SINGAPORE — First, an admission is in order. Catalonian food is a cuisine that is very foreign to me which says a lot for a food writer in Singapore, where the world’s food converges in all sorts of form and shape. Unfortunately for Catalonia, its food is not as well-represented in Singapore as its neighbouring Mediterranean or European counterparts. It’s an exclusion that I find quite perplexing and makes me wonder what I’ve been missing all this time.
But to talk authoritatively about Catalonian food, one must familiarise oneself with the geopolitical nature of its existence. Catalonia is a semi-autonomous region in North-East Spain with a population of 7.5 million, with its own language and traditions. It’s also one of Spain’s wealthiest regions, accounting for almost 19% of Spanish Gross Domestic Product.
Its semi-autonomous moniker comes because the status of its independence is currently still in question. Politics aside, Catalan cuisine is highly influenced by its location on the Mediterranean coast, resulting in an array of seafood dishes and the abundant use of vegetables such as artichokes and tomatoes. But Catalonia is also home to mountains and fields where livestock roams, which explains the Catalonians’ interest in having both fish and meat on the same plate.
All that said, it is then evident that a meal at Restaurant Gaig is not just an exercise in culinary persuasions, but one steeped in sensitivities surrounding geography, politics, and identity. Yes, it is a heavy burden to bear for food, but it does get me giddy with excitement. After all, what’s a little spirited discussion on independence and identity over dinner, am I right? And where better to peruse such political possibilities than at Restaurant Gaig at Stanley Street, the first international outpost of Chef Carles Gaig original Michelin-starred restaurant in Barcelona?
Here, the house is led by executive chef Martí Carlos Martínez and Núria Gibert, daughter of Chef Carles Gaig to great hospitality effect. Now in its fourth year of operation, Restaurant Gaig unveils an enhanced and immersive menu in a bid to transport diners to the typical home of a Catalan family.
It doesn’t get more atypical than with a starter of Salmorejo soup with burrata cheese and jamón ice cream (S$17.00++)—a chilled tomato soup with an aromatic bouquet, served with savoury jamón ice cream. Yes, that’s Iberian Ham ice cream for the uninitiated, made with jamón fat and cream for a sweet-salty treat that more than makes up for the slight lack of texture in this soup.
There’s also an artistic representation of Smoked salmon, avocado sauce, tomato and dill (S$22.00++) with salmon that desperately begs for more seasoning and while at it, a bolder smoke. Thankfully there’s the wholegrain mustard which gives it some much-needed punch of flavour. But one bite of the Feuille de Brick crisps and I instantly realised that this is where all the flavours converge. So, the lesson here is not to be a fool like me and have each element on its own—have it all together in one bite, please.
The Duck foie gras terrine with anchovies and hazelnut sablé (S$25.50++) is an exercise of luxe. “Choose your luxe,” I thought to myself as I eyed foie gras done two ways—one wrapped in a red seaweed jelly, and another in the form of a terrine and anchovies. I much preferred the latter only because of its simplicity and savoriness—the one flavour profile that always captures my heart.
So far, tonight's dinner leans on the occasional sporadic elements of complexity, a welcome challenge for a food writer who’s never had Catalonian food before. Even the Bomba de la Barceloneta with brava sauce and all-i-oli (S$15.00++) with its slightly intimidating naming disposition proved to be quite a fiercely layered experience for my palette. It’s essentially a hulking deep-fried breaded Agria potato ball stuffed with spicy minced beef. It is black as night from the use of squid ink and sits on a spicy aioli, and brava sauce that I was warned might be a tad too spicy. It is not. Have it with confidence but if it is too sharp for your delicate taste buds, let the sweet aioli on top taper that kick of heat. This is easily one of my favourites of the night.
I wanted the Gaig's traditional cannelloni stuffed with beef and pork (S$16.50++) to be seasoned more boldly. Salt is something the bechamel and truffle sauce could use since there’s a lingering sweetness that veers on slight abundance. The stuffing of beef and pork could also use some love by way of salt, although, on a positive note, the entire thing is creamy but not cloyingly so.
It’s the complete opposite with the Veal tongue fricandó (S$20.00++), a fabulous rendition of stew done exceptionally well. If you haven’t had a veal tongue before, this one makes for a good introduction. Although hearty and filled with tons of earthy flavours, the stew doesn’t detract from the beauty of veal tongue. It’s the first plate tonight that’s not too overly complex—it’s just veal tongue cooked really, really well.
Not that I’m a sucker for punishment, but I do wish for more flavour complexity in the Charcoal-grilled octopus with cauliflower textures (S$32.50++). It’s octopus done quite simply and with a bold and brash char on the seafood, but I thought it could do with a bit more varied flavours on the plate. Perhaps, dare I say, something slightly salty to balance all these bitter char?
And then, dessert. This is when all my slight misgivings of Restaurant Gaig melts away as the Pa amb oli i xocolata (S$15.50++) appears on the table, plated dramatically in deference to height. With a name I can barely pronounce, it is, in essence, a chocolate mousse served with olive oil ice cream. It’s so well-finessed with an impeccable balance of sweetness and textures all around. I must have been thoroughly disappointed by other iterations of chocolate because, with this one, cocoa’s undertones are apparent—meaning to say that it actually tastes cocoa. Did I mention there’s salt in this? No? Well, there’s salt in this which is both pleasing and perplexing because if one can salt a dessert, why not mains, am I right?
It has been a rollercoaster of culinary adventures of sorts here at Restaurant Gaig although my biggest after-action-review would be for salt at places where the dishes call for it. It’s 2021, and seasoning is very on-trend. There’s a lot that salt can do to a plate, and while I do understand the caution, like the food at Hathaway at Dempsey, I desperately wish for less restraint here. Nonetheless, if you’re a curious diner with a global palate and a penchant for something new, outside the usual trappings of European fare, you could hardly go wrong with a touch of Catalonia at Restaurant Gaig.
Website | 16 Stanley Street S068735
Mon–Sat: 12pm – 2pm; 6pm – 10pm
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