DINING OUT

Spanish tapas by the river

Tapas 24 offers some good bites in a no-frills setting.

Jaime Ee
Published Fri, Jul 9, 2021 · 05:50 AM

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Tapas 24 60 Robertson Quay #01-04 The Quayside Singapore 238252 Tel: 6513 6810 Open Tues to Sat: 12pm to 11pm. Sun: 11am to 11pm. Closed on Mon.

AS we walked along the riverfront on our way to Tapas 24 at the Quayside, we saw something we hadn't seen in a while: people. Yes, walking, jogging, co-mingling potential Covid exposure alerts, but for all intents and purposes, people. While we've long lost our taste for conviviality in our bid to protect our sense of taste and smell, this scene of "normality" did stir up buried memories of less-inhibited times, but not so much that we want to go back to them anytime soon.

Looks like the greeter at Tapas 24 feels the same way - eyeing us like we just asked him to loan us 10 bucks instead of a table for two. He's clearly a battle-scarred veteran of too many rowdy Friday nights - it being early evening in an empty dining room not making a difference.

At least he lets us sit wherever we want in the bright red cafeteria-like space that is the Singapore outpost of Barcelona chef Carles Abellan's popular Tapas 24. Any Singaporean who's been to Barcelona would have made it to Abellan's cramped basement level bar behind the Mandarin Oriental - a once-hot but subsequently a tourist trap where we first learned that the bikini had a double meaning as a toasted jamon and cheese sandwich.

As a chef, Abellan has been a fixture on Barcelona's dining scene since the days when it was still fashionable to be a former staff of elBulli, with an uneven success rate as restaurateur. He made a splash with the avant garde but now defunct Comerc 24, dabbled in a restaurant serving just Spanish rice (also gone) and at least before Covid still owned a few tapas bars and seafood-centric eateries with his trademark suffix.

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His debut in Singapore will go down well with a clientele still starved on the travel front. And if you're hungry for a taste of Barcelona's tourist food - because tapas is not indigenous to Catalonia in the first place - Tapas 24 will at least feed your fantasy.

The menu is a hit list of familiar favourites, a few of which are duplicated well enough to trigger some La Boqueria deja vu. Spanish Tortilla 'Mallorcan style' (S$12) is a pretty, puffed omelette that might be a distant cousin of the Japanese omurice in the way it splits open to reveal a lava of creamy, runny egg that slips and slides over tender, waxy potatoes and bits of spicy chorizo. A large dollop of garlic aioli and chilli oil add the finishing touches to this satisfying addition to the little black book of egg-lovers.

Even the Pan Con Tomate (S$8) does a good job of emulating the crackly crystal bread that holds its own even after being assaulted by a tomato that crushes itself over its toasted surface with liberal dribbles of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Of course, they're not Spanish tomatoes and are generally tasteless but the look, feel and crunch make up for it.

Octopus Galician (S$22) is a classic, with a resilient bite and just enough of a char and dusting of smoky paprika to bring you back to a family-style eatery on Barceloneta - nothing fancy but just hearty. Padded up with potatoes and extra drizzles of olive oil, this and the signature bikini (S$16) are good covers of the originals. The latter is a no-brainer, but there's still something to be said for thin slices of bread fried in olive oil until the filling of mozzarella, Iberico ham and truffle paste melt into an umami-rich unctuousness.

We don't spy anyone Spanish-looking in the kitchen but so far so encouraging, especially when we get a platter of clams cooked in sherry (S$32) with the addition of meaty Spanish (maybe) artichokes that don't have the sappy acidic edges that are usually associated with them. Apart from being over-salted, the garlicky and briny clams pass muster.

But our luck runs out when the Paella De Gambas (S$40) makes its grand entrance on a large, very hot platter. Maybe because paella isn't a Barcelona special or we have a different definition of al dente, but this one is a pricey underachiever. Bomba rice is on the chalky side, and while it looks evenly cooked with a rich earthy colour and pink curls of shrimp on top, it's simply salty, hard and something other paellas should be warned not to be.

Funnily enough for an eatery that has thus far banked on edible cliches, there are no churros offered for dessert. Instead, we're recommended (not by the greeter but a very sweet server) the Brie Cheesecake (S$18) which looks like a circle of cheese with a hint of brie in the creamy cheese mixture on a soft cookie crust. It's just so-so.

When it sticks to the stereotypes, Tapas 24 makes the cut for easy, breezy bites that don't stretch the imagination. It's not particularly cosy, with seats that are uncomfortable enough to discourage lingering. It's a place for a quick bite and designed for high turnover - so just eat your favourites and get out before you overstay your welcome, which wasn't really there in the first place.

Rating: 6.5

WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN

10: The ultimate dining experience 9-9.5: Sublime 8-8.5: Excellent 7-7.5: Good to very good 6-6.5: Promising 5-5.5: Average

Our review policy: The Business Times pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.

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