Given the dearth of female chefs in Singapore, the arrival of Tamara Chavez Lopez (”Tamara”) as head chef of Tono Cevicheria (”Tono”) is as much a relief as she is a welcomed addition to the tiny but growing pool of female cooking talents.
Mexico-born Tamara trained in both Mexico City and Peru, the latter at Rafael Osterling’s El Mercado cevicheria, before she headed to the Lion City where she’s worked her way through restaurants like El Mero Mero and The Latin Quarter.
As the newly installed head chef of Tono, Tamara has given her menu a minor facelift. The most prominent change is the introduction of tacos beginning in June – on the last Wednesday of each month, the Tono Taqueria will make a spot appearance, each time featuring 4 to 5 tacos. Guests could opt to have them a la carte or as a tasting menu. While you can’t go wrong with any of the excellent tacos curated by Tamara, the biggest plaudit goes to the thinly-sliced grilled beef tongue ($28++) with grilled onions and molcajete (roasted tomato and green chilli salsa) sauce on home-made corn taco.
Tono’s heritage hails from Peru and its ceviche remains the restaurant’s raison d’être. Which is why, no one comes here without so much as tasting one of the vibrantly assembled ceviches. Joining the ”classico” and ”tono” ceviches this time is Tamara’s take on ”verde” ($28++), an exhilarating mix of seafood (prawns, calamari, crab meat and fish) blanketed in a lime-green tiger’s milk headlined by grilled jalapeno and coriander, topped with standout fried tortilla chips.
Argentinean prawns have been making a splash in Singapore of late and it comes as no surprise that Tamara too sees the potential of this Latin American shellfish given its quality and affordability. For the new menu, she serves the Argentinean shrimps ($34++) grilled, with sauteed potatoes and clams on a bed of purple cabbage doused in hearty cau cau sauce (a Peruvian sauce of pumpkin, potato, aji amarilo and mint, in Peru tripes are often included too).
Also new on the menu is duck confit ($35++) that arrives in all its crispy glory drenched in a coriander sauce spiked with Peruvian corn cider and dark beer. Accentuating the rusticity of the dish is a bed of pancake-like rice and bean tacu-tacu (skillet fried rice and beans), great for mopping up any excess sauce. And just to make the dish complete, Tamara balances the protein with grilled brocollini and carrots.
New dishes are always a reason to revisit old joints but don’t leave without getting a sugar-high from Tono’s tres leches, a moist piece of cake doused with three different types of milk (coconut milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk) and topped with a zesty compote of passion fruit, vanilla cream and dried coconut. Sugar wimps are to leave their fear of sugar at Tono’s doorstep before tackling this.