There’s no tapas to be found in Basque Kitchen — as you might be told upon entering the restaurant. No paella, certainly no flamenco music blasting at full throttle.
Dining here involves — however much subconsciously — a lesson in geopolitics. You might feel the need to google, and eventually find out that Basque country is an “Autonomous Community” within Spain’s slightly byzantine system of governance. Basque people are proudly independent, and have their own culture and cuisine that’s different from the rest of Spain. They also speak a language that’s even older than Latin. You might lose focus once the food arrives at your table.
Occupying the space previously occupied by the short-lived Blackwattle, Basque Kitchen is helmed by chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive, who first arrived in Singapore to head the team at Iggy’s. Now running his own restaurant under the Unlisted Collection group, Orive — Madrid born, Australia raised, and Basque-blooded — is free to showcase the nuances of Basque cuisine.
Orive, who’s worked at world’s best-listers like Basque’s own Mugaritz and London’s The Fat Duck, is offering only tasting menus (for now) ranging from 3 to 5 courses that vacillate between familiar, comforting dishes and Basque specialties and peculiarities. If anything, the whole experience seems to be a well-calculated solution for a good night out — easily understood dishes, with a sprinkling of novelties, Japanese flavours, and ancestral pride to keep diners entertained.
For all his pedigree in hyper-progressive, boundary pushing restaurant though, Orive’s not here to “reinvent the wheel”. Dishes get might get sprinklings of modernist techniques — like steamed brioche from an El Bulli recipe, sandwiches chorizo and Idiazabal cheese, or an opening snack of spherified Txakoli (a dry, slightly sparkling white from Nothern Spain) with local herbs and oyster leaf; but it’s the simple, well-executed classics that stick, sometimes to the ribs.
One of the crowd favourites is oxtail bomba rice, a gyudon-inspired flavour bomb that passes as a very meaty risotto. It’s topped with a confit egg yolk. It is very good.
Orive also serves steaks cut from mature cattle — slaughtered at 8 years of age instead of the usual 12 to 15 months — which he dry-ages in-house to concentrate already-profound flavours. The meat is then cooked on a Josper until perfectly rare, with a beautiful mahogany crust. It sounds hard to beat, until you encounter the grossly-understated “jus” the steak is served with. Jus is usually a thin, if flavourful pan sauce. What you get here is a generously-made, proper demi-glace made by — in extremely simplified terms — boiling all things beef down into a treacly, incredibly savoury sauce.
When asked about said sauce, Orive almost smirks. “You can probably peel it off the plate when it’s cool.” He knows it’s the small, effortful strokes that leave an impression.
Other times, native Basque classics takes centre-stage. Substantial lengths of salty anchovies are tamed with crushed tomatoes, sourdough, and olive oil caviar; while prized goose barnacles suspend in a clear, intense broth inspired by a classic Basque dish of squid with caramelised onions.
There’s also gelatinous, toothsome bacalao (salt cod), desalinated and sauced with vizcaína sambal — a syncretic creation combining the mild sweetness of choricero peppers with the seafood heat of the local chilli paste.
All these beg to be paired with another of their highlights: funky, acidic, and bone-dry Basque cider (they serve the ones from long-standing producers Zapiain). Like much of the region’s cuisine, the apple-fermented cider is an oddity outside of its place of origin. Naturally fermented, unfiltered, and and non-carbonated, the drink is served poured theatrically from height to aerate the drink and activate some of its natural carbonation.
If you’ve got a habit for digestifs, try the pacharán, a liqueur flavoured with anise and sloe berries from the Navarra region. While herbal liqueurs are common enough throughout Europe, this one is — proving the above point — aged in chestnut barrels, which impart a slight chocolatey, bitter finish.
Dessert is a straightforward affair. The 8-course menu ends with one lighter, citrus-type construction of various textures and makes; and a more satiating gateau Basque, a pastry cream-filled confection from the France part of Basque country that Orive serves with cinnamon ice cream.
97 Amoy Street. Tel; 6224-2232