Spanish Sanctuary In Sentosa
The Sentosa of yesteryear is vastly different from the Sentosa of today—transformed from a sleepy hollow to a vibrant islet with an exuberant beach culture, amusement parks and Michelin-starred restaurants.
Heading towards Tanjong Beach, a tall blue-and-white-striped twin structure marks the spot—FOC Sentosa (tel: 6100 1102). Upon entering through the heart of this restaurant, you are greeted by an expanse of beach and outdoor dining space that includes the pool deck with sunbeds and plenty of space to lounge. To the right, a cosmopolitan indoor‑outdoor bar and to the left, a sophisticated dining room. And above, on the second floor, two breezy event spaces with panoramic views of the South China Sea.
Taking delight in the one constant of Sentosa—a gorgeous sunset—were Clifford and Stephanie Cheah, and Michael Koh and Lim Chi Wen, my dining companions for the evening. We started at the bar first, with cocktail hour taking off on a jocular note. In between tapas of crisp bread brushed liberally with olive oil and topped with anchovies and fresh tomatoes, the ladies discussed the programme of the inaugural Bessa (The British Education and Schools Show in Asia) event that was held in October and was organised by Stephanie, the educational consultant and founder of consultancy Waypoints, which specialises in British boarding schools.
The convivial mood continued as we settled into the main dining room, where gigantic papier mache heads resembling that of the co-owners and executive chef Pau Eche Garcia welcomed us. Chef Garcia got busy in the open kitchen preparing a tasting menu for us. The ingredients, as director of operations Juan Alvarez told us, are either flown in from Spain two to three times a week or sourced from local suppliers.
Arriving first at our table was the king crab cannelloni. Reminiscent of the colours of the spectacular sunset earlier, cold Alaskan king crab is wrapped in delicate ribbons of gold zucchini with green edges, and flecked with chopped tomatoes. For Chi Wen, there was something about the cold crisp zucchini and crab painted with a spicy sriracha and sriracha mayonnaise that she found irresistibly delicious.
Later, when her husband Michael, who is a fellow with the Ministry of National Development think tank, Centre For Liveable Cities, mentioned that he would be travelling to Bilbao in Spain soon for a forum, our conversation shifted to electric cars, architecture, art and hotel recommendations for family holidays.
Speaking of family-friendliness, this quality was seen in our next dish: the chicken wings sandwich, which was pure comfort food. Think deconstructed chicken wings basted and cooked to a dark glistening tan for two hours, swaddled in a warm buttery brioche with lashings of avocado sauce. As sinful as it may sound, it would do equally well with a fruity sangria as it would with stiff drinks.
Some of the dishes might remind you of those from now-defunct Catalunya, or El Bulli in Spain, and that’s because chef Garcia was part of the Spanish team that came to Singapore to launch the former restaurant in 2012. Before it closed, I would visit for its suckling pig. So imagine the happiness when chef Garcia hinted that he might consider special requests for it at FOC Sentosa soon.
A dish to try is the lamb, whose robust and smoky flavours are made brighter with a dash of herbs. FOC means “fire” in Catalan and the meats here are grilled in a Josper charcoal oven. After polishing it off its bones, everyone agreed with Clifford when he enthused that the lamb dish was set to be the evening’s favourite. We also dug into the cod fish and spinach caldoroso rice, a variation of the traditional paella that sees the rice cooked over a low fire with spinach and cured cod tripe until it’s creamy even without the addition of cheese.
Then, the most artfully created Yin Yang nevula took our breath away. This delicious thing of beauty was a seductive hazelnut praline sandwich, light as a feather with two almond waffle discs holding the cold cream together.
There was no mistaking the beautiful presentation of every dish at FOC Sentosa, where dishes were artfully plated. Food was also cooked with sincerity and creativity. The vibe, too, was equally energetic and uncontrived to have me and my dining companions yearning for a second visit.