You’ll go to Esquina anticipating good Spanish food. It’s no surprise when the suckling pig arrives, bursting with juices and blanketed in a golden-brown skin that crackles under your knife. There’s also the Spanish nigiri that has worn out the grids on Instagram. The innovative take on sushi uses bacalao brandade (salted cod emulsion) as the rice bed for a sliver of roasted pepper.
But head chef Carlos Montobbio’s talent for churning smooth-as-silk ice cream has remained a secret the last three years — until now.
A saffron quenelle dazzles with its bright yellow hue, flecked with vibrant red strands of the spice. Its partner-in-crime: a rich chocolate ‘sorbet’, made with quality cocoa, slides easily down your throat.
It’s the knock-out punch to an otherwise stellar match.
“I like that with ice cream, everything comes from the taste,” says Montobbio. “There’s no aroma to draw in the diner, like when you make a beef stew,” he quips.
His dream to open an ice cream shop started when Montobbio was 12 and received an ice cream-maker for Christmas. Never mind that the bulky contraption could only churn a litre in two hours, or that it was a nightmare to clean. It was the gift that kept giving — tubs of homemade ice cream as an afternoon snack, anytime he wanted.
He also picked up the basics of ice cream-making while at culinary school. His Holy Grail:The Secrets of Ice Cream, by dessert whizz Angelo Corvitto.
You’ll think his favourite flavour would be an exotic one. Perhaps chocolate speckled with bacon bits, or a refreshing celery sorbet. But Montobbio’s freezer is more likely filled with pints of plain ol’ vanilla.
“Everyone thinks vanilla is boring, but a really good-quality one with a lot of vanilla beans in it is very nice,” says Montobbio. The 31-year-old once tipped in 40 sweet-smelling beans to make a vanilla ice cream so rich, its colour was a deep, caramel brown.
“I like how after using vanilla, your hands smell so good,” says the baby-faced chef gleefully.
“Usually for chefs, we smell like onions or fish. But when you make vanilla ice cream, you go around smelling so nice afterwards.”
Carlos Montobbio, head chef of Esquina
You won’t find him behind the counter in an old-fashioned parlour. Count on his ice cream ‘shop’, if you can call it that, to be done in style. Montobbio is inspired by our itinerant ice cream uncles peddling local flavours like raspberry ripple and atap seed. Only, his vehicle of choice will be a curvaceous Harley Davidson — another of his lesser-known loves — instead of a bicycle.
In his cart will be flavours such as his favourite vanilla, the silky chocolate sorbet on Esquina’s menu, and a new Sangria sorbet.
Catch him on the roads when he’s ready.