This new restaurant imbibes the playful, produce-rich approach of modern Basque cuisine.
On Amoy Street, just across from Thian Hock Keng Temple’s muralled walls, stands Basque Kitchen by Aitor. Under the Unlisted Collection: group, it replaces the recently shuttered restaurant, Blackwattle. While the interiors remain largely intact, the modern Basque cuisine theme firmly turns a page on the space.
Spanish-Australian chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive—fresh from his stint helming one-Michelin-starred Iggy’s—draws inspiration from the bountiful well of the Basque Country, an autonomous region in Northern Spain framed by the Pyrenees mountains and the Bay of Biscay. Sharing a border with Southwestern France, it is home to towns and cities such as Michelin-restaurants-rich San Sebastián and Guggenheim Museum-landmarked Bilbao. Although chef Orive is from Madrid and doesn’t currently have relatives based there, his grandparents used to be from Biscay. He had also worked in the region in his twenties. “You could say that’s where I learnt how to cook,” he says. And he has memories of his grandmother’s cooking to tap on.
In the restaurant’s a la carte and set menus (from $38) therefore, expect Basque touches, re-interpretations and permutations. A smattering of Basque Country produce feature. On the seven-course tasting menu (from $115) for instance, there are anchovies from the Bay of Biscay, a delicacy served with tomato and olive oil caviar; and jambon de Bayonne croquettes topped with a red espellete pepper aioli for its fiery colour and mild spice. In the latter, both the cured ham and espellete pepper hail from the French Basque Country, just across the border.
From the mains, the dish that best exemplifies ricochets from Basque beginnings is chef Orive’s rendition of Marmitako, a fish and potato stew. Traditionally a hearty tuna stew enjoyed on fishing boats out at sea or set on communal dining tables, this dish is made with bonito crudo instead, using fresh bonito from the Basque Country. It looks and tastes like all the heartiness of the dish has been harnessed, and with restraint, artfully rendered in layered flavours. Then there is the txuleta (pronounced chuleta), a Basque steak that may have comprised a hulking piece of Galician beef on the bone accompanied by local peppers. In this case, we get a juicy piece of Angus Prime rib grilled over charcoal until it is charred and crisp on the outside and just above rare on the inside.
Alongside, there are a couple of dishes that may not be Basque-specific per se, but embody the inventive, playful spirit that comes along with modern Basque cuisine today. One example is the flavourful oxtail bomba rice, inspired by the Japanese gyu don, where Spanish bomba rice is cooked with braised Angus oxtail to make a luscious risotto before being topped with confit quail egg yolk and chive aioli. Another is chef Orive’s tribute to chef Dani García of three-Michelin-starred Dani García restaurant in Marbella by way of a cherry gazpacho topped with pickled watermelon and a ‘snow’ dust of cottage cheese frozen with liquid nitrogen.
And the experimenting never stops. Chef Orive will soon be adding dishes to the regular menu, such as the salt cod or bacalao, another dish commonly enjoyed in the Basque Country. His version will comprise charcoal-grilled desalted Atlantic cod with vizcaÍna using a sambal fusion of local dried chillis instead of the usual dried choricero peppers found in the vizcaÍna sauce. Meanwhile, just for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve dinner, Basque Kitchen by Aitor will be offering a seven-course tasting menu (from $135) featuring dishes such as Txangurro (pronounced chan-gurro), a Brittany brown crab paired with tomato essence and seaweed; lobster & squid bomba rice, and veal shank.
97 Amoy Street. Tel: 6224 2232
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