Small plates, big appeal: Tapas craze devours Singapore

Small plates, big appeal: Tapas craze devours Singapore

Ten new restaurants in the last year prove the city's hottest dishes are small and shareable
Binomio's char-grilled pork belly with sautéed razor clams in rosti sauce.

The launch of big name restaurants such as Esquina and Catalunya would make some think Singapore had a mild flirtation going on with tapas-style dining.

But in the last year alone 10 tapas bars have opened on the island, indicating the city is in the midst of a full-blown affair.

“Singapore is a multinational city with a sophisticated crowd of well-traveled diners,” says Gerri Sottile, co-owner of Los Primos Taberna Y Tapas Bar. “Looking at the wave of tapas-dominated new eateries, small-plates dining looks set to be the next big thing.”

Howard Lo, owner of recently opened Tanuki Bar, adds that the tapas trend goes hand-in-hand with the rise of cocktail bars.

“Many of these bars offer bespoke cocktails, and tapas is a natural fit as one nibbles and shares,” he says.

Los Primos' suckling pig. Juicy. More on CNN: Singapore's best cocktail bars 

While tapas dining has its roots in Spain's Andalusia region, not all of Singapore' tapas eateries wave the Spanish flag.

A clutch of cosmopolitan venues include items that incorporate modern European, Japanese and French accents -- steak tartare, scallops ceviche, sea urchin with squid ink pudding and sous-vide organic egg with crushed potatoes and jamon in chicken soup.

“Small plates encourage diners to try something creative in small portions without committing to main course offerings,” says Lo.

“I feel we don’t have to classify our food as a specific type. Our menu is inspired by funky selections that food trucks are dishing out in New York and Los Angeles.”

'Tapas is here to stay'

Despite the mass of tapas eateries opening across town, Lo says Singapore has avoided "small plate saturation."

“There is a good mix of modern and Spanish on the local tapas turf,” says Lo. “With the diverse types of food on offer, there are plenty of varieties.”

Issachar Lee, executive chef and co-owner of Kaixo, agrees.

“Tapas is here to stay," says Lee as he puts the finishing touches to the small plate of sautéed squid tentacles and stuffed squid.

“Singaporeans love dining out and shared portions of small plates. Compared to upscale restaurants, they get to try more food for the same budget in tapas bars.”

Here's a selection of tapas newcomers that have opened in the last few months.

Los Primos Taberna Y Tapas Bar 

The rustic dining area at Los Primos is dominated by tile and wood.

Co-owners Mauro Muroni and Gerri Sottile may be Italian but Los Primos is as Spanish as it gets.

Three Spanish chefs helm the kitchen and cook up wallet-friendly tapas classics, such as huevo estrellado (fried egg with chips and serrano ham).

Other menu highlights include first-rate parilla-grilled Iberico secreto and one of Singapore’s crispiest roast suckling pig.

81 Club St., No. 01-01; +65 6423 1773;

Bomba Paella Bar

Bomba's octopus la plancha.

Its name suggests a paella-centric experience, but Bomba also offers classic Spanish tapas such as Iberico ham croquettes and a star menu of la plancha (cooked on a flat griddle) seafood including octopus in olive oil, parsley and paprika, and the delicious (and costly) carabineros prawn with garlic, parsley and lemon jus.

Chef Jean-Philippe Patruno crossed continents to Singapore after a trail blazing 10 years of tapas bar openings, including Barrafina and Fino in London.

8 Martin Road; +65 6509 1680;


Kaixo's sous vide organic egg in a nest of burdock chips.

The restaurant’s name (which means "hello" in Basque) and its excellent pintxos spread (mussels with red capsicum on toast) are inspired by Basque country, where chef/owner Issachar Lee spent three months learning at the famed Martin Berasategui restaurant.

The small tasting plates reflect refined French fare, thanks to Lee’s stint at Guy Savoy Singapore.

It’s close to impossible to pick favorites at Kaixo, but you can't go wrong with pan-seared scallops with braised leeks, lemon crumbs and dehydrated wakame and sautéed squid tentacles with onions stuffed in squid basking in its own ink.

96 Tanjong Pagar Road; +65 6225 0545;


If Lolla's 13-seat bar counter is full, diners can head for the basement and chow down in the mess hall-inspired communal dining room.

Young chef Tan Huang Ming, who presides over Lolla's open kitchen, is a relative unknown in Singapore's culinary circuit. Expect that to change this year.

Lolla’s cosmopolitan menu has some innovative creations, such as the signature sea urchin pudding and Spanish tortilla crowned with smoked eel flakes that you’d be hard-pressed to find in other tapas bars (for now).  

22 Ann Siang Road; +65 6423 1228;

Binomio Spanish Restaurante

Binomio's chef Jose Alonso cooks up some of Singapore’s most authentic paella.

For a quick meal at Binomio’s 22-seat, exposed brick tapas bar, diners can try tortilla de patatas and croquettes, chased with Sangria.

Alternatively, there are tapas plates such as warm smoked paprika-dusted octopus terrine and char-grilled pork belly with sautéed razor clams in rosti sauce at the adjoining 70-seat restaurant.

Chef Jose Alonso, who cut his teeth at Sergi Arola Gastro and the late Santi Santamaria’s Sant Celoni and Santi Singapore, also whips up one of Singapore’s most authentic servings of paella.

Craig Place No. 01-02, 20 Craig Road; +65 6557 0547

Tanuki Bar 

Tanuki's ceviche trio.

Howard Lo, founder of Singapore's Standing Sushi Bar, extends his love for all things Japanese and raw to his new Tanuki Bar at Orchard Central.

The menu is still being tweaked, but diners should expect lots of raw gourmet fare, such as oyster shooters, steak tartare and ceviche, supported by a menu of small bites like truffled beet carpaccio draped over deep-fried cheese balls and contemporary sushi like musubi, fried luncheon meat stacked on pressed rice –- perfect to go with Lo’s cocktails, including the kiwi shrub mojito.

181 Orchard Road, No. 02-03 Orchard Central; +65 6636 5949;


Dick Lee's MAD serves up dim sum by day, tapas by night.

In collaboration with the Tung Lok group, local music legend Dick Lee recently debuted MAD (Modern Asian Diner) at the spruced-up Turf City (now called The Grandstand).

By day, MAD serves dim sum, like crispy mango prawn rolls and beef siew mai. By night, there's a smörgåsbord of classic and modern Spanish tapas -– Portobello mushroom with cuttlefish tagliatelle is a star -- by chef Roberto Hernandez Sevillano.

While Lee commands the playlist, other partners have been roped in to complete the sensorial experience; dessert cafe Bakerzin crafts the artisan breads, Top Wines provides the 150 vino labels and Bar Stories is behind the sexy cocktails.

The Grandstand, 200 Turf Club Road, No. 01-20/21; 65-6466 3303;


Evelyn Chen traded her frequent flyer miles from her jet-setting corporate days for a critic's pen, and has been eating and drinking on the job ever since. She is a former Time Out food critic and current editor of Zagat Guide; her food and travel features have published in Destin Asian, Travel + Leisure SEA and Conde Nast Traveller. For a collection of her gourmet jaunts, visit

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