March 14, 2014

Element and Element on Tras Street @ Amara Hotel, Singapore ~ Love The Interesting Basque Cuisine From Spain!

As I walked towards the vibrant Element and Element on Tras Street, you would have suspect I was heading for happy hours drinks! The crowd basking in merriment of Sangria and live DJ music at Element's alfresco terrace would easily have anyone into thinking so. But no, I'm one who prefers to eat rather than drink my calories, and a Spanish dinner of Basque cuisine is waiting for me hehee! This hip outdoor bar is just one part of the integrated wine and dine experience which Amara Hotel located in the Tanjong Pagar precinct has to offer!

Oh yes, there are many more elements to entice you to give this recently revamped restaurant-bar a visit. What used to be simply a buffet place is now revitalized with a multi-concept cuisine which features a bit of Heritage (International Buffet), Basque (Ala Carte Selections), Barista (Toby's Estate Coffee), Hip (Outdoor Bar) and Individualist (Flexible Dining) element, all coming together under one roof.

The spacious space now gleams with an amazingly contemporary, chic and inviting look, without the 'high-class foodcourt' vibe which some buffet places strangely gives off. Love the high ceiling, sleek designer furniture and eye-catching see-through full height wine cellar which cleverly separated part of the area into a semi-private room for more intimate dining, but the best of it all has to be the stunning buffet line which runs nearly the entire length of Element.

Gluttonous me felt an innate need to make an inspection of the buffet which showcases the cultural heritage of the restaurant. The usual suspects are all there, with a line-up of international fare such as Sushi & Sashimi, Chilled Seafood, Charcuterie, Cheese & Bread Station, Asian Selection, Western Grills, as well as a spread of tantalizing Desserts. At $45++ for lunch and $55++ for dinner, this is one of the most affordable hotel buffets in town.

One of the highlights is the 'Duo of Rice' from Asia and Spain, featuring the gigantic-sized Spanish Seafood Paella and a rotation of popular Asian rice dishes, such as the Lap Mei Fan (Chinese Sausages Rice). These will pleased the carbs lovers definitely!

Erm... okay... I confessed... I did not just inspect the buffet food, I tasted some of it as well hehee. The chilled seafood was really fresh, and I love the parma ham with rock melon, but... why no chicken wings? I was told it does make a regular appearance.....

.... so I guess the individualist element, which allows us to order limited but signature items from other restaurants in Amara Hotel such as Thanying, Silk Road and Café Oriental, is really made for people like me who needs to satiate cravings all the time.

Not only did I get to indulge in fat, juicy Stuffed Chicken Wings from Thanying, the newly-appointed Chef de Cuisine of Element, Mikel Badiola, even specially prepared Crispy Deep-fried Mid-joint Wings for me. Wow totally didn't expect him to go the extra mile! Love this photo of us together, Chef Mikel seems to be thinking, "I can't believe this girl likes to eat chicken wings so much!". Haha! Thank you, chef!

Underneath Chef Mikel's nice and affable ways is a talented lad who is only 22 years old! Born in the Basque region of Spain, he picked up cooking since the age of 14 and his talent sealed him the opportunity to work with 3-star Michelin chef, Martin Berasategui at his eponymous restaurant in Lasarte-Oria, before traveling across half the globe, landed on our little island and bringing us the delectable cuisine from his hometown.

We were first introduced to Pintxos, which are Basque-style appetizers similar to tapas.

A bite into the Toast of Grated Tomato and Iberico Ham (Pantumaca - $15 for 2 pieces) had my heart melting at the beautiful combination of textures and flavors. Only the best available 5J grade Iberico ham which is cured for 36 months is used, and the premium quality shows in its delicious saltiness. Balanced with the natural sweetness of tomato and paired with crusty toast, this was simply yummilicious!

Next up is the interesting Cod Fish Bechamel filled in Piquillo Pepper (Pimientos de Piquillo Rellenos de Bacalao - $12 for 2 pieces). The fish was finely grounded, stuffed into bright red sweet Piquillo pepper and served with creamy sauce. It was nice in flavors and a stand-out favorite among my table of dining companions, but I prefer more textural contrast in my food.

The Mushroom Brochette in Oporto Sauce (Brocheta de Champinon Con Salsa Oporto - $12 for 2 pieces) was a miniature tower in gastronomic form! Love the juicy button mushrooms which combined beautifully with salty bits of bacon and the intensely sweet and rich sauce with slight hint of spiciness.

Next we relished in the warm homey goodness of Spanish Omelette with Potato and Onion (Tortilla de Patata - $10). It wouldn't be exaggerating to describe the thick omelette as love on a plate as this dish amalgamate some of my favorite ingredients - eggs, potatoes and onions! Its alluring aroma had me captivated at first whiff, and the interior softness of potato cubes, eggy creaminess and delicate sweetness of caramelized onions was divine! A definite must-order!

Squid with Tartar sauce (Calamares Con Salsa Tartara - $18) is done the way the Spanish prefers it - Lightly battered to allow the freshness and juiciness of the squid to shine through. It's very unlike the local crispy version we're accustomed to, but no less enjoyable. Discerning palates which appreciate the soft, bouncy texture of nicely cooked squid would enjoy this.

The Basque province sits on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain and its proximity to the ocean and Ebro Valley means that it enjoys a natural abundance of fish and seafood.

Regional specialties such as the Basque Tuna Stew with Potato and Pepper (Marmitako de Atun - $28) abounded with huge chunks of pinkish tuna cubes and creamy potatoes.

The Basque fish Soup cooked with Oven Roasted Bread (Sopa de Pescado - $16) was equally hearty with generous pieces of cod fish and wins by a little notch for its complexity in flavor. I was arrested by the robust briny fish flavor of the broth at first mouthful, before being hit with the ambrosial smokiness from the oven roasted bread. This is one dish which left a deep impression as its slightly spicy peppery notes lingered on the tastebuds.

The Traditional Roast Suckling Pig (Cochinillo Asado - $88 for 3 persons) is another delicacy you wouldn't want to miss. While rooted in the best tradition of classic Spanish cooking, Chef Mikel also takes the local palate into consideration and presented us with a suckling pig which is less porky in flavor. The paper-thin skin which echoed a melodious crispy crunch at each munch is deeply gratifying, and its tender meat needs just a dip into the house-concocted Amara sauce for a touch of spicy zesty tang.

We rounded up the evening with a trio of Spanish desserts, Cold Strawberry Soup with Fruit Brochette (Gazpacho de Fresas Con Brocheta de Frutas - $9), Honey Jelly Yoghurt with Walnut Cream (Copa de Gelatina de Miel, Yogur Y Intxaursalsa - $9) and Cheesecake (Tarta de Queso - $9)

The Honey Jelly Yoghurt and Cheesecake were pleasant, but safe. What really stood out was the Cold Strawberry Soup where strawberries and tomatoes are pureed into a smoothie-like consistency, and given an extra kick with...  the unique addition of garlic! No worries about your kissabilty level as the pungency of garlic is very subtle. Served chilled, this made a most refreshing after-meal treat.

I was delighted with Chef Mikel's culinary skills and his repertoire of dishes. The cuisine of Basque may be one that is unfamiliar, but what I do know is, my palate is highly receptive to it from my experience so far. This is reason enough to return.

Thanks to Gastro-Sense, Chef Mikel and Element for their hospitality.

Element And Element On Tras Street
Address: Amara Hotel, 165 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088539
Contact: +65 68792607

Opening Hours
Breakfast (Daily), 6am to 10.30am
Lunch (Monday to Friday, except Public Holiday), 12pm to 2.30pm
Brunch (Saturday, Sunday & Public Holiday), 11.30am to 3.30pm
Dinner (Daily), 6.30pm to 10pm

Element on Tras Street
Sunday to Thursday and Public Holiday, 11am to 1am
Friday, Saturday and Eve of Public Holiday, 11am to 2am

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