Foodbar Dada, Robertson Quay

This place gets my nomination for Best Restaurant in Singapore for 2012.

I stand by it, still.

FoodBar DaDa is one of those places you form an immediate stubborn opinion about the moment you step in. And it grows with you: you either love it, or you don’t. Headed by Chef Jordi Noguero, this industrialist chic setup offers an intriguing take on Spanish tapas. There was little to indicate the presence of an eatery when it first started out in March, with the store facade bounded by opaque glass, but these days, it has an al fresco seating just outside. Besides, it’s surrounded front, left, right and centre by food places so you’d have to be an idiot not to notice it. If you come, take my advice, and sit inside instead. The narrow space, the minimalist interior, the smooth jazz, the hive of the activity in the kitchen right in front of you as you sip a cocktail prepared by the mixologists – you could be in New York, Paris, London or Tokyo. The place takes inspiration from the DaDa non-conformist cultural movement, which sought to unsubscribe from the old world traditions of, well, everything, basically. Having given it a better read, the movement is really a revisionist one of sorts, because the revolutionaries; artists, musicians, chefs, et cetera… they don’t think of themselves as “that kind of..” whatever they are. They’re rebels, but they’re not. It’s confusing, but the whole idea behind Dadaism is to not follow any existing rules. Intended to illicit any form of positive reaction, it’s supposed to be whimsical and even wittily sarcastic at times.

FoodBar DaDa is not opened, but managed by Massive, the entertainment lifestyle brand responsible for clubs like Royal Room and Mink. The cocktails are mixed by some of Singapore’s most experienced mixologist. Sure, they might not have the charm and swagger of Maison Ikkoku’s Ethan Leslie Leong, but they can produce a cocktail just as good, if not better. Depending. DaDa works on a small, skeleton crew, so the managers, chef not on kitchen duty and sometimes, mixologists take to the floor serving food. The service isn’t fantastic, I mean, they do try, but for me, the nicest, most pleasant thing is to see everybody doing their part to chip in. Once dinner service kicks into gear, it’s a nonstop sprint to the end. It’s tiring, you see them sweating, you see them a little stressed, but they manage some pleasantries. They can’t stay to chat, but within those few seconds, you can feel a genuine passion for what they’re doing. The last time I felt this infectious energy from the crew, it was from Hide Yamamoto.

Unusual for a small diner such as this, and unusually for an establishment at all, is DaDa’s extensive use of the Josper Grill (pronounced: “hosper”). Fine dining restaurants like Prive and Brasserie Wolf have the Josper Grill, but limit the cooking only to their red meats, a.k.a., its steaks. The Grill from Spain, acclaimed by Michelin starred chefs like Gordon Ramsay, brings the best of a grill and a barbecue into a single oven with none of the disadvantages. Grilling, while it retains the flavors effectively, it doesn’t do it efficiently, often requiring long periods of times for the meats to cook. Barbecueing, cooks fast, gives meats a smoked flavor, but it’s hard to do it indoors since there is the problem of smoke. The Grill isn’t cheap, but it seems to have paid off because there’s no other technique that articulates the complexities of the flavors so precise as executed and created by chef Jordi.

Coming hot off the heals of Amuse just days ago, I was shocked. The wagyu cubes cooked in hay – a concept that was interesting, unique and not easily replicated – was knocked out of the park completely with the Josper beef by FoodBar DaDa. While Amuse triumphs on aesthetics, not a surprise given its conceived by former Les Amis chef, Armin Leitgeb; FoodBar DaDa, slightly brash and brazen, ultimately triumphed on flavors. The balance between the dainty and smoky was a tad better executed on the Josper Grill. The latter’s beef was not a wagyu, but a regular grain-fed cut, so at the end of the day, it really comes down to comprehension – understanding how your ingredients cook. Another Josper delight included the Mini Duck Burgers with Strawberry Ketchup. The restaurant’s newest item on the menu captivated me with its tartare-like texture – soft, creamy and had an intense depth that wasn’t unlike foie gras. Looking like innocent sliders, it was beautifully furnished and neutralized with the ketchup. Demonstrating the Grill could do more than just red meats, the Escalivada Toast with anchovies tickled all the different taste buds with its smoky and layered sensibility. Even the greens flourished, as it did with the Asparagus with Romenesco Sauce, which gave the regularly regal asparagus a grungy attitude that’d be a worthy looker on the streets.

Josper beef

Mini Duck Burger with Strawberry Ketchup

Escalivada Toast with anchovies

Asparagus with Romenesco Sauce

Challenged to keep to the freshest of ingredients, the menu changes with the seasons, so as you read this, and you go down, you might find that certain items have graduated from the list. Don’t fret, I’d assure you that its replacements are equally exciting. Items on the menu that seem to be regulars include the signature Black Mediterranean Rice. Tainted by squid ink, this seemingly familiar dish is more of a paella than a risotto, so don’t be too anal about it. I’ll admit, it was hard to eat this, mostly because I find it to swallow foods that aren’t “natural” looking. The first time I’ve ever eaten a black food was Gontran Cherrier’s Squid Ink Bun with Smoked Salmon earlier in the year. The second was In Italy’s Squid Ink Linguine a week back. It was alright, delicious even, but I don’t think I’d ever really be truly comfortable with eating foods with unnatural colors. It’s just too weird. The Squid With Egg was a good regular too.

Black Mediterranean Rice

Squid With Egg

Cod Puff

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