What’s The Element on Tras Street?
By Tiantianchi - Wednesday, Mar 26, 2014
When I was invited to Element for dinner, I felt nostalgic. The year was 1986 when I first started working. The same year Amara Hotel (where it’s located) was built in Tanjong Pagar, an unusual location outside the tourist belt. It made perfect sense then because of its proximity to the business district. The reasonable prices made it popular with the white collared folks in the area. Competition soon intensified with the completion of MRT and, with new hotels in the CBD area, its appeal gradually faded. Attempts were made to re-invent the coffee house but nothing stunning came off it. I had not been back for a long time.
I was swooned by the complete transformation when I visited the restaurant again recently. The decoration is tastefully done, minimalistic, with no garish and redundant embellishments. It reminded me of a modern bistro that comes with an open and fluid layout – bright lighting and large mirrors gave illusion of space, and designer furniture well-spaced apart lends more privacy and comfort. The open kitchen and the sprawling long buffet line did not look nor feel cluttered. The indoor space extended seamlessly to an outdoor terrace where the bar – Element on Tras Street, was located. A gastro pub inspired concept, definitely.
The food – the International Buffet offering was trimmer and leaner. Fifty plus well curated items that included the all-time favourite seafood counter, were a treat for ocean chow hounds. Jumbo prawns, lobsters, snow crabs, spanner crabs, scallops, mussels and of course fresh oysters (try this with their fiery in-house Thai inspired chilli sauce instead of the usual Tabasco and lemon) were present. The various live stations – Sushi, Ramen, Teppanyaki, Carving (the roast pork is excellent but do ask them to cut in larger chunks) added to the appeal. They may not have provided the kiasu 100 over items like many buffet restaurants do, but they compensated with quality and reasonable pricing.
The highlight was the “Duo of Rice”, featuring Chef Mikel Badiola’s seafood paella and a rotation of favourite Asian rice dishes. Biryani was the accompaniment that evening but the paella took pole position.
I was pleased that their à la carte selections did not feel like a scoop and re-plate job from the buffet spread. You even have the flexibility of ordering selected dishes from their other restaurants there, like Thanying and Silk Road. Chef Mikel, the Chef de Cuisine who hails from Spain and specializes in the Basque region cuisine (many of the dishes are hard to find in Singapore), is instrumental in developing the Basque menu. Along with the main à la carte menu is a selection of Pintxos – the Basque version of Tapas. Suitable for small eaters but even better as pub grub.
While the 5J Jamón Ibérico on Toasted Baguette with Grated Tomato can be irresistible to ham aficionados, I prefer something that showcases the talent of the chef than just the assembly of fine ingredients.
I particularly like the Mushrooms Brochette in Oporto Sauce. The fragrance from the grilled smoky earthy mushroom was captivating, even before we arrived at the table. The minced meat stuffing was moist and flavourful.
The Cod Fish Béchamel filled in Piquillo Pepper is another favourite. The thick cheesy cream, a little chewy and studded, with chunks of cod fish coated in lightly crunchy and sweet peppers, was very agreeable. Look out for the very comforting Basque Cod Fish Soup with Baked Bread. Tasted very much like crustacean bisque – rich, robust, flavourful and almost intoxicating. The cheese wheel-looking Spanish omelette with potato and onion can be a meal by itself; I can imagine this on my breakfast table. The calamari with tartar sauce was well received by the ladies at our table. Unlike the crispy version we are used to, this came with little grits of fried batter on it. The squid was soft and spongy and the sensation of the batter bits exploding in the mouth with each bite, I must admit, was addictive.
As a meat lover, I certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on their 500g Char-grilled Porter House Steak and Roast Suckling Pig. But the steak came out a little cold which rendered the meat a little chewy and dry. Perhaps if they could serve a hot plate at the side for customers to sizzle, it might be appreciated. The roast suckling pig has a thin layer of crispy skin with hardly any fat below. It was lightly milky than game-y and the meat was oh-so-tender, you can cut it with a porcelain plate, like how they do in Spain. The portion was good for three. I can’t praise the Basque Tuna Stew with Potato and Pepper. It was comforting but I felt it can do with a little more salt.
The Squid Ink Paella was done perfectly al dente – so hearty and flavourful I helped myself with extra servings.
Among the desserts we tried, I found the cold strawberry soup intriguing. It was in fact savoury than sweet with pureed tomato and garlic. I felt this is better as an appetizer. I can’t really understand the honey jelly yoghurt with walnut cream. It was like a breakfast cereal to me. The cheesecake, though nothing unusual, went perfectly well with the aromatic Toby’s Estate coffee, their house offering.
Watching the bar at the terrace, crowded with hipsters and Shenton-ites chilling out, I realized their slogan “Element at Play” – was a play on the various senses – a seamless integration of gastronomic sensations, entertainment (they even have own in-house DJ), and visual design. I suspect I will be back often; this would be a perfect venue for entertaining clients and has an edge over the other players in the vicinity.