The outposts of most Michelin-starred chefs are usually launched with much fanfare and frenzied furore. So it was in stark contrast that 1-Michelin-starred Carles Gaig chose to open La Ventana, his first Asian venture, in such a low-key manner. It was months after he'd come and gone, post-installation of the executive chef, of course, that the Spanish restaurant, nestled in the Dempsey enclave, started sending ripples through the Michelin-crazed local scene.
The understated approach of La Ventana's inauguration got me curious. The food must be so good, they didn't need a flurry of press events to create hype. And indeed, the classic Catalan cuisine was pretty great, if a little stodgy. There were a couple of memorable hits, but many were tame, as traditional fare is wont to be. That said, for a bill that just hit the $100 mark for 6 dishes, La Ventana could possibly be the cheapest Michelin-related restaurant ever.
The Chicken Wing Confit ($14), conveniently boneless, was a lovely showpiece of slow-cooked succulence, blanketed in a lightly spiced jus. Nice, but a little forgettable.
Ditto for the Surf & Turf ($18), juicy fat beef meatballs and baby calamari dunked in a well-rounded tomato-based sauce. It was a particularly thoughtful gesture to split them up into 2 portions for us.
Ah, the highlight of dinner was the humble Croquetas ($14), breaded tubes of mashed potato and cream and shredded roasted chicken, deep-fried to a beautiful golden. This was insanely good...I'm still dreaming about these babies.
A look inside each croqueta, this was more meat than potato or cream, making it a lot more substantive and savoury than most other renditions.
Another surprise was the Miniature Tortillas ($12), a perfect circle of a Spanish-style omelette flecked with potatoes and onions. This may have appeared drab, but turned out simplicity at its finest, delicious and wonderfully nuanced.
The Cod Bunuelos ($18) fritters of mashed Atlantic cod were so well done I hardly noticed the parsley specks weaved into it. Here, I actually thought the parsley balanced out the fattiness of the cod, rather than detracted from it.
The Fiduea ($32), a Catalan-style noodle paella simmered in a rich seafood stock and aioli, was a little contentious. I thought the umami exuberance wasn't as hateful as the Hubs felt, even if it was a smidge oily and overwhelming with the taste of octopus.
The crusty mini baguette was excellent fodder for that exceptional Spanish olive oil (sold in-house), balanced and bold and with that tinge of lemony brightness. If we didn't have 10 bottles of olive oil already clogging up our pantry, we'd have gladly bought this one.
16A Dempsey Road
Tel: 6470 0100
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 11pm for dinner