2 fresh options for fans of Latin American fare
LATIN American or Peruvian cuisine has taken the world by storm, but is only just taking baby steps in Singapore. Two new restaurants - one headed by the former chef of high-profile tapas bar Esquina - hope to boost the nascent growth of this cuisine.
42 Hong Kong Street
Open Mon to Sat, 5pm-1am
After a four-year stint as the head chef of Esquina - Jason Atherton's tapas bar in Keong Saik Road, which boosted the hipster food and beverage scene in Singapore - Andrew Walsh has parted company with Michelin-starred chef and leading restaurateur Loh Lik Peng to strike out on his own.
"Esquina was a great restaurant and of course I loved it. But in life you have to have a change of scenery and progression," says chef Walsh over the phone from Europe, where he was looking at potential new restaurant spaces with Joel Fraser, his new business partner and founder of three-year-old bar The Cufflink Club.
His departure is an amicable one and Mr Loh understands his need for greater challenges, which his restaurant group could not offer "as we have just too much on our plate to contemplate another major opening".
Even as chef Walsh scouts around for opportunities overseas, his first project in Singapore has hit the ground running. It caters to a growing interest in Peruvian cuisine.
Called Vasco, the concept behind the Latin American cocktail bar in Hong Kong Street is "very simple", says chef Walsh, who is the executive chef at Vasco, responsible for designing the menu.
"It's a Latin American bar, and the food is inspired by snack food from the region like ceviches, the Cuban sandwich, and empanadas from Argentina with chimichurri."
Vasco is overseen by the third partner in the business - Christian Hartmann, who was Mr Fraser's right-hand man at The Cufflink Club and now general manager of Vasco.
The menu is straightforward, with highlights such as chicken skewers with pecans, chipotle and lemon ($23), a salmon ceviche with ponzu, avocado and a bit of wasabi for kick ($20), and baked empanadas with spiced lamb, cumin and yukon potatoes ($12 for three, $17 for five).
According to chef Walsh, the inspiration for the food at Vasco came from a trip to Rio de Janeiro last year, when he went to watch the World Cup.
He spent three weeks travelling around the region, trying different styles of the cuisine and doing research.
As for authenticity, he says: "To cook a different cuisine, you don't have to be born there. It's about respecting the ingredients, respecting the traditional ways of making it...This is a small concept that's about having fun for our guests, but of course it'll be true to the flavour of Latin America and I do hope it does promote Latin American food in Singapore."
Do not expect to see chef Walsh in the kitchen there every night, however. Vasco will be manned by head chef Jennifer Lee, who also founded Sarnies cafe in Telok Ayer.
Instead, chef Walsh is preparing for his big project - an upcoming restaurant named Cure, where he will be cooking personally, although he would not reveal any details apart from the fact that it will be located in Keong Saik Road and is scheduled to open next month.
333 Joo Chiat Road
Open Mon to Thu, 6pm-11pm; Fri, 6pm-midnight; Sat, 11am-3pm, 6pm-midnight; Sun, 11am-3pm, 6pm-11pm
Joo Chiat Road has always been dubbed a popular dining destination, especially for its ever-changing landscape.
One of the latest additions is a three-storey modern Brazilian barbecue restaurant, Braseiro, which serves a fusion of Latin American cuisine and casual French dining. It was opened in mid-March by 26-year-old Alexandre Pini from France.
"I have been to Brazil and fell in love with churrascaria. So, when I opened Braseiro, I chose Brazilian food because I loved the concept as a customer," says the self-taught chef who holds a degree in engineering.
Mr Pini first came to Singapore three years ago on a school internship, and decided then and there to make it his home. He explains: "When I first came here, I thought Singapore is a small but very interesting island. With three MRT stations, you can travel from Shanghai (Chinatown) to Delhi (Little India) to New York (Raffles Place). It's clean, safe and has good dynamics for a business - these were very attractive to me.
"My dream has always been to create my own company, and to do that, I need to master every part of the occupation - including the cooking. So I added my personal touch of casual French cooking in order to keep my food simple, cosy and affordable."
The structure of Braseiro's menu is kept very simple - customers pay a fixed price of $19.90 and choose either a beef steak, beef skewer, roast chicken or that month's chef's speciality. The meal comes with free-flow french fries and salad.
It's his way of slowly kicking off the business and leaving some allowance for them to eventually grow and develop it further, says Mr Pini.
"It's my first real experience at this occupation, so this (simple menu) allows us to master our recipes and change often to satisfy every palate. It's a big challenge for us and we love it, but we also are realistic and need a few months to experiment and perfect things," he adds.
THE BUSINESS TIMES