Four years after its debut on Stanley Street, Restaurant Gaig (“Gaig”) by Barcelona-based Carles Gaig is still going from strength to strength. The surest proof is its acquisition of the adjoining shophouse space, which allows the eatery to cater to more guests and carve out a corner for a 10-seat (currently 8 seats due to social distancing) private dining space.
While Núria Gibert, a fifth generation Gaig, continues to ply the floor, the kitchen is now helmed by executive chef Martí Carlos Martínez, who first landed on our shores as sous chef of the now-defunct La Ventana. The short-lived eatery at Dempsey was where Gaig first staked its claim in Singapore.
Martínez trained at Barcelona restaurants including Speakeasy, the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Avalon as well as Restaurant Gaig. At Gaig, he continues to dish out the time-honoured flavours of Catalan with straight-up heritage dishes and then some, reflecting his innovative takes on them.
The new Salmorejo Soup With Burrata Cheese and Jamon Ice Cream ($17) is exemplary of Martinez’s contemporary streak. Originating from Cordoba in Andalucia, salmorejo is a thick and smooth broth of tomato and bread blitzed with olive oil, garlic and Sherry vinegar. Here, the Catalan chef pours the smooth puree at the table over a scoop of jamón ice cream, tomato sponge, Italian burrata and half a cherry tomato so that with each scoop, you get a delicate whiff of spice, a dose of acidity and a touch of umami that meld together to form a greater whole, mildly sweet and gently suffused with the fruitiness of olive oil.
Also new on the cold tapas menu, Duck Foie Gras Terrine with Anchovies and Hazelnut Sablé ($25.50) is a dish that harks back to the pâté and anchovies snack that Carles used to assemble during his military days to satiate hunger pangs. Here, the French duck foie gras is served two ways – as thin blocks of house-made terrine topped with anchovies and also as a semi-sphere encasing a bijou strip of anchovy – alongside raspberry coulis and buttery hazelnut sablé.
Bomba de la Barceloneta ($15) is Martinez’s reimagination of a classic deep-fried spicy potato and minced meat croquette. To lend it an even greater kick of spice, Martinez loads up on chili padi, not just in the gigantic ball of mash but to the slow-cooked brava sauce of onion, red capsicum, tomato, garlic and chili chipotle. To give it a stunning black finish, he coats the meat-potato ball with squid ink breading and serves it with a smidgen of aioli with a chilli pedicle for a crown. I like croquettes but this bomba is bigger (hence to be shared by two) as well as smokier and spicier (hence tastier).
It’d be criminal to visit Gaig without ordering its headline dish: Gaig’s Traditional Cannelloni ($16.50). A signature since its Barcelona opening in 1869, this cylindrical fresh pasta stuffed with bechamel-perfumed minced beef and pork arrives at the table with a white-as-snow cream sauce speckled with truffle paste. For all its unspirited appearance, this remains the most arresting dish on the menu. It’s creamy, yes, but also profoundly savoury.
While Txanggurro, a crab dish, has now been retired, Martinez is offering a credible replacement of sorts – Charcoal Grilled Octopus with Cauliflower Textures ($32.50). : Galician octopu is steam-baked in beer, then charcoal-grilled in the Josper oven and served with textures of cauliflower – puree, roasted and pickled.
Gaig’s new meat dishes, the Veal Tongue Fricandó ($20) and Quail Escabetx ($32), however need some work. Both dishes, while passing muster, lack the robustness of Spanish/Catalan flavours and the savouriness of a good meat dish. An easy fix I’d hope.
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.