Basque Culinary Center chefs at the Alkaff Mansion’s new TXA Pintxo Bar reveal exuberant flavours of the Basque Country a bite at a time.
The last time we passed by The Alkaff Mansion, we were walking the Marang Trail from Harbourfront to Kent Ridge. The Tudor-styled building was the only speck of white amidst a sea of foliage. Built in the early 20th century by the Alkaff family, the house used to be a holiday home. In recent times, it was Alkaff Mansion Ristorante up until 2016. Now managed by the 1-Group, the conserved landmark has been given a new lease of life inspired by the Basque region and the gastronomic capital of San Sebastián.
Leading The Alkaff Mansion’s Basque reinvention is TXA Pintxo Bar, serving Basque small bites known as pintxos (pinchos). TXA, pronounced ‘cha’ is a common sound in Basque phonetics, uttered in words such as txakoli (chakoli), a Basque sparkling white wine. While San Sebastián has a large share of Michelin-starred restaurants such as Arzak and Mugaritz, it is also the city known for popularising pintxo culture, where one would hop across different bars to savour lavishly prepared small bites laid out on the counter or prepared on the spot. The bites used to be simple, tasty pintxos or skewers of food pinned to a base of bread, but nowadays they take on many creative forms.
Marta Elvira Segalés and Silvana Pascual Romero, both graduates of the esteemed Basque Culinary Center, are the chefs charged with bringing a slice of pintxo culture to this part of the world. With much of the produce sourced from the Basque region, the duo serve up a variety of pintxos by the tray or al momento (made on the spot). As morsel after morsel is handed over the counter, we marvel at the way each bite reveals a different facet of Basque food heritage. First a glass of light, crisp txakoli starts us off; the bartender gallantly pours it from a tall height, teh tarik style, we think. This is in keeping with the tradition of making the wine even more bubbly.
On to the pintxos, starting with crujiente de jamon ($5), an Iberico cracker sandwiched with smoked cod roe sauce where each strip of cracker melds crisp and creamy in one addictive bite. The boquerones con piperrada ($3.90) is just as bold-flavoured. A piquillo cream, made with red piquillo peppers commonly used in the Basque Country, cuts through the savouriness of the marinated white anchovies, while pipperada, a common Basque condiment of red and green peppers and onions, adds to the freshness of the dish, not to mention making up the vibrant colours of the Basque flag.
Then there is the txangurro a la Donostiarra ($14), or Basque-style stuffed crab. In the Basque Country, spider crab would have been hauled off the seas right there. Here, fresh flower crab is used instead, but the flavours are those that remind the chefs of home. Chilled crab meat is added to a sofrito base, flour and seafood stock in a crab shell, then topped with breadcrumbs and butter and grilled. The result is spoonful after spoonful of crustacean goodness. Balance the savoury flavours with a bite of the crema de roquefort con manzana y nueces ($4.90) comprising Roquefort cream, homemade apple jam made with a dash of Pedro Ximenez sherry, and walnuts served on toast. The mild and appetising morsel will not turn away those wary of strong blue cheese. Or go for the tarta de Queso “La Viña” ($4.90), inspired by the burnt cheesecake sensation from La Viña in San Sebastián.
These go well with the bar’s wide range of Spanish beers, wines and ciders, and signature cocktails such as Tinto de Pintxos, comprising red wine, pisco and sweet vermouth ($18); as well as The Mansion ($18), made with brandy, Grand Marnier, cherry liquer and angostura bitters.
The Basque theme is further played out in the menu of the modern Spanish restaurant on the second floor of the mansion. The name UNA might be familiar, as the restuarant used to be based at One Rochester. With input from the Basque chefs, UNA head chef Tom Kung will gradually add more Basque touches to the menu. For now, UNA favourites such as fideua de calamares or squid ink Spanish noodles paella with crispy calamari ($20), as well as paella de chorizo y habitas (from $46), a familiar rich and moist paella slow-cooked with chorizo, fava beans and saffron, are the stars of the show, along with a few Basque highlights such as the juicy txuleta steak served with piquillo sauce ($180 per kg). For dessert, don’t miss Arroz con leche de la Abuela ($16), a fragrant Spanish rice pudding served with sherry grapes and a sherry reduction.
The Alkaff Mansion, 10 Telok Blangah Green. Tel: 6773 0070