commended, perhaps a little too attentive but they’re forgiven for their decent overall knowledge of the menu (not something to be taken for granted in Singapore). Price wise, a meal for two sits comfortably under $100 (minus booze of course) so it’s no wonder they’re packing in a crowd.
Tapas Club isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary, they’ve just given Singaporeans what they like: variety and affordability.