What a novel idea. Combining a popular culinary style with an utterly unrelated (but very delicious) beverage. One struggles to recall having had such a combination of food and drink before.
There is much potential, to be sure. Sake already has a big presence in izakayas, and what is yakitori but a form of tapas? The Spanish are familiar with the concept too; the origins of tapas are closely related to sherry.
So, mingling sake and tapas seems to be a matter of execution. At BAM!, we see how Executive Chef Pepe Moncayo, a Catalonian chef, formerly of Michelin-starred Santi, fares in this difficult task.
A promising start
The first dish, Ankimo Tofu with Honey Aioli and Shirasu was paired with Ura Gasanryu Honjouzo. The two cubes of tofu were perfectly delectable, with a crisp layers of golden skin wrapping silky hearts of tofu, each topped with a different flavour. The shirasu had a savoury fish-flake like flavour and the aioli lent a rich sweet-tart flavour to the tofu.
It paired well with the sake, a beautiful brew with a cherry blossom bouquet and mellow fruit flavours of white grapes, melon and pears. Something about the fruitiness goes very well with the savoury sweet flavour. The medium texture complements the smooth texture of the tofu, not fighting in the mouth for primacy.
Rumbles on the horizon
Next up was Padrón Peppers Drizzled with Sesame sauce and Seeds, Parsley and Bonito Flakes. The Galician peppers were spicy as a matter of course, akin to your everyday green capsicum, but also somewhat more intensely bitter and savoury. More importantly, they have a powerful crunch to them that we find tantalising.
Paired with the Chikuha Noto Junmai, a musky sake bursting with white grapes and juicy plums, the peppers express a pleasant sweetness. However, the sake’s texture is as light as spring water, which could be overwhelmed by the powerful crunch of the peppers.
Our next sake, the Michisakari Yuujo Junmai Daiginjou is aged lightly, giving it a full, rounded flavour. It has an exquisite, but unusual, flavour profile of cordyceps, coconut water, smoke and umami.
Its partner in crime was the Kampong Egg with Camarones and Romanesco, which in colloquial terms is a poached egg served with a helping of Roman cauliflower and the most delicious “hay bee”, or miniature dried shrimp, that we’ve ever tasted.
Though we still haven’t figured out what exactly a Kampong egg is, the dish was fantastic. Rich, creamy yolk bursts from the egg at the touch of our fork, coating the tiny shrimp in a delicious golden sauce. The camarones (shrimp) had an irresistible intensity to them and added a beautiful crunchy texture to a rich dish. Fantastic.
A sinister turn
The genius of a good pairing is in combining two separate elements into a beautiful whole. In a thoughtful pairing, while each individual piece is exceptional, they are so intertwined that one does not consider them separately. Rather like the Beatles, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Put another way, it takes two to tango. No matter how beautiful the dancers, they will fail to impress if they lack chemistry. Here, in combining the Kampong Egg and Michisakari, we see the beginnings of a great pairing. The savoury, smoky flavours of the sake pair with the ebi. Yet, the sake gets washed out by the creaminess of the egg texture and the powerful aromas of the dish.
A real shame.
Fortunately, we hear that the dish is being replaced with a Sakura Ebi Omelette with Smoked Apples and Panko. We hope it works out.
A graceful recovery…
Our next dish was a tasty number of Salmon Skins, Ikura, Mashed Potatoes and Lime. A delectable combination of crunchy skins juxtaposed with an intense oiliness from the bursting orange Ikura globes and a light buttery ponzu sauce. It was paired with Tedorigawa Shukon Junmai Ginjou, a crisp, clean sake teeming with pears, apple and savoury herbs.
The combination works well. The butter sauce works particularly well with the sake to create a harmonious blend of citrus, milk and apples. The green notes of the junmai ginjou find an echo in the zucchini, and the umami in the ikura finds a kindred spirit in the sake. Interestingly, there is a hint of chocolate in the final combination as well. This dish has also been replaced, with a Scarmoza a la Plancha, which we found puzzling- this was culinary heaven.
…and a final mystery
The final dish was Cod Fish Tempura with Kumquats and Piquilo Peppers. It sounded tantalising, so we were all the more surprised when the final dished was served.
A tiny morsel of fish that was somehow swallowed by the comparative immensity of the small plate. The fish itself was chewy- in a doughy way. The flavours were handled competently but not exceptionally- reminiscent of sweet sour fish with ginger and citrus. Its partner was the superb Saku no Hana Ginjou Karakuchi. A soft and light sake with an elegant crispness and unusual flavour notes of mango lassi and calpis. A pleasant pairing with the citrus-heavy dish.
We only wish that there was more fish to combine with it. It’s a mystery why we would end on such a note after the exquisite dishes prior. Ah, to think of what could have been…
Summing it all up
In a word: uneven.
It might sound like we hated the experience, but nothing could be further from the truth. There were some definite hits here on both sakes and dishes. The Salmon Skin and Tedorigawa Shukon match definitely stood out, and most dishes and sakes were of high quality.
The challenge here seems to be uplifting the combinations from good to exceptional through pairing. A further tweak is needed.
We appreciate the value for money, however. At $48++ per person for five dishes and five sakes, it might be the best way to enjoy some good food and drinks in the pre-dinner hours. We might even be tempted to stay on for Chef Pepe’s affordable eight-course Omakase menu($148++), though we would have to fork out an additional $90++ for sake pairing.
Sake-Tapas Tastings will be available every Monday from 6.00pm to 8.00pm, starting Monday 5 June, with 5 sakes and 5 tapas at S$48++ per person.