Etna Italian Restaurant’s East Coast outlet has been around for the longest time. I still remember my first time there back in junior college, more than six years ago. It wasn’t an overly memorable experience and I never went back (I actually did try going to the Duxton outlet once but it was full house). As time went by, more and more people started raving about Etna and I wondered if I had been too quick to judge, only having had their crabmeat pasta and pizza back then. This time around, I was back under the guise of a tasting session hosted by Mr Gianluca Impemba, one of the partners of Etna, who shared with us a bit more about Italian cuisine and the concept behind Etna.
I guess one of Etna’s main selling points is that about 70% of the ingredients used here are imported from Italy, so as to preserve the authenticity and quality of its dishes. Despite this, Etna positions itself more as a neighbourhood family joint rather than a fine dining establishment. I guess to be a little more specific, there are 3 main categories of Italian eateries. The Osteria; traditionally taverns or inns that also served simple food and wines, the Trattoria; typically family-run establishments that are slightly more pricey than the osteria, and lastly the Ristorante; full-service restaurants that serve up sophisticated dishes. Etna lies somewhere between the Trattoria and the Ristorante in this respect.
These traditional definitions might not be that closely followed nowadays however, as we have seen with Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands, which is a fine-dining establishment.
Unlike the outlet at Duxton whose clientele is made up of mostly corporates, the East Coast outlet is relatively more family friendly. The restaurant boosts a dining hall and an al fresco area that sits a total of about 50-60 pax but reservations are recommended as it can get packed, especially during weekends.
We started off the tasting with the Grilled Calamari topped with crispy garlic & chili, served with homemade aioli sauce ($18++). The highlight of this dish would be the aioli sauce, which has a very robust hint of garlic amidst the richness of the mayo. Without it, the grilled calamari would have come across as slightly bland.
The Baked Eggplant with Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese & light Basil Pesto in a Tomato Sauce ($18++) was excellent. The eggplant flesh was delicate and while some people might find the taste of eggplant repulsive, much of it had taken a back seat to the tangy tomato sauce.
As usual, my favourite appetizer was the fresh Burrata with Rocket Salad, Pachino Cherry Tomatoes & Parma Ham ($32++). It’s a wad of creamy sinfulness that is worth taking on as a starter for every Italian meal and Parma ham just goes so well with it. Just think about the last time you washed down briny slices of ham with a cup of full fat milk. Burrata with Parma Ham is even better! The only downside is that Burrata can be quite fattening, as about 1/4 to 1/3 of its weight is comprised of fats. Tell your girl friends only after they have eaten this and sit back to watch the drama unfold.
In addition to the main menu, Etna does from time to time update their chalkboard on daily specials. The Mussels topped with Pistachio that we had was just one such example. It’s a pity that it hasn’t found its way into the main menu yet because it was one of the finest mussels I have ever eaten. Not only were the mussels fresh, springy and sweet, but the choice of pistachio and possibly mayo to complement the mussels was a bold and creative option that worked (the usual tomato or wine white sauces do get a little boring over time). From the looks of things, the pistachio must have been seared lightly before serving, resulting in an encrusting layer of savoury nuts that was reminiscent of the texture of brittle breadcrumbs.
The Linguine with Scallops in a Prawn Cream Sauce ($25++) was possibly my favourite main. I liked it because the cream sauce had a nice bittersweet tinge to it, which I’m guessing was derived from the prawn or scallop juices. If you are lucky, you might also find the orange roe sac of the scallops tossed in this pasta.
The Linguine with Crab Meat in Lobstear Cream Sauce ($25++) was quite similar to the scallop pasta (sans the bittersweetness), but it felt somewhat heavier because the sauce tends to cling to the generous chunks of crab meat. Very enjoyable nonetheless.
The Slow-cooked Braised Veal Shank with chopped herbs and Indian Saffron Rice ($34++) was cooked in a Mediterranean style, where light flavours were employed. Not my favourite dish that night given that I prefer heavier sauces for my veal shanks.
The Roasted Pork Knuckle with Potatoes ($48++) was slightly different from the German ones I’m so used to having. Instead of being deep-fried, the knuckles here are marinated in beer first, braised and then roasted to get that nice golden exterior. The benefits of cooking the knuckle in this way is that the meat still remains really moist and tender, at the expense of having a slightly less crispy skin. Personally, I’m still on the fence as to which style I prefer, but I would guess that the execution risk of a deep fried knuckle is definitely a lot higher, where you might just end up getting a disappointingly dry meat and soggy skin.
The Home-made Semolina paste in a Cream Sauce of Porcini Mushrooms, Pork Sausage & Italian Truffle Cream ($28++) seemed to be the crowd favourite that night, with me being the only contrarian. To our delight, there was a discernible scent of truffle in the sauce but I found the cream sauce was just a little too rich and dense for my liking. The texture of the semolina paste was something like the hand-cut noodles in 刀削面, slightly more chewy and having a bit more elasticity as what one might find in other pastas like linguine.
Good lasagna in Singapore is hard to find and Etna’s Oven-baked Lasagna with Bolognese Ragout, bechamel sauce, Mozzarella & Parmesan Cheese ($19++) is perhaps one of the better ones I have had to date. Just to sidetrack a bit, in French cuisine, there are 5 mother sauces which are Sauce Tomate, Sauce Hollandaise, Sauce Veloute, Sauce Espagnole and Sauce Bechamel. The Bechamel sauce (which is also widely used in Italian cuisine) is a white sauce that is used to layer between the sheets of lasagna pasta to give the buttery creamy taste.
The Fresh Sabayon with Pantelleria Moscato Wine – right of picture ($14++) wasn’t something I took to. It is most often made by whipping eggs yolks (sometimes with the whites too), sugar and a sweet wine over gently boiling water, so that the egg thickens to form a light custard.
While the Bi-colored Panna Cotta with Mango & Mixed Berries ($14++) tasted very refreshing, the taste of the vanilla scented Panna Cotta tends to get lost in the array of fruity flavours.
My favourite dessert was the Tiramisu with Pistachio Cream ($14++), which wasn’t too strong on the liqueur, in fact I could hardly taste it.
Before we hit the road, we helped ourselves to some Italian liqueur to help digest our food (definitely going to kiv this reason for future drinking sessions). Anyway, I just found out something new today. The difference between liquor and liqueur! I had always thought that it was just an American vs UK spelling deviation but apparently not. “A liquor is an alcoholic drink that is distilled from grains or plants, such as rum, vodka, gin or whiskey. A liqueur is a sweet or herbal alcoholic drink that is made from fruit, herbs, flowers, nuts or spices plus (usually) sugar and a spirit such as grain alcohol, vodka or rum.”
I tried 3 types of Italian LIQUEURs that were recommended by our host. The yellowish Limoncello is a rather popular Italian Lemon Liqueur that is around 25-30% alcohol by volume (ABV). It was rather sweet but still retained much of the bitterness of the lemons, great for cleansing the palate after a heavy meal. The reddish liqueur was a almond flavoured one that was about 25-30% ABV. I swore I heard our host say it was Amaro but based on the almond flavour, it might have been Amaretto and I possibly misheard. Didn’t really take to this though. The colourless Grappa was the strongest of the lot at 45% ABV, made from the fermentation of grape pomace (the leftovers skin, pulp, stem and seeds after the grapes have been pressed during wine-making). Despite being the strongest, it was also my favourite amongst the 3 liqueurs as it had a very clean taste and remarkable smoothness to it, going down very much like a high quality vodka.
Overall, I would rate Etna as an Italian restaurant worth checking out, especially for their appetizers and pastas. Prices are really reasonable and portions are hearty. I believe they are planning to participate in the next Restaurant Week so this might just be a perfect excuse to pay them a visit.
Special thanks to Gianluca from Etna for hosting the great meal and Hungrygowhere for coordinating the tasting.
Etna Italian Restaurant (East Coast)
110 Upper East Coast Road
Tel: +65 6444 9530