When Jordi Noguera stepped down from FOC Restaurant late last year, he left a gaping hole at the popular Hong Kong Street eatery after spending almost six years blazing a trail as executive chef and co-owner for the Spanish tapas stronghold.
Those big shoes were duly filled by new-to-Singapore Barcelona native, Juan Jose Carrillo, in early 2020. Taking the reins from Noguera as group executive chef of FOC, including FOC Sentosa, the 25-year industry veteran has worked his way across the globe including two years as head chef of Barrafina (Dean Street), London, and was most recently chef de cuisine of The Brasserie Restaurant for the St Regis Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
At FOC, Carrillo very much intends to keep the guests packing in. Since the restaurant reopened after the Circuit Breaker, he has installed a new seafood counter with the day’s specials of fresh seafood on display, think Canadian oysters and Scottish bamboo clams. He has also introduced a placard of FOC Specials on every table to highlight the seasonal items – including seafood on display – available in limited portions. But most of all, Carrillo has introduced sweeping changes to the menu, looking beyond European shores when he sources ingredients, tightening portion sizes (particularly for the meats) to make them more tapas-friendly and, importantly, making his presence felt by way of new pan-Spanish dishes, and then some that reflect his international outlook rooted in Spanish tradition.
From starters, twin servings of Blue Belly Shrimp Crispy Tacos (S$10) come to the fore with cubes of the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean-caught crustacean marinated in its own roe and head jus. Beautifully paired with avocado puree and apples for a contrast of flavours, the shrimps rest on slivers of ultra-crisp shrimp shell-infused “tacos” for textural contrast. Even if you feel that this sounds like an exercise in shrimp excesses, there is no denying how riveting the flavours land on the palate.
Also a winner, Smoked Cantabrian Anchovies On Charcoal Brioche ($9) arrive on twin bricks of crunchy jet-black brioche crowned with swirls of salted caramel butter and a thick slice of anchovy, sending sweet, savoury, salty and oceanic flavours in spades as you take chunky bites. Bear in mind that this will not be the best time to look dainty.
From FOC Specials, Carrillo distills his Asian learnings on a plate of Josper oven-grilled Scottish Bamboo Clams ($12) that he serves with lemongrass, passion fruit ponzu and olive oil pearls. The seasonings are light and spot-on and if not for the over-done clams, this could have been quite perfect.
Perfection does arrive by way of the jumbo carabinero prawn. Also on FOC Specials, the striking-red Carabinero Prawn ($26-$32) is butterflied and cooked with its shell on the grill until its flesh is just-done (still easy to extract from the shell), its head outrageously juicy and its flesh sweet and plump. Rightly balanced with a mound of herby meloso (Spanish style rice with broth) teeming with the ethereal vibrance of basil, coriander and parsley, the carabinero will be a definite highlight of your dinner but, on the downside, it’s not always available.
Carrillo is trying to put more vegetables on the menu and one of his newbies, the Seasonal Tomato Salad ($18) may be nothing new but it’s delightfully refreshing to cleanse the palate from the onslaught of savoury flavours – think French heirloom tomatoes drenched in extra virgin olive oil paired with smoked anchovies, hazelnuts and crostini.
If you could squeeze in another “snack” before the main course, the paprika-flecked Spanish Garlic Soup ($12 for single portion, $14 for sharing) comes highly recommended. Take comfort that Carrillo’s garlic broth has none of the pungency of raw garlic and all the sweetness of roasted garlic, with the savouriness of added chicken broth to boot. This broth is made all the more hearty with an egg that’s been slow-cooked, toasted quinoa and strips of iberico ham. Order it!
There are four meat options in the revamped menu and the Braised Oxtail in Port Wine ($28) may momentarily teleport you to Madrid, Spain, where they serve the bull’s tail-made rabo de toro (Spanish bull’s tail stew). A traditional offering in restaurants near Madrid’s bullring, the oxtail (traditionally bull’s tail) is braised in port wine with vegetables until the shreds literally fall apart with the prod of a fork. To kick things up a notch, Carrillo matches the meat with pan-seared foie gras and condiments of parsnip puree and basil pesto. It’s elevated with the foie gras but hearty enough on its own.
With the plethora of Basque-style cheese cakes available in Singapore, FOC’s Basque Cheesecake with whiskey ice-cream ($18) is hardly an outstanding option, particularly if you consider that the sablée that accompanies the raspberry condiment is neither buttery not crisp. You may have better luck with the menu of fancy cocktails.
It’s worth noting that FOC now carries a bevy of small batch-produced sherry wines from Andalucia. Whilr good on its own, some of sherry wines pair really well with the tapas. Better still, if General Manager Juan Alvarez (native of Andalucia) is on site, he will happily offer his personal insights on these fortified wines from his hometown.
40 Hongkong Street Singapore 059 579 | + 65 6100 4040 | focrestaurant.com