Spanish fuses with Japanese at Malabar 2.0
Leading the way in Wuding Road's food and beverage revival is Sakaba Malabar, a restaurant offering creative Spanish tapas blended with Japanese cuisine.
The recently opened eatery is in the same space Malabar occupied. After nine years in business, the team behind Malabar decided to give it a fresh look and brand new food and drinks menu.
The interior design is sleek, with an earthy, cool palette with a central U-shaped bar providing a fun interplay between diners, servers and the kitchen. This is where up to 20 guests can enjoy dishes prepared in a semi-open kitchen at the end of the room. The rest of the space can accommodate another 20 diners.
It's the kind of restaurant that dazzles you with shiny ideas, but also a place you can visit with friends and get lost in conversation.
The executive chef is Juan Campos, also of RAW Eatery. Here, Campos raises his game by blending vibrant flavors from Spain with Japanese finesse, bringing together two cultures that share respect for high-quality products and the social role of dining. Each plate is exquisitely designed and beautifully presented.
It can't be denied that tapas should be paired with a few specially curated cocktails. The cocktails are developed by master mixologist Yao Lu, owner of one of Asia's 50 Best Cocktail Bars – Union Trading Co – who also incorporates the same Spanish-Japanese fusion philosophy in his creations. Starting off with either the Horchata Milk Punch, where sherry brandy dips into a smooth concoction with golden rice, almonds, cinnamon and clarified milk, or Miso Caliente, blended scotch whisky mixed with red miso paste, honey, lemon, chili tincture and nori seaweed, is highly recommended.
The tapas menu features a slew of interesting dishes. The blue fin tuna tartar features cubes of blue fin tuna adorned with ikura and grilled foie gras, all sitting on a homemade teriyaki sauce. Japanese-style escabeche mackerel is another favorite, with large pieces of mackerel standing above crunchy marinated pickles cured into an "escabeche" sauce (escabeche is a common Basque technique for marinating a dish in an acidic vinaigrette). The use of Sichuan green pepper adds a ticklish feeling to the tongue.
The tapas journey continues with the traditional Basque baked crab recipe "Txangurro Donostiarra," but here Campos spins it with a Japanese touch by adding sake-infused foie gras on top, which provides an umami twist.
Freshly cooked "tortilla de patatas" with black aioli is the kind of dish you eat as you talk and soon realize, looking down at the very last bites, that you'll miss it when it's gone. The same is true of Spain's most popular rice dish Seafood Paella, which comes with a mini size.
General Manager Anup Rajbhandari can help you choose the perfect drink to pair with your meal. In addition to the vast wine list, diners can enjoy a careful selection of sake in a wine glass – a wink to real aficionados.
Opening hours: 5:30pm-1am (Sunday-Thursday); 5:30pm-2am (Friday-Saturday)
Address: 1081 Wuding Rd
Average price: 300 yuan (US$46.45)