Thursday, November 21, 2013

Serenity Spanish Restaurant at Ngee Ann City - A Tale of Two Suckling Pigs

It was my mum-in-law's birthday bash, well, a small family one anyway. We had booked a week in advance at a notable Chinese restaurant Whose Name I Shall Not Mention (WNISNM).

And it was on a Sunday of all days. I guess I should have expected a crowd, but I seriously did not expect that big a crowd. Worse, I was made to queue another 15 minutes before I could get to the attendant.

And then, I was told to wait another 15 minutes to get to my table. Looking around WNISNM, it was obvious the crowd was too heavy, and the restaurant was simply trying to make as much money as possible by having as many turnarounds as they could squeeze.

It is really sad to see even this establishment whom I used to enjoy, to favor profits over quality. After 20 minutes, when I suspected it was going to be an even longer wait before we could even have a sniff of the food, I decided to snoop around and pop over to the adjacent restaurant, which was eerily empty.

Posh Settings

But they had a special suckling pig and meat platter deal which looked invitingly enough. Next thing, I pulled my entourage over to Serenity, and it turned out to be far better than anyone of us had expected.

It is a posh looking Spanish eatery, and the settings might really put most people off, suggesting a certain pretentious air about it. Instead, the service was really quite engaging and prompt, and helpful as well.

They serve mainly tapas styled cuisine, and going into this place without prior knowledge can sometimes be a good thing. A random selection of dishes to sample the quality of the cooking and it turned out rather positively. My mum-in-law was pleased, considering she had anticipated a more conventional Chinese feast.

Spanish Omelette

Spanish omelette is something that is rather hard to get here, and even harder to get it done right. There's egg, onions and potatoes, all simple ingredients. But to get it perfectly meshed together is no easy feat.

The chef has to basically pan fry the onions and potatoes in oodles of oil before adding in the egg, and then flipping it on its side. Under cook the potatoes or burning the eggs are all far too easy to screw up this tasty dish.

Here, they managed to get it just about perfect. The creamy egg texture, the fragrant sweetness of the caramelized onions and the slightly roasted starchiness of the potatoes all came together to give a wonderful combination of flavors. Superb.

Saute Mushrooms in Olive Oil

This was a dish so simple yet when you hit the right notes, it was utterly heavenly. Just a little garlic to saute the mushrooms until the earthiness of the mushroom flavors are fully extracted, while retaining a certain al dente texture was all it needed to gratify our palates. Finished off with a healthy dose of extra virgin olive oil.

Seafood Paella

We were forewarned that the paella would take more than 20 minutes to be served, and that is always a good sign that the chef is cooking from scratch. And it also shows visually on the finished pan.

The grains of rice were all well cooked and well stirred as well. None of that sticking to the pan rice you get in inferior Spanish outlets. The seafood were also perfectly cooked, all the shrimp and mussels still tender and moist. A most hearty dish for a family meal.

Spanish Suckling Pig

Finally came the centerpiece of our lunch, the spanish styled suckling pig. Accompanied by a platter of meat and sausages which were pretty decent, the focus was all on the pig itself. Visually, it looked great and more organic looking than the more deliberate plating styling of Chinese sucklings.

The skin had a crumpled look about it and the color was much more golden and lighter too. There was also a greater depth of pork meat underneath and had a whiter, almost cleaner look. As for the flavors, it was marvelous.

The crackling far exceeded any Chinese variant I have ever come across as it not only had the necessary crispy textures, it also had a lighter yet more flavorful taste. The meat itself was very delectable as most times in Chinese sucklings, we would only devour the skin and ignore the flesh. There was this layer of fat that was reminiscent of the dragon bone fat used in bak kut teh and it was absolutely delicious.

Granted, this was my first experience of a Spanish suckling pig and it was more than a positive one. It will make me look at Chinese suckling pigs in a different light. In a way, they are both excellent and have their own merits, but it is also comforting to know that different cuisines around the world can produce equally excellent counterparts to our Asian delicacies.

As for mum-in-law, it was an eye opening meal for her. While the older generation might defend their Chinese rendition stoutly, I think on a whole, it is also gratifying to see a younger generation learning to try new things and maybe improve on our own recipes when they learn of other continent's cuisine and cooking.

As a final epilogue to our Sunday culinary adventure, by the time we finished our meal, the family that was next to us at WNISNM was still waiting for their table, sitting by the stone rocks of Sushi Teh and looking very forlorn.

Perhaps it was not just a tale of two pigs, but a tale of two restaurants' commitment to food and quality.

Serenity Spanish Restaurant
391 Orchard Road
Next to the escalator and opposite the restaurant whose name I shall not mention.

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