Hubert Burda Media

Meat Market, Not

Its tranquil neighbourhood belies the fact that Argentinean restaurant Bochinche is smoking up the night.

Meat Market, Not

A stone's throw from the more boisterous Robertson Quay stands Martin Road: Quieter, less crowded and more relaxed. And this is where Bochinche calls home.
Still, I am puzzled as to why this building — the AIG Building — for a dining location. With its clean, glass-walled, white-tiled lobby, it looks more like a chic office space in the Central Business District. It is only when I arrive at the restaurant that the answer is clear: It is the oasis-like ambience; as if you are dining in the countryside with a magnificent view of the city. Surrounded by lush greenery, you can enjoy a peaceful dinner while taking in the lights and distant sounds of the city.
I take my place in the “front row”, where the kitchen-counter seats are, and am treated to the chefs' “performance”. Classy and sleek with the use of leather and wood, the 100-seater restaurant also offers coffee-table spaces for bigger groups and families, and outdoor dining on the balcony for that al fresco touch.
Bochinche, which means “gossip” in Spanish, is helmed by Patagonia-born chef Diego Jacquet, who began his career as an apprentice to well-known Argentine chef Francis Mallmann — who set up 1884 Francis Mallmann in Mendoza, Patagonia Sur in Buenos Aires and Hotel & Restaurant Garzon in Uruguay — before taking up a job at the three-Michelin-starred El Bulli. The fine dining-trained gourmand was also part of the team at the New York-based Swedish restaurant Aquavit that won three stars from critics.
Joining the award-winning The Zetter Hotel's restaurant, chef Jacquet was described as “talented and distinguished” by renowned food critic Fay Maschler. He opened his first restaurant Casa Malevo in October 2010 in London, which was named one of the city's best restaurants, before launching Zoilo Restaurant & Bar in the same city two years later.
According to him, he wants diners to “see the theatrics of the preparation and cooking, as it completes the whole dining experience”. It is something the chef brings to Singapore from Zoilo, together with the head chef, sous chef and head bartender. The rest of the staff went through an extensive six-day training programme, learning about Argentine culture, history, food and wine.
Bochinche, which opened its doors to the public on National Day this year, is a collaborative effort between Jacquet and the Spa Esprit Group. Through this Singapore venture, he aims to celebrate the “social custom of gathering to dine” and “dispel the myth that Argentinean food is all about big slabs of meat” — a myth that I too had believed.
With only one other Argentinian restaurant in Singapore — Salta on Gopeng Street — it's no wonder the cuisine is lesser known. So what exactly is Argentinian cuisine? According to Jacques, it is a melting pot of cultures such as Italian, Spanish and native aborigines. Other than beef, it includes a vast spectrum of homemade food, such as fries, patties and pasta.
“Some of the dishes,” he says, “Are based on what we offer at Zoilo. I conceptualised the food menu.” He adds that he works alongside his bartenders and restaurant managers to ensure the food and tipple complement, matching its many dishes with Argentinean wines sourced from Malbec and beyond.
To start us off, Jacquet sent out the Provoleta, a local variant of provolone cheese. Served with almonds, honey and oregano, it is a delicious blend of sweet and salty. Lacking that dramatic burst of flavours I'm told it should have, I remain stubbornly unconvinced about Argentinean cuisine.
Then the Gambas Al Ajo (king prawns), caramelised pork belly and chorizo arrives; and that's when things start getting interesting. The grilled prawn complements very well with the tender pork belly, which is marinated with honey, beer, mustard, chili and, surprisingly, kecap manis — the Indonesian sweet soy sauce that the chef thinks best brings out the taste. With this one, the explosion of salty and sweet is unmistakable.
The veal sweetbread (made from the gullet of a calf) comes with onion salad and preserved lemons. Though the meat is melt-in-your-mouth soft, it is rather similar to the taste and texture of foie gras. But it is the next item on the menu that makes me sit up.
The tantalising aroma of chef Jacquet's House Chips “Provenzal”, tossed with chopped garlic and parsley, immediately grabs my attention. The first bite is enough — the fries are delightfully crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside. I am told the chips are triple-fried to achieve this mouth-watering texture and taste. It's impossible to stop picking at them.
The meal ends with a sweet dessert, the “Dulce de Leche” crème brulee (made by heating sweetened condensed milk), served with a scoop of banana-split ice cream. The decadent pudding is delightfully smooth and creamy.
It shouldn't be this easy but at the end of the meal, yes, I am convinced Argentinean cuisine is more than just big slabs of meat. Since the restaurant has already earned itself a number of regulars, clearly I'm not the only who is now a convert.
Bochinche, 22 Martin Road #02-01, Tel: 6235 4990, bochinche.com.sg