Ristorante Da Valentino – Italian at its Finest

13 02 2014

If you had asked what my view was on opening a 134-seater high-end Italian restaurant at Turf Club a couple years back, I would most likely have said that it would be an incredibly brave but foolish endeavor. After all, the location isn’t exactly in the most central of areas and with such a huge restaurant without any nearby offices, where would the demand be coming from?

Two years on and I would have eaten my words…

Given that it was my first ever visit to Valentino, I was immensely surprised that for a restaurant this size, I was unable to secure indoor seats for a mere 2 pax on a usually slow Tuesday night, even by calling in advance. My surprise was compounded by the fact that this wasn’t even a new joint and there didn’t seem to be much hype about it in online circles in recent months. It wasn’t long before I found out the reason behind this phenomenon…they served quality food.

Catering mainly to the white-collared working class, as evident in their menu pricing, a 4-course dinner bill easily runs up in excess of $100 (excluding drinks) as I found out on this occasion. Just like how off-balance sheet liabilities contributed to the global financial crisis, likewise, off-menu items contributed to the hefty bill, busting my initial planned expenditure for the meal.

The Garlic Bread ($8.80++) and Burrata Cheese ($45.90++) were the said off-menu items. They were both good, with extra points going to the amazingly sweet tomatoes.

If there’s one item to try out here, it would definitely be their signature Squid Ink Fettuccine with Crabmeat in Creamy Tomato Sauce ($29.90++). The well-balanced sauce complements and does not overwhelm the subtle sweetness from the generous chunks of crabmeat. Surely one of the best pastas I have had to date.

While I wasn’t particularly fond of the Osso Buco ($42.90++), I couldn’t deny that its execution was without a doubt, masterful. The meat was insanely tender to the point that a knife was rendered useless, since a sole fork was all that was needed to pick away at this splendid creation. The accompanying sauce tasted lighter than it looked, with a distinct taste of stewed carrots.

The sole disappointment that night was the Seafood Pizza ($26.90++), which was slightly soggy and lacked a distinguishable seafood flavor that one so often finds in other seafood pizzas such as at Pepperoni’s Pizzeria.

As I personally prefer my Tiramisu ($14.80++) not too soggy, this rendition suited me perfectly.

The Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream ($18.80++) was awesome as well with ample lava flow.

While the meal wasn’t exactly cheap, I left feeling truly satisfied with the impeccable food, service standards and great company (was doing a catchup session with Ad, whom I hadn’t seen in more than half a year).

Ristorante Da Valentin0

200 Turf Club Road

Tel: +65 6462 0555

Website: www.ristorante-da-valentino.com/





[Mannheim, Germany] Vino & Pizzateca – Affordable and Friendly Italian Joint

6 09 2013

Been a bit laggy in my posts recently. Reason being is that I’m currently on student exchange at the University of Mannheim in Germany for a semester and have been busy hunting for accommodation for the past 2 weeks. The good news is that everything’s settled and school has started over here as well. The even greater news is that I have a freakishly awesome timetable with a 2-day week (with 5 back-to-back classes from 830am to 5pm on Tuesdays), leaving me with much time for traveling and such.

While Mannheim isn’t exactly the food capital of Germany, it does have its fair share of gourmet restaurants with 3 Michelin-starred restaurants within a 5km radius from the city centre. Hopefully, I will manage to visit at least 1 or 2 of them if budget allows.

For this Thursday lunch however, we headed down to a more cosy and casual eatery called Vino & Pizzateca, a small Italian joint that is ranked number 3rd on Tripadviser out of approximately 400 restaurants in the vicinity.

Friend of 10 years/current flatmate posing for a photo

One of the great things about Germany is the cheap alcohol. I’m used to getting crap house wines but the bottle of house wine (19.90 Euros) we had here from Lugana region of Lombardy, Italy was really up my alley. The wine was made solely from Trebbiano grapes and tasted very light despite packing 13% alcohol. It didn’t feel dry texturally and was perfect in quelling the heat from a summer’s day.

I’m more of a pasta than pizza person and hence ordered the Pasta Franca (11.90 Euros), which was basically a pasta tossed with minced beef, sauteed mushrooms, cherry tomatoes in wine white and olive oil. From the two weeks here so far, the general feeling I get is that Germans are rather generous with their use of salt so I was rather appreciative that this dish was much milder and more suited to the Singaporean palate.

While the Beni Pizza (10.90 Euros) was salty, I thought it was to be expected from a bacon and salami pizza.

We also had the Rucola Pizza (12.90 Euros), which is topped with rockets, tomatoes, cheese and parma ham. On the whole, I thought the thin-crusted pizzas were executed well and with the range of pizzas offered here, there shouldn’t be any problems finding one to your liking.

Although it’s self service here, the staff were still really friendly and seemed to be enjoying their work. Will definitely be popping by again shortly.

Vino & Pizzateca Mannheim

L4, 9, Mannheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany

Tel:  0621 – 152779





Amici Authentic Italian Restaurant – An overpriced neighbourhood joint

20 05 2013

Standing proud at a discreet corner of Holland Village is old dame Amici. She has been around for 13 years and counting, entrenching her status as a veteran in Italian cuisine.

Amici means “friends” in Italian and how apt it is as I personally find it to be an ideal place for long undisrupted catch up sessions in the hustle and bustle of Holland V. Meals at Amici exhibit a stark contrast compared to other popular spots in the vicinity such as Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao (which does an affordable steamboat and XLB buffet) and Everything With Fries, as meals here feel a lot less hurried, contributed partially by the cosy, rustic and rather quiet interior of the restaurant. On the other hand, sad to say that much of their food didn’t impress.

We started off dinner with the Deep Fried Calamari ($13.90++/small or $19.90++/large). As with Amici’s rendition, I too like my calamari on the tender delicate side, where a light batter is used and chewing is made minimal. A creamy aioli dip on the side undoubtedly enhanced the palatability of the dish.

Next came the Saute Vongole ($17.90++) aka clams served with white wine sauce and chili. While similar in taste to the steamed lalas’ in spicy sauce one can easily find in Chinese Seafood restaurants or in an East Coast Park hawker stall, the vongole at Amici differs slightly as the spiciness level of the gravy has been toned down a notch, so that diners get a greater sense of the natural bittersweet flavor from the clams.

The undisputed best dish for the night was the Crabmeat pasta with garlic, olive oil & chilli ($27.90++). Cooked to a lovely al dente, the amalgam of flavours exuded by the briny crabmeat, oil and spice left me hankering for more.

The Oven-baked black cod fillet crusted with butter Herbs and garden greens ($36.90++) was pleasant but unexciting and easily forgettable.

Amongst the 4 cheeses (Gorgonzola, Buffalo Mozzarella, Scamorza and Ricotta) in the Pizza 4 Formaggi ($26.90++) aka 4 Cheese Pizza, what resounds most distinctly was the Gorgonzola, a type of Blue Cheese. However, compared to some other 4 Cheese Pizzas I have had, this one comes across as relatively mild. I wouldn’t consider pizzas to be Amici’s strong point given that the thin crust was quite soggy.

We ended with the award-winning Tiramisu. It’s hard to say if it’s worth the hype however as our individual opinions of it were incongruent. Some of my dining companions loved it while I thought it was meh. The main gripe I had was that the Ladyfingers biscuit, the spongy cake used within a Tiramisu, was overly soggy which dampened my spirits as well, pardon the pun.

I don’t consider Amici to be anywhere near the best for Italian dining in Singapore. It’s an overpriced neighbourhood Italian joint, nothing more nothing less.

This meal was hosted and paid for by Amici.

Amici Authentic Italian Restaurant

275A Holland Avenue, Holland Village

Tel: +65 6469 9989





Kilo – Doesn’t live up to the hype

11 05 2013

Kilo has been operating for 2 years now and yet still packs a full house on week nights. I still remember a year ago when I tried (twice) making a reservation 2 weeks in advance and got declined due to the place already being fully booked. Something was definitely going for them and I was curious to find out, especially since I was a fan of Raw Kitchen Bar (what Kilo was called before they shifted to the current premise).

The setting of Kilo is of a casual cafe style and since there’s no air conditioning in the eatery, be prepared to sweat a bit if you are coming in formal work attire on a warm night.

We had the Seared Scallops served on White Wine Mushrooms topped with Sweet Mushroom Reduction + Momotoro Tomatoes ($23++) for appetizers. I just love scallops but the highlight of this dish would actually be the robust mushroom cream sauce. If only there was a piece of bread to wipe the plate clean.

Our favourite for the night was the Sesame-Avocado-Wasabi Flavoured Tuna Tatare + Flourchips ($22++). I’m not a fan of tuna sashimi but the ones here feels slightly fattier and doesn’t taste as bloody and as what one might get at a Japanese restaurant. The gentle hint of wasabi was refreshing and the creaminess of the avaocado probably helped to tone down the spice to an optimal level.

While it’s one of their signatures and the better of the two mains we ordered, I wasn’t thoroughly impressed by the Day-night 12 hour Pork Belly with Purple Potato Wedges, Sour Cream & Crackling ($29++). The pork belly wasn’t as tender as I had anticipated and some parts of the crackling were so tough that one might risk breaking a tooth or two.

Balsamic Duck Leg with Butter Parsnip Mash & Sesame Asparagus ($30++). On a spectrum, the mash would be closer to the coarse and chunky side. A bit too dry and not buttery enough for my liking. The texture of the duck wasn’t bad but given that the sauce tasted somewhat similar to the one from the pork belly, we got bored of it quickly.

Truth be told, Raw’s Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream ($15++) was really disappointing, possibly the most overcooked lava cake I have had at a restaurant. There was no lava whatsoever, so it was more of a chocolate muffin. The Ice Creams here are made in house and it was decent. I have attempted (or more like my friends attempted and I watched) making lava cakes at home so I could tell they screwed this one up real badly.

Had a bottle of their Gewurztraminer (a type of White Wine). Alongside Rieslings, it’s probably one of the easier wines to drink given its high sugar content.

Left the place feeling slightly perplexed as the experience was short of the dinner I had at Raw Kitchen Bar. However, given all the rave reviews I have read online about Kilo and constant stream of customers, I think a reassessment is in order.

Kilo

66 Kampong Bugis

Tel: +65 6467 3987





Michelangelo’s – 17 Years Young and Counting

25 03 2013

With the rapid succession of comings and goings in the Singapore food scene, few establishments can boost about having a 17-year track record like Michelangelo’s. Even its next door sister restaurant Original Sin has been around for 14 years. To  be in business for that long, they had to be doing something right, right?

While some eateries have centralized kitchens to save cost, Michelangelo’s takes it to a whole different level with their wine cellar. Many people have commented about their extensive wine list and to hoard such a range, the restaurant group actually owns a semi-detached house just across the restaurant. So, don’t be surprised if you suddenly see the sommelier walking across the road and coming back with a bottle of wine. He didn’t just run to NTUC to get it.

The Carpaccio di Manzo ($22++), “Beef tenderloin, arugula, Parmesan, truffle oil”, is a safe choice, unless you aren’t a fan of raw beef.

The Caprese alla Michel ($22++), “Oven-baked portobello mushroom, mozzarella, tomatoes, salami chips”, was a tad boring. While I love the idea of salami chips (think of it as thinly sliced deep fried luncheon meat), the dish in its entirety seems like something I could whip up at home rather easily and really doesn’t justify the price tag in my view.

We were all taken by the Risotto al Fungi ($24++), “Confit of pork belly, forest mushroom, white wine, Parmesan”. The texture of the risotto was perfect to me, especially since I prefer it on the wet side with the rice grains not overly chewy. I detected the use of some truffle oil as well, which certainly enhanced the savoury cheesiness of the risotto. However, while the dish was really tasty on the first bite, the law of diminishing returns quickly set in, as subsequent mouthfuls tasted increasingly salty and the cheesiness exceedingly cloying for a single person to bear. Now that I think of it, my guess to why the risotto felt increasing salty is because the briny pork belly had a higher probability to sink to the base of the dish. My advice is to share this amongst 3 people for an optimal experience.

My favourite was the Penne Sambuca e Gamberi ($24++), “Prawns, semi-dried tomatoes, rose cream sauce, 50ml Italian Sambuca”. The tanginess of the tomatoes was what caught my attention first. Not as overwhelmingly tangy as the usual tomato-based pasta due to the addition of rose cream. Instead, what I felt was a light fiery aftertaste. Initially I thought I had bitten into some chilis but soon realized it was the Sambuca, a sweet flamable liquer that forms the base of a Flaming Lamborghini. Thumbs up for the progression of flavours.

The Tuscan Rosticciana ($34++), “Full rack of Tuscan style grilled pork rib”, is suitable for those who love their ribs with a little bit of bite, instead of fall off the bone tender. Personally, I’m a fan of the latter but still had an enjoyable time gnawing around the bones. The portion is rather huge so again, sharing is recommended!

As one of my favourite desserts, I never fail to try out a Sticky Date Pudding ($12++) if it’s on the menu. The one here is competently done and just a little less dense than a fruit cake. The Vanilla Ice Cream is of a good quality too and pairs well with the warm pudding that is drenched in sweet butterscotch sauce.

While I had some trouble finishing the Tiramisu ($12++) at Michelangelo’s sister restaurant Original Sin, the one here is clearly lighter in both the espresso flavours and consistency of the sponge cake. I also like how the sponge isn’t soggy and goes down the palate easily.

While some dishes bordered on mediocrity like the Portobello Mushroom and Ribs, no dishes I tried left negative impressions and I thought dishes like the Penne Sambuca really shone.

Special Thanks to Michelangelo’s for hosting this lunch tasting!

Michelangelo’s

Blk 44 Jalan Merah Saga, #01-60 Chip Bee Gardens Holland Village

Tel: +65 6475 9069





Etna Italian Restaurant (East Coast)

27 01 2013

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





Pizzeria Mozza – Affordable for MBS Standards

9 01 2013

A visit to Marina Bay Sands always puts me in a dilemma. On one hand, a meal at the handful of celebrity and fine dining restaurants would surely bust my budget. On the other, paying over $10 for a food court meal isn’t an enticing option either. However, an optimal compromise would be Pizzeria Mozza, a reasonably priced Italian joint that has the backing of Mario Batali, who has appeared on Iron Chef America on multiple occasions.

Despite being a Wednesday, the restaurant filled up quickly and without reservations, one can only be resigned to counter seats, that’s if you are even fortunate enough to get one.

For a pre-theatre meal for 2 pax, a single portion of appetizer, main and dessert is just nice in my opinion, especially if you are thinking of getting a pizza as a main.

The Prawns Al Forno with Potato & Salsa Romesco ($19++) was a good choice for a starter, featuring 2 grilled prawns atop slices of roasted potatoes smeared with Salsa Romesco, which tasted very much like a meat based pasta sauce.

For our pizza main, we ordered the Burrata, Slow-roasted Tomato & Sicilian Oregano Pizza ($30++). The flavour of the tomatoes was pretty concentrated and the tang was a little overwhelming at first bite. After a while however, we quickly got accustomed to the strong flavours and also discovered the function of the burrata in neutralizing the tartness of the tomatoes. On the whole, I think it was a decent attempt, though I would have preferred a thinner outer crust.

For desserts, we got a serving of Gelato – Chocolate Malt, Vanilla & Olive Oil ($17++). Nothing out of the norm for the chocolate malt and the vanilla but this was definitely a first for the olive oil and I know of no other places that serves it. The taste was rather interesting, a little on the savoury side especially with the light sprinkling of salt flakes which was easily detectable.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is the best pizzeria in Singapore but based on the 2 meals I have had here, I would say that the quality of both the food and service is pretty consistent.

Pizzeria Mozza

2 Bayfront Avenue

Tel: +65 6688 8522








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