[dropcap size=small]S[/dropcap]ome restaurant names are so cryptic it practically requires detective work to find out what they mean.
LES45 is one of them.
The new Mexican restaurant is located on the 45th floor of Singapore Land Tower in Raffles Place, which explains the number in the name. But what is LES?
I find out when I arrive at the restaurant because a sign on the wall spells it out: Lower East Side. Still, isn’t that a neighbourhood in New York? What does that have to do with Mexican food?
It is later explained to me that Hidden Door Concepts, the company that runs the restaurant, has a casual Mexican eatery in East Coast Road called Lower East Side Taqueria. That clears it up – it’s the east side of Singapore.
Back at Raffles Place, the new restaurant shares the floor with other Hidden Door Concepts restaurants such as Sear, a steakhouse, and Angie’s, a seafood bar.
There are just 60 seats, including a few tables on an outdoor balcony with a view of the Central Business District. But it does not feel claustrophobic, thanks to a high ceiling and a cheerful ambience.
Still, I wouldn’t advise having business discussions there if you do not want your secrets overheard. But it’s a good place to lunch with colleagues or catch up with friends working in the vicinity. In the evenings, when the place is quieter, the restaurant is good for dates as well.
The menu appears typical of a Mexican restaurant, with offerings of tacos, tostadas, quesadillas and burritos. But look closer and you find that the dishes boast premium ingredients such as scallop, lobster and wagyu.
The cooking is also more refined than what I expect from a casual eatery, not the usual heavy Mexican fare weighed down by cheese and beans. Instead, chef Jorge Leon, who is from Mexico and helms the kitchen here, emphasises freshness in much of his cooking. Salsas sparkle with freshly diced tomatoes and onions, tortilla wraps are freshly made and the taco chips come warm and super crispy.
I order two items with wagyu beef – a taco and a steak – and both are very good.
The Taco With Wagyu Beef, Shishito, Guacamole & Fresca ($19) comes with two taco chips topped generously with strips of marbled beef that are juicy and tender. The accompanying ingredients give the flavours a neat punch, yet do not distract from the meat. It is a big serving too, enough for a light one-person lunch.
The Marinated Wagyu Steak ($32) is even more substantial. The thickly sliced seared beef comes on a mound of delicious cilantro lime rice and sides of charred corn salsa, red bell pepper and nori. It’s a great dish, though the rice would be wasted on those who are on trendy low-carbohydrate diets.
For them, the starter of Scallop Aguachile, Avocado & Pickled Jicama ($25) is the thing to order. As a starter, it is enough for two people, while dieters can get it as a one-person lunch.
There is quite a bit of scallop, sliced thickly enough for the diner to savour its sweetness. The pickle and dressing add a mild tartness without too much acid, so the scallops stay pretty raw and do not get overcooked.
Lobster Quesadilla ($30), which comes with the diced shellfish, bell pepper, onion and Monterey Jack cheese sandwiched between two tortillas, is another good dish. There is enough lobster to justify the price and the tortillas are fresh and soft.
There is one dish I don’t like, though: Szechuan Pastor Ribs, Grilled Pineapples & Sesame Seeds ($25). I ordered it out of curiosity to see how a Sichuan dish can end up on a Mexican menu.
It’s a creation by the chef, who decided to spice up the traditional BBQ ribs with Al Pastor sauce by throwing in some Sichuan pepper powder. The result is neither here nor there – the sauce tastes watered down, but has an odd tingle from the pepper. Also, the meat is boringly soft, with no juices.
Desserts are not inspired either, with just a choice of churros and sorbets. Les Churros With Chocolate Hazelnut Cream ($8) is decent, but does not stand out from most churros I’ve eaten. I wish there is more of the cream too.
Level 45 Singapore Land Tower, 50 Raffles Place; tel: 6221-9555; open: 11am to 2pm (weekdays), 5 to 11pm (Mondays to Thursdays), 5pm to 2am (Fridays and Saturdays), closed on Sundays
Price: Budget about $60 a person for dinner, less for lunch
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• The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.